A Great Game, but When Compared to Fallout 3, Comes Up Short.
Game play: The game is set up much like an MMO in many respects, just without any other people. For the most part you are a single person travelling a vast landscape, which is mostly populated with open areas, seemingly abandoned towns, a few key spectacular locations, and raiders who want to kill you. If you are new to the Fallout franchise the key to the game play (in terms of combat) is something called V.A.T.S. Which stands for Vital Area Targeting System. Essentially after hitting the V key, the game freezes, and shows you all of the targets that you can attack. And once you select a target, you can then further select body parts to shoot at, which can either cause critical damage (head shots), cause the enemy to drop their weapon (hands), or slow the target down (legs). Other areas like the body don't offer any special effect, but considering V.A.T.S. works on percentage to hit probabilities, you chance of hitting the torso is obviously higher because its the biggest target.
They also added a few new perks (which are great), "Things Done" perks (which are perks given by doing something like killing raiders or getting head shots), a reputation system, ammo manufacturing, and a cooking system. The new perks are great and really encourages you to try and play the game differently. But the ammo and cooking systems are difficult and frustrating to use, this is also not helped by the fact that unless you actively do so, you will have more than enough money to buy all the ammo and healing items you need making both systems obsolete. The reputation system in a way unfortunately takes away from the game's fiction. In Fallout 3 there were factions as well, but in order to tell if you were friends or foes with them you would have to interact with them, if they talked to you, chances are they liked you or were neutral towards you, and if they tried to kill you they hated you. By adding a system where you can see all the factions and their view towards you just reminds you that you are a playing a game, and pulls you out of the story.
Graphics: The game looks as good as Fallout 3 and in some cases actually surpasses it, but were New Vegas struggles is with its frame rate. Near the beginning of the game, if you follow the quest lines, will be in a fight involving approximately 12 NPCs in a shootout. I have a great computer, runs everything including Crysis, Star Craft 2 on very high settings, a decent PC rig. But when the shootout started, it slowed to single digit frames. This has been a common problem with Obsidian games, where it seems they just can't lock down the frame rate to a solid 30. Artistically the game looks as good as Fallout 3, but with the "more" unstable frame rate, the game suffers because of it.
Story: They story is grand in scale and does have a few highlights/surprises which I will not spoil here. But unlike Fallout 3, the story has no real personality, personal involvement or attachment. What I mean is that every time a significant story development occurred in NV, it seemed like events were happening but not due to your involvement. It felt like whenever a story character died or something happened that you only did it because that's what the quest line told you to do. The first game in theory was not different, but it did hide the fact that you were being led along very well, to the point where you as the human player actually wanted to take the path without thinking about how the game was forcing you down it.
Sound: The sound within the game is effective. There is old time music on the radio, the voiced NPCs are magnificent as always, and the guns and radioactive animals all sound as they should. The only thing I can think of that NV lacks is the charismatic DJ "Three Dog" who would actually make mention of your characters exploits throughout the game to further suck you into the world. But for the most part NV is on par with Fallout 3 for this category.
Overall: I hate to sound like a broken record when referencing Fallout 3, but it is a better game in many aspects. New Vegas did add some interesting things to the game, including the faction relations, the cooking system, the ammunition system, etc. But for the most part all of these systems don't add anything to get game, and in some cases are frustrating to use/understand. I can ignore the frame rate, the engine bugs, I don't believe those can fully harm a game's impression on me. The main issue that I have with New Vegas is the lack of personality. It does have some, but Fallout 3 had more, and it made you feel personally attached to that world, the characters, and your character more so than in New Vegas, and I think it really hurts this post apocalyptic experience.