I’m not sure if it was born out of a sense of comedic irony that Obsidian chose to introduce your character in Fallout: New Vegas as a courier, but it makes oh-so-much sense. The myriad RPGs that litter the proverbial wasteland of gaming’s present and yesteryear have all essentially turned players into couriers; workhorses for the NPC downtrodden - tools through which thriving virtual worlds can continue to spin their virtual spin
, while you, a hapless de facto ‘courier’, of sorts
, just try and make sense of it all - gleefully counting the experience points you just earned for returning someone’s something
and going on your merrily levelled up way.
If people complained that Fallout 3 lost some of the original series’ more hardcore RPG roots, they can rest easier with New Vegas. This definitely looks and feels like Bethesda’s true 3D reimagining of the post-apocalyptic franchise, but at its core there are more nods and injections from Fallout’s past than anything from 2008’s masterpiece. What it carries over from that title is more akin to the mutated bugs that make up so much of your impediments in the wasteland - a ferociously flawed technical experience that definitely needed more time in production. The game isn’t broken, but it sure does limp along.
There’s a lot familiar here, and a lot not so much. As mentioned earlier, the depth of the RPG elements - perks, S.P.E.C.I.A.L., items, crafting, repair, conversation, faction allegiance, buying, selling, looting - are all much deeper than in Fallout 3. It’s actually quite daunting at first too, because unlike the previous game, you’re welcome to approach a Work Bench and craft anything you want, provided you have the right equipment. You can also strip items down to basic parts to craft into other items, and this includes a lot of stuff, even down to individual ammo shells. You’ll find your first two benches some five minutes into the game as well, which can be pretty jarring that early in. And not too soon after that, you’ll learn how to combine food stuffs for health-helping items; another new element of the game that has some serious depth if you choose to utilise it correctly.
Also, interestingly, is the major change to level design over that of Fallout 3. My first experience out of Vault 101 two years ago saw me wandering further and further into the wasteland; unhindered by walls and ignoring the main quest line. The same cannot be said about New Vegas though, and while the game-world is once again massive and much of it open to you, there’s more of a guided sense of exploration here - certain areas are either just too dangerous to even attempt to wander into, or you’re plain locked out because of factions. It’s a nice touch because ultimately, you’re going to be able to stroll through these tantalisingly locked off areas at some point, that much is sure, but getting there is more than half the fun and Obsidian know this. So from the outset, you pretty much are a slave to their design.
In saying that though, New Vegas is actually far more daunting than Fallout 3. The Karma system is still in place, but it’s role in defining your character is minor at best. The point Obsidian have made with this game is that, when playing with post-apocalyptic lore of this nature, there really aren’t any good
people left. The wastes are just that; the remnants of society - the dregs if you will, and no one character is above another for personal moral maturity. With this in mind, your character and the type of personality you manifest through the play experience is done so in how you choose to deal with the game’s massive list of factions. Each has their own design for the Mojave wastes, and each believes theirs is the right one. But more often than not said designs are full of power and control motives, or motives of chaos and destruction. You’re talking about a splintered society attempting to build something coherent, but not a one of them has a sane plan they can all agree upon.
What’s left as a result of dealing with the crazy inhabitants then, is finding the faction whose basic outlook reflects your own end-game desires. Some players are all about making chaos in sandbox environments, and because the faction system dovetails constantly, there’s a greater chance for farther reaching consequences every time you make a decision with one. So no matter what you do, there’s always a result you need to be weary of.
I found myself torn between helping the diminished Brotherhood of Steel who were all-powerful in the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, but essentially forced to live in hiding, underground in New Vegas, or the New California Republic; the closest thing to any decent order in the place. Problem here is both factions hated each other, despite having common goals for some kind of greater good, or order at least, which means that becoming friendly with one was ultimately going to affect my relationship with the other - how far I took this though was really in my hands.
The system is far more engaging as a result - there’s no cut and dry good, neutral or bad, there’s just outcome, and you have to deal with it the best way you can.
Of course with any such system also comes a chance for intelligent players to milk the most out of the world around them. You’re going to have enemies regardless, but unlike Fallout 3 where you were constantly at war with say the Talon Company or Raiders, you’re almost always given a chance to align yourself with any group you come into contact with. But, as previously mentioned, some will attack on sight if you’re too well liked or sided with their main enemy. There are ways around this (though not always), and so you need to be smart and look at the game’s world in a different way - thinking further ahead with every game-changing decision you’re about to make to carve out your desired path through the experience.
