Hopefully what happens in New Vegas doesn't stay there.
Fallout: New Vegas is published by the company that developed Fallout 3 in 2008 which was Bethesda, but this time around New Vegas is developed by Obsidian entertainment. Obsidian is fairly well known for making flawed but fantastic games. Sort of like they give you your cake and never let you eat it too…at least not until a year and “X” amount of patches later. It usually takes Obsidian awhile after one of their game’s launches to get it up to where it should be, but afterwards their games are usually quite amazing. Regardless, I pre-ordered New Vegas knowing that Obsidian follows a trend of premature launch ignition and I have waited until now (a little over a year later) to play the game.
A year ago, after seeing and reading review after review of how buggy and flawed the game was, but it seemed to have greatness under all of the insects, it was basically exactly what I had come to expect from them. Jump to the future one year later, was it worth the wait? The simple answer, no. Is it a great game though? Yes. Here it is, everything about why New Vegas is superior to Fallout 3 yet also inferior.
Graphics/Character Performance and Animation – 7/10
Fun Factor – 7/10
Story – 8/10
User Interfacing – 9/10
Learning Curve – Feels just right
Sound – 10/10
Value - 6/10
Total – 8.1 / 10
Fallout in general usually has some type of stylization from a 1950s United States. The game’s mascot (Fallout Vault Boy) is reminiscent of the Howdy Doody era and of times past when schools used to have nuclear bomb drills like that of a mock fire drill during school. During this “Duck and Cover” drill people were made to believe that getting under their school desk would obviously protect them from a nuclear explosion. Common sense right? Desks withstand megatons of explosive force on a daily basis. Of course my first reaction would be to jump under a wooden desk if a nuclear bomb had just blown-up within eye’s sight. Geeze, give American’s some credit.
Anyway, the stylization of the game really captures and embodies the ridiculousness of the 1950’s nuclear mentality astonishingly well. After all, the franchise is about a world set after a post-apocalyptic nuclear war right? These characteristics are captured so well in New Vegas it is just fantastic, but I’ll talk about that more when I cover “Hardcore Mode” later. If it were not for all of the radiation in the food and water coupled with futuristic guns alongside gasmasks with high-tech breathing apparatuses you would simply think this game was a survival game set in a fictional world. Oh yeah, and subtract the fact that it takes place in America and feels quite a bit like a raw, darker cowboy-Wild West game that incidentally spins it’s tale in the Mojave Deserts of Nevada.
And what a tale it is, a tale of pursuit and vengeance. Or is it? That is one of the beauties of the game. New Vegas is extremely opened ended when it comes to decision making. When you get right down to the specific motions you would like to go through to finish a quest or the different variations in outcomes with the narrative the story’s flexibility is done quite well. The cast and dialogue of New Vegas are superb and the story is enthralling and well-paced throughout (That is, if you don’t get distracted by the game’s numerous side-quests and hidden tidbits). I really should start separating graphics, character animations, and acting performances because the voice acting really is quite stellar, but those aspects of the game got dragged down by often strange character (NPC) behaviors and or simply bad character animations like; walking into a wall, doing a really weird high-stomping marching-thing while walking into objects, along with a handful of other oddities. Putting aside strange sporadically walking NPCs and the game’s unique 1950s nuclear theme, New Vegas truly is great from a storytelling and a voice acting prospect.
A narration regarding the shaky past of the Mojave Desert and the power struggle for the Hoover Dam from the somber soothing voice of Ron Perlman is what prologues the game once more. You know, he’s the “war…war never changes” guy from Fallout 3. “City of Lost Children”…Hellboy? Alien: Res…you know what, never mind.
After the narration, the game starts with two men digging a hole while a third is giving you a cryptic speech. Then you realize the speech is actually a eulogy as he fires a round into your melon. You regain consciousness in a doctor’s house. You will later find out that you’re itching to find the men who “point-blanked” you, buried you, and left you for dead. Also, you will soon learn that there is a war brewing in the Mojave Desert. Before you begin your pursuit though, the doctor shows you a monitor that has your face on it. He then asks if the surgery he performed on you is accurate and if that is what you remember looking like?
This is when you start to create your character. You can adjust the aesthetic of your character’s facial features via sliders for contours and convexes to various facial features like; ears, forehead, nose, eyebrows, lips, chin and so on. There are also plenty of hair styles and beards to match with possibly over 40 different styles between the two aspects.
