The game crashed moments after I installed Fallout: New Vegas on my PS3 and created my character. With Bethesda’s track record I half expected and feared this, groaning at the thought of having to review a buggy game. What follows are my thoughts on Fallout: New Vegas in its current state; I will omit anything pertaining to the obvious duty of a developer… maybe.
Story – Heartache by the Numbers
Fallout 3’s story was written by Bethesda, who had no hand in the original Fallout titles. In contrast, New Vegas was written by Obsidian, which included some remnants of Black Isle Studio (the series’s founders), who promised the game would feature a much more traditional and enjoyable story for Fallout fans.
While the story was good, I found evidence of a shoddy foundation. The player assumes the role of a post-apocalyptic courier who is in the process of delivering a mysterious parcel when he or she is shot in the head and left for dead. A doctor in a local town patches you up and you set out on your quest to kill your attempted killers. Fair enough. However, I was taken a bit out of the experience when I could ask everyone and their uncle “Who are the NCR?” and “Who is Caesar’s Legion?”. Right, I have been unconscious for maybe 24 hours at the most, but as far as I know I am NOT an amnesiac. So why have I not heard of the two most powerful factions in the West? I understand that this is a means of presenting these factions to the player’s new eyes, but it could have been less lazily handled.
Factions play a big part in the story. Nearly all factions are depicted as not being entirely good or evil, forcing the player to actually think about who to side with and weigh some serious shit. You have the NCR (New California Republic) for instance, who want to turn the Mojave into a policed state, and have been the cause of a massacre or two. However, they have taken great steps to settle things down, improving the lives of many wastelanders. I did like this since most decisions in games are pretty black and white: do you want to side with the obviously good guys, or have a laugh at siding with these jerks (p.s. you should probably join with the good guys).
At times, the factions/decision-making aspect feels a bit heavy-handed. This brought about some anxiety when it came time to make the final decisions, which led me to put things off as long as possible. This issue could lie in how I approach games. Either way, it’s worth mentioning that I felt less than comfortable about being thrust in the middle of such an epic struggle, but perhaps that was the point.
One of the most welcomed story-driven features of New Vegas is the improvement made to companions. In Fallout 3 you could recruit companions, but they were essentially a walking pile of unwieldy code which could help shoot things and occasionally spit out a one-liner. In New Vegas, each ally has their own quest, which offers up a hearty bit of background on the individual. My first companion for instance was Cass, a hard-drinking shotgun-wielding caravan driver. She is a woman who has had her share of hardships, which she explained to me quite poetically while hunched over a bar counter.
With a bit of digging, we learned together that there was someone to blame for her most recent bad luck. This put me in a position to allow Cass to seek revenge, or handle things diplomatically. All companion quests will present you with a similar forked road, which not only will ultimately improve the character’s abilities in different ways, but affect their lives post-game. Upon beating Fallout: New Vegas you’ll learn what becomes of each companion whose quest you completed. I honestly enjoyed this more than learning what became of Vegas itself because of the attachment these quests gave me to each character.
Gameplay – I Could Make You Care
The core gameplay in New Vegas is identical to Fallout 3. The player can still utilize VATS or attack in real-time with their equipped weapon and explore the world in both first and third person. There are, however, a few minor updates which make gameplay more realistic, balanced, and challenging.
Ranged weaponry now has a “true iron sights” option, which I turned off after about 2 hours of play. This feature was touted as being what FPS players wanted. I guess they want to have a quarter of the screen blocked by a hunk of metal. I found aiming down the barrel or hip-shots to be much more effective, especially when some fast moving creature is charging you.
The biggest way that difficulty has been altered is how damage is calculated. Now enemies throughout the wasteland have varying armor values referred to as DT (damage threshold). Different weapons will be more or less capable of punching through armor. Smaller calibers of ammunition in particular will have their damage reduced dramatically by armored units. To compensate, there are now different varieties of ammunition — a feature returning from Fallout 2.
For instance, my favorite rifle, the Brush Gun, can be loaded with three varieties of the same ammo, standard .45-70, hollow points, or semi-wadcutters. Each has a purpose. Hollow points are extremely effective on enemies which lack armor, such as your standard hobo or critter. The modified wadcutters tear through armor very effectively at the expense of the rifle’s condition, meaning you would want to limit their use to only when absolutely necessary. The player must be aware of their target, their weapon, and their ammo. This definitely adds a welcomed layer of strategy and realism to combat in New Vegas.
Weapons can now have up to two add-ons attached to them which alter them both physically and how the perform. These add-ons can consist of a scope for a rifle or modified frame kit which decreases the item’s weight or something entirely unique to a world of made up weaponry. This feature extends the usefulness of a number of weapons and is awesome for anyone who digs customization (who doesn’t?).
Another feature which was touted before the game’s release is the optional hardcore mode. In this mode the player is required to drink water, eat food, and sleep. Your limbs are also harder to put together after they have become crippled. I had thought this mode would really change the experience, but for the most part it just gave me extra errands to run. I basically would go to a doctor between quests and have myself patched up for the extremely modest price of fifty caps (the game’s currency). Likewise, being able to dunk your head in any of the 6,000 toilets and tripping over food essentially eliminated any challenge. Ultimately increasing the game to hard proves much more challenging than the slight modifications hardcore mode brings.
Being able to gather from a variety of plants and craft consumables are two features which I believe were included to accent hardcore mode. In actuality, I felt that these elements brought more to the table on their own by making the world more realistic. For instance, after getting Cass as a follower she told me she could cook me up some moonshine if I got the necessary ingredients. After picking some corn I found in the wasteland, finding some yeast, a mutfruit and a battery she cooked it all up in an empty whiskey bottle for me. Creating something from the fruits of a world is a nice step towards making it feel more real.
One element that removes the immersible aspect of a video game is an invisible wall, and Fallout: New Vegas is filled with them. I can’t tell you how many times I was following a quest marker up a mountain only to find that this particular mountain had an invisible wall. It may have looked as though a toddler could crawl right up it, but alas, I had to find another way. These walls essentially block off a third of the game’s map:
Everything you see in gray on the outskirts of the map is inaccessible, and thus pointless to even have on a map, other then providing false hopes.
As I have mentioned the game has its bugs. The one which I find most irritating is a sudden drop in frame-rate when exploring the expanse of the mojave. One of my favorite things to do in Fallout is to just wander the wastes, so this problem (which is not always present) is quite annoying. Another issue is freezing. The game literally locks the system up, forcing me to get up and restart my PS3 manually. I realize how lazy that complaint makes me sound, but gaming is how I unwind, and having to get up periodically and wait for the game to load back up is a pain.
Another (albeit rare) issue is that textures will randomly simplify to the point where you could be playing Doom:
My faith in the game is further shaken upon seeing the impressive things fans have done with the GECK (the game’s editor) in the short time since the game’s release. You can view a list here or peruse the Nexus; either way it won’t take you long to realize that some of these mods should have been thought of by the paid developers, and not by the fans who are having fun.
Conclusions – One For My Baby
Despite all my gripes, I am still playing and enjoying Fallout: New Vegas. I suppose that is because everything that I loved about Fallout 3 is in New Vegas: an expansive world to explore, tons of items and quests, and a fascinating post-apocalyptic setting. Had all this been put into a more fleshed out package both in terms of usability and a more solid feeling story, New Vegas would have been worth the hype.