Fallout: New Vegas is all about more. There's more to do in New Vegas than in Fallout 3, its superb predecessor; there's more complexity to its gameplay mechanics; and there are even more secrets to uncover as you roam the postapocalyptic wastes. Fallout: New Vegas' familiar rhythm will delight fans of the series, and the huge world, expansive quests, and hidden pleasures will have you itching to see what other joys you might uncover. Occasional glitches and performance issues occasionally intrude upon your travels, along with the scorpions and geckos that might accost you. Don't let the quirks frighten you away, however: New Vegas' nooks and crannies are bursting with grimy treasures waiting to be dusted off and admired by intrepid explorers.
This latest trip into the desolate American landscape possesses many of the same elements that made Fallout 3 such a successful role-playing game, but its story doesn't boast as many memorable moments. The large-scale combat scenarios are less epic, and the surprises are less dramatic than Fallout 3's mid-game reverie. Nevertheless, the main tale provides a solid skeleton from which to hang a dumbfounding number of tasks and stand-alone parables. Many of these quests are lengthy, and great dialogue and good voice acting will invite you to learn more about the characters, as well as keep you wondering about what will happen next. A society of ghouls with pie-in-the-sky aspirations is creepy enough to make you squirm, yet blind devotion to their dreams still inspires empathy. Socialites in formal attire run a casino known for its creative menu choices, and if you play your cards right, you might get to make a menu alteration of your own. You investigate the disappearance of a sharp-tongued wife in one town and bring star-crossed lovers together in another. Some of the most fascinating occurrences are the wittier ones. During one quest, a robot with a specialized skill and a gut-busting name might offer a service that surely no game character has ever offered before. A poet in an unlikely place mumbles aloud his difficulties in finding the right rhymes. Like with Fallout 3, the greatest delights aren't in the central storyline but on its periphery.
While the tale isn't as evocative as it might have been, the way it blossoms as you advance, giving you any number of ways to proceed, is extraordinary. The choices you make might lead to a dramatically different experience from another player's experience. The same is true of many supplementary quests. There's a ton of flexibility in how you might approach certain tasks. Maybe you'll fend off the robots defending a long-forgotten museum, but you might also steal an identification card that allows you to walk around (mostly) unharmed. You might provide a drug addict his fix, but if your speech skill is high enough, you can convince him to get on the straight and narrow. One lovelorn fellow will try to send you on a scavenger hunt for spare parts, but a high science skill means you can recommend another schematic and avoid the job altogether. However, there are certain cases in which the game funnels you down a specific path that might come as a shock if you prefer peaceful ends but are forced into a combat scenario with a single viable solution. And in certain cases, the quests just aren't designed particularly well. Searching for a key in a vault overrun with vegetation can turn into a major hassle. Avoiding an artillery bombardment isn't fun in the least and feels out of place given the measured pace at which you move. And an optional quest in which you hop from one computer terminal to another to isolate a virus leads to frustrating trial-and-error guesswork.
Large personalities give an edge to your undertakings. A mysterious man known as Mr. House presides over both the Strip, as well as your own adventures, and his singular focus on fulfilling his needs looms dramatically over the later hours of your escapades. The leader of a Roman-inspired legion is also an ominous presence and a violent counterpoint to the upright and learned leader of the Brotherhood of Steel's local contingent. A ghoulish prostitute, a potty-mouthed head waiter, and a wealthy-but-desperate father all make an impression in spite of their very minor roles. You might even find an interesting kindred spirit to accompany you. As with Fallout 3, you can bring a companion along with you; this is handy not only in combat, but it also gives you an extra inventory for dumping detritus. Interacting with your companion is simple, thanks to a wheel that lets you choose behaviors for your fellow traveler. You can only have one at a time, but you'll encounter multiple individuals willing to join you, and they all make interesting and funny quips when you interact with them. They also open up different quest opportunities, giving you a chance to learn more about what makes them tick.
Fallout: New Vegas' major addition is that of faction favor. You establish a reputation with various towns and organizations by doing them favors or annoying them in some way or another. Which factions you align with has both subtle and profound consequences. If you're liked, a random somebody might run up to you bearing minor gifts, such as an iguana on a stick. (Mmm, tasty.) Or if you've gained a more violent reputation, a mugger might accost you with violent intentions, only to run off when he recognizes you. It's a pleasure to hear random citizens remark on how they feel about you as you pass by, even if the canned comments repeat a bit too often. (It's sometimes bizarre to hear two characters standing side by side deliver the same line, spoken by the same voice actor.)
Your faction relationships also have much more dramatic consequences on your adventure, opening up new quests while closing off others. The game is sometimes a bit opaque regarding how your actions may inadvertently affect the way a particular faction sees you, but this complexity manifests itself in awesome ways as you near the end of your travels. One great twist to this system is that by dressing up in faction-specific clothing or armor, you can disguise yourself and avoid a confrontation. Though, conversely, you might get dragged into battles against allies if you forget to change gear, which might damage a relationship you're trying to cultivate. This reputation system is a bit abstract, but it's a great addition to the Fallout formula, adding even more layers to a template already lauded for its flexibility.