After choosing your appearance you’re going to do that good ol’ Fallout attribute distribution through the game’s patented “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” system. “SPECIAL” are the different attributes that tune your character to your specific play-style with the help of “skills” which are directly affected by these “special” attributes. The attributes that make-up your character are S-trength, P-erception, E-ndurance, C-harisma, I-ntelligence, A-gility, and L-uck. Skills are things like; Science (hacking computers and robots), Energy Weapons (your proficiency with energy based weapons), Sneak (How well you’re able to move around while being undetected), Repair (your ability to take weapons and armor and salvage parts to fix gear), and so on. Lastly, there are “Perks”. Perks are benefits to your character that can range from very powerful to weird…or creepy. Perks also usually require a combination of your “SPECIAL” attributes mixed with skills. For example, to get the “Nerd Rage!” Perk you will need an attribute score of 5 intellect and a skill level of 50 in science. The “Nerd Rage!” Perk gives your character a +15 damage resistance (quite a lot) and +10 strength (Also, a huge amount of STR) whenever their health drops to or below 20%. Like I said before, Perks have a wide range in applications and variations—from sneaking quicker and more silently, more grenade damage, to cannibalism—perks are quintessentially what define and differentiate your character and play-style. In the end, a mixture of attributes, skills, and perks are what can and do change the game’s experience to fit your desired play-style.
After you mold your malleable character a bit the doctor will give you a few supplies and you will open the door to the expansive Mojave Desert and start your adventure. Not too much fuss or muss. No more Vault tutorial or anything of the sort. Fallout: New Vegas gets you into the action pretty quickly when compared to FO3.
To find out where to go (amongst many other things) you can refer to the welcome return of the “Pip Boy 3000”. The Pip Boy is your handy-dandy arm-mounted information center. It does everything from monitor your vitals to show you quest and equipment information. The Pip Boy also has a memory function that renders and remembers environmental layouts and locations as you explore. Also, a light can be illuminated from the Pip Boy to act as the game’s “torch” of sorts for those low-light creepy places.
Speaking of creepy environments and things returning from past Fallout games, the unfortunate return of an awkwardly all too familiar world has not so much been born in New Vegas as it is “reborn” here. It feels like Obsidian got handed Bethesda’s Fallout game engine and a package of pre-rendered objects, buildings, bricks, glue, and all of the fixings that Bethesda used to make FO3. It is almost as though Obsidian used nothing made special to render the New Vegas game. “Nothing” is a bit strong of a word, but it does feel as though at least very little was made especially for New Vegas. Bethesda giving Obsidian this “package” to make New Vegas is probably a scenario that most likely DID happen. It may be asking too much of developer Obsidian to make the entire game from scratch in less than 2 years, but I would have liked to have seen more new (environmental) content to flesh out New Vegas’ own identity to differentiate itself from FO3. Changing the washed out muted gray-greens of FO3 to a lighter more vibrant yellowish amber is no substitute for a fresh new identity. At least from an ambience standpoint, the environments feel like the same wastelands with a new coat of paint over them and then the environments are trying to be passed off as a place across an entire country from where FO3 took place. The paint peals revealing the wastelands of Washington underneath and you can really see tons of elements from the capital wastes. This “new paint job” gives the environments a “been here, done that” feel. Even worse, the lengthy and labyrinth-esque subway systems are not present in Vegas. The absence of a futuristic dungeon crawling feel was very noticeable for me personally with the removal of the subway systems. Overall, the environments are still expansive and fantastical in size and scope, just not in unfamiliarity or sense of tension from trekking through a new alien vista.
On the other hand, you’ve got the Vegas strip. Vegas is the best and mostly original portion of the game. If you thought there was a lot to do in the game before reaching New Vegas (which there is a ton) at the half-way point then you could be overwhelmed with all of the different activities and locations along with all of the different gangs and businesses presented in this well-contained micro city like; sewers, gambling, gun runners, traveling merchants and mini games. There is simply a lot to do here.
Fallout: New Vegas is a lot like the two-sided coin of the famous Batman character Two-Face. On one side you have an amazing, perfectly embroidered miniature relief sculpture that represents all of the features the craftsman was trying to express. On the other side you have a riddled with flaws and scratched apart technical mess of what could’ve mirrored the greatness represented on the opposite side. That is New Vegas in a nutshell.
