New Vegas carries the Fallout title pretty well.
I wasn’t so sure about what to expect, it didn’t seem like a new full-fledged game at all but somehow felt like it was a completely new turn on how Fallout was handled in its third installment. Knowing the developer’s fame I knew I could expect a somewhat more text-heavy experience rather than all-in exploration. Fallout 3 a little less Elder Scrolls if you will.
Now I realize that the game mechanics are identical to that of Fallout 3, in the beginning it feels like the third edition was indeed meant to be broken down into two segmented versions. Both game’s showcase a soul of their own though. It is true that Fallout 3 developed the focus on exploration while New Vegas often thrives to be as dialog-happy as it can be.
That’s not carved in stone though, there’s countless locations full of loot and mysteries in New Vegas, it all just feels more clustered together in a more dynamic map. You character can be as straight-to-the-point as Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra, choosing to gun down his problems whenever he can.
The controls in New Vegas, as well as it was in Fallout 3, aren’t exactly easy to handle. As a mixture of RPG and first-person action it features an aiming system that’s less based on how well you can handle your mouse. Reaching a target with your shots in the first hours will be hell. All your stats are so low that even at point blank you might miss half of your tries. Things certainly get much better as it progresses.
The progression is mostly because of stat increase but since you’re getting more and more used to how the game handles you might feel you simply “got the hang of it”. Sometimes the actual truth doesn’t even matter, your shots are more accurate and that’s what matters. Some weapons have a secondary zoom in system that most of the time won’t make much difference.
What actually makes a difference is what sets this apart from regular run-to-the-mill first person shooters. It the V.A.T.S.. Short for Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. Anytime during a battle you press ‘V’ (for PC, default) and suddenly time stops, you get a screen showing every body part of the enemy and the percentage of hitting that part of his body. If you choose to use this targeting assistance your character will perform the attack in an RPG-like scene.
This is somewhat strange at first, you don’t really have to aim at all during the entire game if you’re patient enough. Using VATS will use up your Action Points gauge, it replenished over time but during that period you might want to shoot the old-fashioned way or try to cover. Using VATS is completely up to the player, when up close to an enemy you chance of hitting the head increases significantly and helps out a lot especially with faster/stronger enemies.
Hitting certain points of the body might cripple the foes, resulting in failure of certain features, or at least making them harder. For example, crippling the head affects your perception; your arms jeopardize the aim; legs, your speed and charging ability; while the chest increases the change of being staggered. Some animals possess antennae or some sort that if crippled might cause them confusion, making them attack their own kin.
What I miss is a coherent way to equip items and know what they do and where they go. Like equipping armor and helmet in a specific menu location. This is not as complex as other RPGs, offering only two slots, so you only equip them via the large sub-menu of apparels. At least everything is divided in an efficient way. Though only two slots of defensive equipment is available is would be nice to just check it and see what you have on at that moment.
An important aspect of the game is the condition of any item. As important as how good your armor/weapon is, is how well-conserved it is. To repair them you can use other items of the same type or specific recovery items. The weapon selection is vast and should cover all traits. Two main types are available, regular ammo guns and energy.
In a desert wasteland all types of atrocities might happen, and they probably will. So recovering you energy should be a central point of any adventure. You can use stimpaks for general recovery while some doctors along the way may offer their services for a price. Sleeping is pretty effective while food and water might come with side-effects due to radiation poisoning.
You radiation bar is not something to be looked down. If somehow your radiation level reaches level 1000 you will die. It goes up from ingesting contaminated items or simply standing still on radioactive locations. Some locations are more radioactive than others, making it go dozens of points per second, and ultimately being of great danger to you well-being. Radiation levels can be neutralized by items or doctors and might cause stat decreases depending on how bad the situation is.
As you complete quests and advance in the game your reputation changes. If your actions were deemed fair your rep goes up, if not it will go down. Depending on what you do some factions — different groups of people within the game — might take it personal while other might idolize you for that. everything has a price, especially actions.
The leveling systems is somewhat complex when taken in the big picture. Basically, 15 skill points are handed out to the player every level increased. It’s up to how you want to evolve your character. There’s a focus on non-fighting skills like barter and speech, anyone could easily raise one of the offensive stats and turn to stuff like computer hacking and medicine, which due to the nature of the game, is much more important than other games of the kind.
There’s also perks which are given out occasionally. These perks don’t really affect much in terms of character development or how you interact with the world itself, but ease things up a lot depending on the situation. Crazy stuff like increased damage on enemies of the opposite/same sex go hand in hand with more traditional stuff like increased backpack space.
Outside of combat you’ll be doing quite a lot of things, like hacking computer to access places or simply new tidbits of the story. Lockpicking doors in the good old style of Bethesda’s sandbox installments. Balancing your karma depending on how good you want your character to be. Stuff like that. It will surely keep anyone up to the challenge pretty busy.
The stealth system is not the most robust, works well but could be much better. The Elder Scrolls series have sported much better systems throughout its history. When yo enter stealth mode a text will be displayed stating whether you are hidden, in caution or danger mode. Caution means the opponent is aware that you’re there somewhere. Danger means you’ve been found. It all feels cheap when compared to the increasing eye sight on you present in other games.
One aspect of this game I just can’t understand is the card game caravan. I have tried to play it before but it all just seems complicated and way off the overall sense of the game. It’s been said that you can find/buy new cards to incorporate into your deck, basically modding the average card deck with 52 cards. I have no idea how that works since I could barely catch what was going on.
Something really cool is the hardcore mode, made to enhance the experience for anyone who’s familiar enough with the game. It’s highly suggested that you at least finish it once to get a grasp of what’s going on before venturing forth in hardcore glory. Though you can enable or disable at any time during the adventure.
The most interesting aspect of hardcore is how you need to keep track of your own digital physiology. Drinking water isn’t just for when your health bar is low due to fighting those nasty robot-scorpions, you must drink it because otherwise your character will die of dehydration. Same goes for food, after a while your character will starve and only by ingesting some kind of food will help him. The last physical need is sleeping; again, not just to regain health, simply because your character demands it.
Even though there are lots and lots of toilets scattered around you still don’t need to cater to that biological need just yet, though drinking water from toilets might just save your life, and according to the game, the bad thing about it is just the high doses of radiation that comes with it.
New Vegas might very well be the best Fallout yet, whether you prefer the all-out exploration found in the third or still sport fond memories of old times, it should suffice to fulfill any post-apocalyptic role-playing need you might have developed. The soul of what makes Fallout is there in abundance, and that’s what matters.