Another much touted new feature is one pulled from mods made for Fallout 3 - Hardcore mode. After you’ve gone through the character creation process, you’re prompted to be able to play the game in this mode, which actually requires constant management of food, water and sleep. The game scales to be much more difficult, and you’re not as strong as when playing Normal mode. This is where food and chem crafting are more important, because you need to deal with shorter buffs - eating straight up Cram, for example, will wear off quickly, making you suffer from starvation much sooner than you’d like.
The same can be said of water, too. Purified water lasts much longer than Dirty water (and has no Radiation effects), and all of these, when you’re suffering from their deprivation of, have negative effects on your skill-set. Staying well rested, well fed and fully hydrated can mean the difference between reaching a particular skill level a time of crisis when you most need it.
Hardcore mode also demands more management of items, as you’re not only capped at a lower weight threshold, but even ammo comes with a weight increment. So loot hoarders are going to find it hard keeping their accrued items to a safe minimum, especially because you’ll actually be carrying required items to help manage the Mode’s other pitfalls, such as only being able to heal damaged limbs with Doctor’s bags, and not general Stimpaks, weapons and items that wear down much more quickly, and a greater chance of death for your companions among a few other gratifying (yet grinding) parameters.
Obviously companions is the other major change for Fallout: New Vegas, and while you could recruit members in Fallout 3 the system here is much more robust. Recruited buddies will give you a skill-specific perk (so Boon the sniper gives you a Perception perk, while ED-E offers up a perk that allows you to see enemies on your radar from greater distances). They also come with their own side-quests, which then offer more loyalty rewards and a greater performance from them. You can only have one member at a time unless you repair ED-E the Enclave Eyebot from the Capital Wasteland, at which point you can have him on-hand as an added bonus, but each companion also comes with their own grudges - so you can’t take someone who hates the NCR anywhere near them because they’ll likely just open fire. By and large they’re pretty cool to have around, especially if you’re playing Hardcore (as I am), and combat is much more difficult.
Commanding them is a bit thin though. The Companion wheel offers chances to make them wait or follow, be passive or aggressive, use ranged weapons or melee, but it’s not always so cut and dry. Usually they’re aggro magnets, alerting enemies to your presence at the worst of times, and their place by your side essentially negates any stealth you might have wanted to perform. They suffer the same AI pitfalls as the rest of game’s characters in that they easily trip up on the environment, constantly running into solid walls and being left behind as you masterfully work your way through the game’s questionable collision detection. Having more dynamic responses from NPCs or your companions based on the major decisions I mentioned earlier would have helped too, but it’s not all bad, the system could just do with a more tangible and manageable interface.
Overall, Fallout: New Vegas is an excellent game through its sheer size and depth. Fallout 3 fans will love it, as it offers enough new content and enough changed content to warrant the massive amount of time Fallout 3 likely gleamed from you, while anyone who thought Bethesda’s effort didn’t live up to Black Isle’s Fallout legacy can look forward to better writing overall, a revamped conversation system (with deeper, more dynamic and ‘Fallout-esque’ responses) and the heavier RPG elements.
At some 40hours in as of writing this review, I’ve barely moved on the game’s main plot and still haven’t even remotely met every faction in the game - it’s absolutely massive. But this brings with it my main gripe, and it’s something I touched on earlier. While it’s great we essentially get another Fallout experience in this generation with all of the great stuff mentioned throughout this review, the tech behind it all is just old and buggy as hell.
It’s arguable there’s more scope in Obsidian’s game, but this has come at the cost of the product itself being let down by a lack of bug fixing. It doesn’t look as good as Fallout 3 did, and perhaps that’s down to internal support at Bethesda knowing the engine better than their outsourced pals, but it shows, and doesn’t help when Obsidian are known for lacking in the polish department. I was lucky enough to avoid any full crashes (though my house-mates have suffered these), but dodgy texture load-ins, massive frame-rate drops, out of sync voice work and alarmingly close pop-up have actually marred the experience for me. It is a detriment when you invest so much into the world, lore and characters and I’m hoping some serious patch work is released as soon as possible.
Beyond the technical shortcomings though, I can’t put the damn game down. And like I said, it’s big. Really big. Dauntingly big. But engagingly so. The writing is much tighter, the characters more engaging, the world more tangible and your investment in it so much more personal - here’s hoping we see a culmination of both efforts for the obvious fourth installment on some bugless