On that note, New Vegas missed every opportunity to improve over Fallout 3 from a technical aspect in every conceivable way. Any technical issue that FO3 may have had has NOT been done away with. In fact, many new technical issues show their head in New Vegas. One of the most notable new problems is not so much a "frame-rate dip" as it is an extremely frequent “frame-rate halt” wherein the frames per-second don’t slow down so much as they completely freeze for a split second. New Vegas also takes many opportunities to completely lock-up and freeze my Xbox and this is not due to extended periods of play or over exerting the console. I might not turn on my Xbox or thrown in New Vegas for days at a time only to have the Xbox get stuck on a loading screen after 30 minutes of play or while simply walking across the empty wastes with nothing technically taxing happening on screen. Also, besides freeze-ups there are STILL texture tears and screen ripping issues even after more than an entire year of time has passed to fix said issues. I have even had the pleasure of being on top of a huge boulder only to magically fall through which I was then trapped under its’ now obviously impassable outer shell. You may find yourself frequenting previous saves quite often due to faulty technical issues because those are only some examples of the great fun things that can happen from texture issues and the game’s bugs.
On the other side of that coin though you have all of the things that Obsidian looked at, thought of great ideas for, improved upon them, and then executed them fantastically. Those elements are basically every RPG element that FO3 had. New Vegas takes every opportunity to improve over FO3 in nearly every RPG aspect. Most of all is the “Hardcore Mode”, but I am going to get to that last.
Firstly, we have deeper RPG elements with the newly added Factions and quest nuances. As you explore the different avenues of the Mojave Desert you are going to find different (usually feuding) factions across Nevada. All factions start neutral towards you. You build a reputation with a faction by either completing quests or tasks that are in their favor of said faction which grants a positive response (fame) or by actions that hurt a specific faction making those persons hate you (infamy).
The reason this effects quest nuance so fantastically is that usually an important quest can have many different outcomes for you to choose from and they’re not always so cut-and-dry. For example, during one quest I was using my scientific prowess to recalibrate what was thought to only be solar panels for electrical power. On further investigation you discover the system is also a pre-apocalypse military system of immense power via orbital satellite weaponry. When readjusting the solar panels I had three different options. First, I could redirect power to only the “rich” parts of Nevada like the New Vegas strip which would improve my NCR (New California Republic, basically a Lawful-good faction) reputation. I could redistribute the power evenly to all populous of Nevada to increase my Followers of the Apocalypse (A humanitarian neutral-good faction) reputation. Or lastly, I could use the orbiting satellite to basically fry all of the NCR troops stationed at the base which would improve my standing with The Legion (a blur between often Chaotic-Good and Chaotic-Evil). These decisions really gave a great sense of perplexing choice making because if I were to nuke the NCR troops it would really feel amazingly like a double-agent scenario. Oh the NCR needs my help getting the solar panels working? Oooh, sorry I just microwaved you all.
Also, each one of the major factions has their own suit of special equipment called faction armor. Faction Armor adds to the level of quest route choices as well because when you’re wearing a specific suit of armor that group or a differing faction may or may not attack you on sight. These aspects really add to that double-agent or espionage feeling.
Besides faction appearance and adding to complexity of quest choice, armor also has damage threshold (DT). This threshold will negate all damage up to a certain amount specific the weapon being fired upon it. For instance, if a weapon has a damaging factor of 22 and you’re wearing armor with a DT of 15 you will only receive 7 points of health loss from each strike of that weapon.
One way to break through this armor is with the new ammo and ammo types which can be crafted at the new work-benches (crafting stations). You can also get emptied shells or drained charges from energy weapons and bring them to a reloading station to salvage what you can from previously used ammo. Or, you can use these different ammo types to breakdown bullets or convert charges into different ammo types with the right parts. Work benches are also where you can take ammo and craft them into different new ammo types like; overcharge, hollow point, armor piercing, and so on. All of these different ammo types have their tactical time and place of use. Hollow points really mess-up the insides of unarmored targets, but simple break apart doing nothing to armored targets and vice-versa with armor piercing rounds.
Going even deeper into weapon use and customization are the new addition of weapon modifications. These weapon mods have a maximum of 3 mods per weapon and range from various different things like; a silencer (improved critical chance and damage), beam splitters (doubles the beam increasing damage by 30%), and or carbon fiber (reduces gun’s weight). Certain mods only fit on a specific weapon, which means a laser rifle sight is not able to fit a sniper rifle or even a laser hand-gun. Mods only go on their intended weapon.
