Finally a worthy successor to Fallout 2!
Fallout: New Vegas is what Fallout 3 should have been.
Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian, a company that is somewhat controversial in respects to the quality of the games they produce. They have been responsible for some incredibly deep, well-written games, often accompanied with plenty of bugs. Fallout: New Vegas has a reputation that is very similar to that of the company. One thing that fans of the original Fallout games will find particularly appealing is that the company was formed by many of the members that helped develop the original games. Considering this, my perspective of the game should not be incredibly surprising to most.
Fallout 3 marked a huge departure for the Fallout series. Many fans of the original Fallout games were incredibly wary of the changes that Bethesda would, and eventually did, bring to the Fallout world. Not only did the series make the leap from an isometric perspective to a first person, fully 3D world, but the setting was moved from the traditional west coast setting to the wasteland of Washington D.C.. While a vocal minority was critical about the games writing and minimal role-playing, the majority of the industry hailed it as a success, many rewarding the game with RPG of the Year and Game of the Year honors. For some reason, however, the game just didn't really click with me. I was stuck between trying to figure out whether to follow to story's plot or go explore, as is often encouraged in Bethesda's games, and despite starting the game over several times and putting several hours into each attempt, I was never compelled to continue onward.
While Fallout: New Vegas uses the same technology and doesn't aspire to make many innovations in that regard, in many ways it is the antithesis to Fallout 3. Fallout: New Vegas takes the story and places it back in the wasteland in the American West some years after the events of Fallout 2, opting to give it, at least in the beginning, a heavy-handed Western theme. New Vegas depicts a world that is in the early stages of re-civilizing, as opposed to the world of rubble in Fallout 3. The history of the world is incredibly fleshed out, especially for fans of the original Fallout games. The small town of Shady Sands from Fallout 1, that evolved into the NCR in Fallout 2, has continued to expand, to the point that they control most of the wasteland and the world that you will explore in Fallout: New Vegas. You will encounter many characters from the old Fallout games and hear historical references to some of the heroics you may have taken part of in the early iterations of the series. The world is quite believable. Remember, this is well over 200 years since the bombs dropped. It is a world that has been through some tough times, but is slowly starting to figure out how to re-create civilization.
The new in New Vegas.
New Vegas contains all the standard fare associated with Fallout games. You will encounter ghouls, super mutants, and multiple factions that existed in all three of the games. However, in New Vegas, you will probably find yourself encountering much less ghouls and mutants in battle than you did in probably any of the previous games. This departure does make sense, however, since you have no reason to battle any particular humanoids. The problem with the super mutants was solved long ago from the first Fallout, and after 200 years many people have accepted that ghouls are nothing more than over-radiated humans. That's not to say that you will not encounter the occasional feral ghouls and Nightkin that have lost their abilities to reason, but the world is definitely dominated by humans. Many humans still maintain prejudices against the other humanoid creatures, but to a large extent, these people have learned to live with each other.
Clearly a big change in the series was the change from turn-based combat to real-time, first-person shooting action with V.A.T.S. implemented both to make the fighting a little easier and to give fanboys like myself some form of reminder of the old style of combat. A tactical element is lost from this change, but the combat is nonetheless enjoyable. The V.A.T.S. is surprisingly well-implemented. Your enemies often-times move quite fast and you may find it difficult to hit them before they unleash some deadly attacks on you, and throughout the game you will find it necessary to use V.A.T.S. to keep from dying. Battling a Deathclaw is often very dangerous, regardless of what level you are, if you don't have the right equipment and are not prepared.
The world of New Vegas is quite dangerous. I recommend trying the game on hardcore mode. One interesting change that New Vegas made is that, unless you are in hardcore mode, your companions will not die in combat. This is quite the change considering that none of the other Fallouts, including Fallout 3, did this. They do, however, offer you some unique quests should you treat them properly and do something to have the quest triggered - so this was perhaps a change Obsidian made to allow the player to complete these quests without having to worry about constantly reloading to make sure their companion doesn't die. Regardless of the difficulty, you will find that death is not uncommon in the world of New Vegas, and re-loading your game will be necessary. I used the quicksave hot-key quite often, the first time I have ever frequently used that function in a game that I can recall. One criticism I have had of Bethesda's more recent games is their implementation of level-scaling. This was a glaring weakness in Oblivion that made me give up on the game after over 40 hours of playing it. This was, however, quite toned down for Fallout 3. In Fallout: New Vegas, this appears to be nonexistent. If you take the road north out of town at the beginning of the game, you will find yourself absolutely defenseless against the enemies that await you. These are enemies you probably could not properly take on until your character has gained at least 10 levels, and even at higher levels you will find yourself over-whelmed by them if you encounter a large swarm at once. I have read reviews from people that make a complaint of this, saying that it constricts players from exploring. This is simply untrue, exploration is still quite rewarding, the game just makes you work for the right to do so.