Also, at about half-way through the game you can implant cybernetic augmentations in your character mod them as well. These implants are mostly a substitute for the perk “SPECIAL Training”—with applications to increase your special attributes like strength and intellect—but also range to things like overall damage resistance and health regeneration. Take a note, you had better bring 4-12 thousand caps per cybernetic mod because these implants can be very pricy.
From ammo types, medicine, and gecko steaks to weapon mods and home-made bombs the crafting is deeper in general throughout Fallout: New Vegas.
One aspect that has not changed much is the fact that leveling is still basically the same. You gain experience points (XP) for killing creatures, successful conversation challenges, and completing tasks or quests. Many of the same perks have returned and there are better and more of them as well. There are several different ways to get perks. You unlock a perk every other level or by completing a challenge like killing 100 insects to get the “Bug Stomper” perk and many, many other challenges of this sort. You can also be granted a special perk depending on what companion is aiding you on your adventures.
Companions are not a new addition from Fallout 3, but they’re much more thought-out and executed better as well. I don’t remember if you could have multiple companions in previous games because I simply believe I never had more than one at a time, but in New Vegas you sure can. Also, (from the companions I’ve recruited) each companion has their own special side-quest and story that delves deep into their past or lack thereof. You can still equip them as you see fit by throwing gear into their inventory and they also have a faster interaction HUD to get them to do what you want. You click on them and a radial menu similar to “Mass Effect” will open and is easy to navigate and command them to use melee, stay close, keep distance, be passive or aggressive, and so on. My only complaint is that after you get one or more of these brothers-in-arms the game seems a bit too easy.
This brings me to my last part about the added RPG elements and difficulty which is the newly added “Hardcore Mode”. HCM adds so much to that sense of post-apocalyptic immersion that I was saying is so important to this genre and franchise. You really feel as though you have to scavenge and look through all of the desks, crates, dumpsters, garbage cans, cabinets, refrigerators, and so on because you need to harvest every valuable resource. This is mostly due to the fact that in HCM you have to maintain a healthy body or you will die to starvation, dehydration, or sleep deprivation. You have meters for all of these aspects of daily life and the meters are broken into fourths. The more you deprive your character’s fundamental needs of food, water, and sleep the more you will be weakened until finally death will grab you. HCM really adds to the feeling of “man…I am really deep into this factory, but I really need to go get some water before this gets any worse” because that is how it would really be if you were thrown into the wasteland of a desert and trying to survive off of your surroundings.
Other game play differences in Hardcore Mode are that you can no longer use stimpaks to fix your broken limbs, only doctor’s bags or seeing an actual doctor can repair a broken limb. Enemies act more intelligently and if one of your companions dies…they’re dead forever instead of being incapacitated like in a normal game. Last but not least, all ammo has weight added to it for inventory space consideration. May not sound like much but all of these factors add-up and the feeling of needing to bring a certain amount of food, water, and ammo with you adds to the depth of realism in sense of adventuring out into a survival-hardened torturous environment. Also, if you don’t like Hardcore Mode then turn it off at any time. It is completely optional and it doesn’t follow a “once you start, it doesn’t stop” motto.
Let’s talk combat for a moment, that’s what the gameplay here is all about right?
Since Fallout 3 the Fallout franchise has exited the top-down 3D isometric view and entered the First-Person perspective for combat. Because of Fallout’s RPG turn-based strategy roots the franchise has re-imagined the time stopping targeting system of V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) to help maintain a RPG feeling through combat. When VATS mode is initiated time stops and everything within range is analyzed and calibrated into the target’s health for each of their appendages and hit-percentages for the weapon you currently have equipped. Angle and distance of the target are taken into calculation as VATS will inform you of your chance to hit from your current position and angle. Moving speed of the target and if you are crouched in a steadier aiming position factor in as well. These many different aspects can pay homage to and validate the complexities of a new way to play an old classic like a RPG turn-based strategy with varying degrees of thought provoking combat situations. For example, say something is moving extremely quickly and aggressively toward you. One might consider entering VATS and shooting their leg repeatedly to cripple them. If a leg is crippled a limp accompanied by slowed movement speed is induced. Or perhaps something has an extremely powerful weapon like a rocket launcher. You may want to shoot their arm repeatedly to drastically reduce their accuracy after crippling their gun-holding arm or fire on the weapon itself and take it out of the equation all together.
To target and execute an attack on the desired location through VATS it will cost you Action Points (AP). Weapons with stronger "kicks" usually by rule-of-thumb will cost more AP for each recurring round fired in tandem. AP quickly regenerates over time while out of VATS and or from consumable items that can boost a small chunk quickly.
Fallout: New Vegas is tactically thought provoking because of many of these deeper RPG elements like; VATS, equipment, character specializations and builds, tougher and wider ranging enemies through their armor or lack thereof, ammo and damage types, and weapon modifications. You don’t simply enter V.A.T.S. and click head, head, head, head, and head to kill your enemy like you may have done in Fallout 3. Because of the addition of armor piercing rounds and hollow points you may actually need to switch ammo types because an enemy is too well-fortified with armor (head included). Or you are simply being overwhelmed by many unarmored enemies which you would then need to switch to hollow points to be able to make quick work of unarmored foes. Adapting and reacting really make a forefront presence here. Really, I am impressed with how the simple addition of ammo types could impactually change the game for a more tactically sound experience.
The V.A.T.S. game mechanic alone will make Fallout easily stand apart from a traditional First-Person Shooter, but also the First-Person real-time action simultaneously make the game differentiate itself from a traditional RPG as well.
Also, for all of those real-time FPS moments (when your VATS action points have run out) the game has added a real functioning iron sight on every gun that would realistically have one. This is a fantastic addition to help with those real-time moments that could easily get away from you in FO3.
The sound is great with the right “zips and zaps” for energy weapons and thud cracking pops of powdered rounds from traditional shell-based weapons. The gurgling savage groans of a feral ghoul can still make you cringe and the bending moans of a now-ancient metal structure really give a great sense that this world was once thriving but monuments once cherished are now left to the same harshness of the wastelands like that of the fate of their long forgotten constructors. The radio still provides a nice variety of different music and disk jockeys to keep you company if the eerie abiotic tones of the Mojave are not welcoming to you.
The value of the game had to get large chop. Although the game unravels plenty of riveting storytelling and side-quests which could easily make you clock around 50+ hours of game time--with the addition of masterfully implemented new RPG elements--you cannot shake the feel of a very unfinished product here…even after a year of patching and bug stomping.
===============ALL IN ALL=============
Fallout: New Vegas is a double-sided coin. On one side you have a complex and fleshed out game through tactically thought provoking combat and a plethora of newly added sound RPG elements. The addition of the “Hardcore Mode” adds a unique level of realism and lucidity grounded to the ideals and qualities a game of the post-apocalyptic genre should be trying to exude. The lack of changed environments can be forgiven because New Vegas never claims to be Fallout 4. New Vegas is simply a game trying to take the concepts and success of FO3 and step in the right directions; which it did quite well from a RPG aspect.
On the other side of the coin you have a mess of technical short comings. NPCs can do weird things, sneaking feels broken due to inconsistent AI and occasional impossible line-of-sight mishaps, texture tearing and map ripping still plague the game even after a year of time has expired, and frame-rate halts and game freezes still smack this game’s score around like a mutated vault boy’s stepchild. This is why I say the game was not worth waiting a year for Obsidian’s game patches and also why the fun factor got punched a bit. At times frustration can hinder on your overall New Vegas experience. I cannot compare the game to how it was at launch last year as I did not play its’ perceivably even more buggy prior version, but New Vegas is still riddled with problems that need patching.
That being said, am I happy I played this game and got through the frustration of occasional yet frequent game issues? Simply, Yes.
Here is my suggestion to you. If you loved Fallout 3 you probably already own this game. If you gave New Vegas second thoughts and have been putting it off you should shelf that second thought and buy or at the very least rent it. Now more than ever I would suggest picking up this game as it is easily found for under 20$ at most retailers. Even with all of the technical headaches the game is still at least worth your time.
If Fallout: New Vegas would have been polished…it would have been a classic, but it wasn’t and still isn’t. When all is said and done, Fallout: New Vegas is an immersive, RPG heavy, VATS time-stopping, FPS, with functions that are imbedded with so much mal you can taste it, piece of buggy frustration wrapped in some perplexing astonishment through moments of true greatness and absolute ambition.