Also, leveling your character makes a big difference, as opposed to some more action-oriented RPG's out there. Every level you gain you will feel quite a bit more powerful. One level may make you feel powerful enough to take on those enemies who just easily overwhelmed you. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system is featured in full glory here. Though I did not finish Fallout 3, I did watch a friend of mine playing the game after he had conquered it along with all the downloadable content, and I saw that most of his skills and SPECIAL points were maxed out or very close to it! After playing through all of that content, that is understandable, but the first time I finished New Vegas I was nowhere near the max on more than two skills and my SPECIAL points were unchanged - and the same could be said about my playthroughs of Fallout 1 and 2. Apparently Obsidian opted to make permanent skill point increase books much more rare and instead populated the world with magazines that temporarily will increase skills. This is a choice that I, personally, applaud, and should encourage player's to play through the game more than once with entirely different character builds. Playing through the game with new builds is also worthwhile because of how well the skill system is utilized. You will find yourself unable to do certain things because your skill level with that skill is simply to low. My first build emphasized science, speech, and guns and all of those skills were incredibly valuable to me. One complaint I had was with the game letting you know how high a skill needed to be to accomplish something. I think leaving it unknown or at least not showing the exact amount you need would further have highlighted the importance of your characters builds considering the magazines you can find to temporarily increase certain skills. Regardless, the game is very well-balanced, and no matter what skills you favor, you should find valuable ways to make use of all of them. This is role-playing at its finest, not just some shoot 'em up that's heavy on dialog and features a lock-picking system.
The travel system also works really well and actually compares favorably to the system of the early Fallout games. As soon as you discover a location, you can "fast travel" back to it instantaneously to save you from having to hoof it all of the time. In a world as large as New Vegas this is pretty necessary. The system is the same as it was in Fallout 3 and Bethesda's Oblivion. Surprisingly, I felt it was somewhat reminiscent to the travel system in Fallout 1 and 2, except that you will only encounter enemies or unique locations on the travel there (while traveling on foot to discover the new location) and will not encounter them on the travel back if you fast travel.
Perhaps the biggest and most relevant change in New Vegas from Fallout 3 is the revamp of the karma system and the depth of the faction system. Fallout 3's karma system (good deeds give positive karma, bad deeds give negative karma) introduced a very black and white way of viewing a world that in previous iterations was very much gray. Sometimes it was downright confusing, for example, when Enclave mercs would attack you despite not having done anything in particular to anger them. In New Vegas, that karma system exists but has no real effect on the world. New Vegas focuses on how your actions affect the interests of other groups. In New Vegas, there are three major factions and a plethora of other factions ranging from fairly big to small. Do something to blatantly harm the NCR, Legion, or Mr. House (the Strip's major faction), and they will be unsure if they should trust you, hampering your ability to sometimes obtain and complete quests from them.
To further murk up the water, none of the factions themselves are purely good or bad. You will be given differing opinions on what they stand for depending on what character you ask. Some of the more negative reviews were critical about Caesar's Legion, stating that they were hokey, too clearly evil, and the NCR was clearly good, which is clearly contrasting what I have just written. The first time I saw Caesar's Legion members dressed in their Roman attire, I thought it seemed a little silly myself, but the more I played, the more legitimate I saw them as. My argument would be that you could only easily delineate the Legion as evil and the NCR as good if you believe that democracy is the only righteous path for civilization. Caesar himself makes a compelling case for the contrary, though I would have liked this to be fleshed out even more. The Legion is ruthless in its methods, yet efficient in its operation - and Caesar is revered by his followers (and former enemies in most cases) for his vision of the future world. The NCR, on the other hand, is just as imperialistic, finding strength in its democracy in the form of numbers, but is sloppy in administration. The New Vegas citizens are uneasy of an NCR takeover, foreseeing the heavy taxation that would fallow while providing nonexistent, poor, or inadequate services in return. Which is really better for the people? To further confuse things, House is looking to maintain independence and drive both imperialist factions away from what he has created, and has his own desires for power and visions for the world. All factions are relevant to what we see in the world today. Add in the smaller factions, and you have a world that can really be fashioned into something unique based up what you perceive is best.
And it is a world that your character will definitely have a major effect on. Other criticisms I have read leveled at New Vegas have had to do with the story. Fallout 3 supporters maintain that you care about your character because you have been with him since birth and really care about his life, backstory, and family. In New Vegas, you begin as a non-descript courier and the game never really reveals any backstory to your character. Personally, I like this approach and I am not really sure how 10 minutes as a baby and pre-teen would make you care that much more about your character. I didn't so much care about my character's back story as I did about how he would shape the world around him. New Vegas is a world that does not revolve around you, but instead one that you will have a profound impact on. No longer are you forced to help the Brotherhood save the world as we know it. The Brotherhood are but one of many factions vying to establish themselves as relevant and powerful in the new wasteland. You now have a choice to how you want the game to end and who you want in control, or even if you want nobody in control. The ending to New Vegas is quite satisfying, because, like in earlier Fallouts, you will see how you have impacted the people and the world around you, with a tale being revealed about what happened to the major places in the world and the members you traveled with. The quests and factions are so inter-woven and deep that you may find yourself put into a situation that you didn't exactly plan on, and how you deal with that situation will go a long way to determining what happens in the world and with the game's ending. Sometimes you won't exactly foresee what happens and you will have to live with the decisions you did or did not make.
Fallout: New Vegas does so much right that it is easy to overlook some of the issues I had with the out-dated engine it was built on. It's obvious that some of the members of Obsidian had given a Fallout 3 game a lot of thought and that those ideas and thoughts were translated into the world found in New Vegas. The major quests are interesting and contain considerable depth, there is an innumerable amount of side quests, the history is dense and relatable to the Fallout world, and the game is a lot of fun. I haven't had a RPG experience like this since Fallout 2, and that is exactly what I wanted from a Fallout game. Obsidian also tried to appease fans of the originals by making slight changes to Bethesda's offering of the series. No, the over-the-shoulder camera does not make the game much more playable from a third-person perspective, and yes your character still looks like he is skating through the wasteland if you try to play it from anything but the first-person perspective, but it does look and feel much more like the Fallouts of the past.
Fallout: New Vegas has received some acclaim as well and some RPG of the Year accolades, particularly from some of the more hardcore RPG associations out there, but was recieved somewhat lukewarm in comparison to Fallout 3's reception. Some of the reasons for this are understandable while some of the other reasons are downright puzzling. Personally, to me this is a tragedy that may have far-reaching consequences. It could mean that considering the reception of the two games, that Bethesda may decide to keep all future Fallout productions in house. Not only could that mean that Fallout: New Vegas is left out of the canon of the Fallout universe, but it could mean that we never see a true successor to New Vegas. After this game, I for one hope that Bethesda continues to work with Obsidian, if not on the "true" sequels, then on the Fallout spin-offs, as they were so gracious to do this time around. Regardless, Obsidian has done Bethesda a service with Fallout: New Vegas beyond simply making them boatloads of money by developing this game, they have also inspired me to go back and give Fallout 3 another go, and what is more important than the impact I have on the world (or was it the other way around)? Hopefully I will soon be writing a review about Fallout 3, bewildered as to why it didn't grab hold of me the previous times I tried it.
The world of New Vegas is huge. The level cap of the game is 30 (Fallout 3 was 20, later raised to 30 with DLC - New Vegas will see a raise to 35 with its first DLC). I beat the game on my first playthrough about 50 hours in, but reloaded to continue playing and still have not discovered all locations or completed many of the sidequests after 60+ hours of playing.
The game is known to be quite buggy. However, it did not crash on me until after 30 hours of playing. After that, however, I encountered a part in the game during a quest at the Ultra Luxe where the game crashed twice in a row, after looking online I found this was a common problem and downloaded a mod that completely solved the problem for me. The game auto saves frequently and besides a couple random crashes after that and some clipping issues, I didn't see much to label this game as that buggy. However, a friend of mine encountered an issue early on after completing the quest of spreading Legion atrocities that made all NCR immediately hostile to him, making the game practically impossible to continue without restarting, since NCR inhabit the vast majority of the game's map. My recommendation would be to keep multiple saves at different periods in the game. As intricate as this game is, I personally thought it played pretty bug-free. Though I didn't feel the need to patch my game, patches should be available that pretty much clear up all issues that existed in the vanilla version.
A special nod should be given to the modding community, who has helped make a great game even better. Not only have they helped fix technical glitches (mentioned above) but they have provided additional content and game tweaks to enhance the game in many ways. Bethesda also deserves credit for making their games so accessible for aspiring modders. In addition to the mod above, I played my game using a tweak to make the amount of companions you can have follow you at one time related to your charisma (like in Fallout 2) rather than limiting you to just two (a strange choice by Obsidian to not implement companions like this anyway), one that increases the maximum amount of caps you can bet at casinos (yes, mostly used to get money faster when and if I needed it...), one to remove the level cap (I am at level 32 and still have quests, just to demonstrate how much content is here), and one that allows you to continue playing the game after the main quest is completed (other mods are being worked on that will add additional content after the main quest as well - woo hoo!), but there is many more options out there I would encourage others to find. I will be exploring these more after I finish the game again.
- Huge, immersive world that is true in look and feel to the Fallout namesake.
- Seemingly endless amounts of quests, locations, and gameplay to be had. The game could probably stretch to 100 hours on a single play through.
- Intricate and involved quests that really shape a unique ending for the player.
- True role-playing, believable dialog, choices, and effects, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is fully utilized, and there seems to be little to no level-scaling present.
- Your character still skates across the wasteland.
- Some very mild and minor design complaints, most easily solved with mods.
For Further Reading
Here's a review I found to be very well-written that in many ways reinforces how I feel about the game and touches on some other areas I did not mention. Be forewarned, the site that published it, No Mutants Allowed, is a site known to be fairly critical of Fallout 3 while worshipping the originals. I share many, but probably not all of their sentiments and am not affiliated in any way (though I have downloaded many Fallout mods for the original games from their site - thanks NMA!).