War. War never changes. And with Fallout: New Vegas, Obsidian Entertainment has proven that they never change, either. Having previously developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Alpha Protocol, Obsidian is well known for creating games that have oodles of potential but lack polish in their execution, and Fallout: New Vegas is no exception. Despite a fantastic world and a great core game, the game has quite a few issues with bugs, and many of the new features – such as companion wheels and “iron sights” on weapons – just don’t work particularly well. However, like all of the previous Obsidian titles mentioned, Fallout: New Vegas is, at its core, a gem. If you’re a fan of Fallout 3, Oblivion or other recent WRPGs, there’s a lot to like.
I should also be clear – there are lots of pieces of Fallout: New Vegas that are broken. There are issues with the pathing system for NPCs. There are issues with your companions disappearing while other characters still comment about them. During the last battle in the game, I had my enemy simply fall out of combat and become invulnerable, making me reload my last save. I had quest objectives given to me after I had completed them, requiring me to go through dialogue trees I’d already listened to. These are unfortunate bugs, and they’re just a sample of what I experienced. However, despite the fact that there are individual pieces of this game that are broken, the game itself is not. At its core, Fallout: New Vegas is entertaining, and that’s what is most important.
Players take control of a courier who has been tasked with bringing a platinum chip to Primm, a small city on the border of California and Nevada. Trouble is, some goons from a New Vegas gang think that they should relieve you of said chip – the hard way. You end up being shot and buried, but not quite dead. Saved by Victor, a Securitron robot with a cowboy image on his screen, and patched up by Doctor Mitchell in the tiny town of Goodsprings, the Courier slowly gets his bearings and starts trying to find the man that killed him. It’s important to note that the Courier is not a Vault Dweller or a descendant of one, unlike the main characters of the first three games. The Courier gets his Pip-Boy 3000 and Vault 21 jumpsuit from Doctor Mitchell, who grew up in said vault. The basic story itself is fairly unimpressive, although the use of the new faction systems, explained in greater detail below, is great. I can’t say that there are any memorable characters along the lines of Moira, the denizens of the Republic of Dave, or any of the Garys. The characters aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but aside from a cyborg-dog companion named Rex, I had no emotional attachment to anyone in the Vegas Valley.
What Obsidian did succeed at, however, was crafting a believable world vaguely based on the real Las Vegas. Having grown up in Las Vegas, it was great to see references to things that I remember from my childhood. Exploring the REPCONN headquarters and factory reminded me of why I spent my school days having drills where teachers taped the doors to keep outside air out. Little things, like the graffiti noting that “LVA Class of ’99 Rules!”, the roller coaster in Primm, and “Bison Steve’s” made me smile quite a bit. It’s not perfect, as there are anomalies that some denizens of the real Las Vegas will notice, such as a street sign that has the I-215 West going from Lake Mead to Sunset to Russell, but these errors are slight. The world works, everything is relatively close to where it would be in real life, and it’s realistic enough for a video game. Most important is the fact that the world of New Vegas is one that’s relatively untouched by radiation – the city saw most of the warheads targeting it get shot down by a Star Wars-like defense system. You’re still exploring the Mojave Wasteland, though, because, to be completely honest, if you were to go wandering the desert South of Las Vegas even today, it would be a whole lot like what you see in Fallout: New Vegas.
The look of the game is great, and all of the environments are top notch, especially Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam. Wandering the Mojave Desert is much the same as it is in real life – very brown, filled with shrubs and the occasional Joshua tree. The casinos don’t have the architecture of real casinos, but I’d much rather have the gameplay-friendly versions seen in Fallout: New Vegas. The game keeps the same 50s-style aesthetic as the other Fallout titles, and it works well here, especially in the clone of mob-era Vegas. I wish that the character models looked better than those of Fallout 3, but they don’t. Fallout 3’s character faces were good in the sense that they were better than Oblivion’s, but there’s really no improvement in New Vegas. Armor looks good, as does all of the equipment, but I can’t shake the fact that the only characters in the game that look right are the ghouls. Still, the bright lights of the casinos and the hollowness of the desert remind me of the real Las Vegas.
Still, not all players will share my nostalgia for my youth and Sin City, but the new faction system gives players more to fight for than just plot. There are three major factions vying for control of the Strip – the New California Republic, Caesar’s Legion, and Mr. House and his army of Securitrons. Along with that, there are several smaller factions, such as the “boomers,” a group of what are essentially pyromaniacs who control Nellis Air Force Base, the families of the Strip casinos, and “The Kings,” a gang of Elvis impersonators, amongst others. These factions play off of each other, and relations with some will directly affect relations with others. It’s a good system that gives a little more structure to the world of New Vegas than was seen in the Capital Wasteland. Physically speaking, there are little niggles – such as invisible walls – that break the enjoyment just so slightly. All in all, the world itself functions well, I would say significantly better than the labyrinthine Capital Wastes, especially considering that the topography isn’t particularly difficult to traverse.
Dialogue in the game is just as important as it’s been in other Fallout games, and I was fairly happy that I was able to escape from my usual stereotypical warrior. I decided to play with boosted intelligence and charisma rather than taking my usual standby of strength and dexterity. It ended up working incredibly well – my high barter, science, repair, and speech skills kept me out of most combat situations. There were several areas – most specifically Black Mountain – that I wasn’t able to enter because I got my head blown off almost immediately, but it was refreshing to actually have dialogue as a legitimate way out of many situations. All of the dialogue is fully voiced, and the game’s aural aspect is top-notch. There are some voices that start to sound the same after a while, but there’s really not anything I can really nitpick here. While the characters themselves were fairly unimpressive to me, the dialogue was not, especially as many of the branches with characters didn’t simply rely on the speech skill. Barter, Science, and Repair all had their own options in many dialogue trees, as did some of the base S.P.E.C.I.A.L. statistics. It all works well, although I wish that some of the new gameplay additions did as well.
While the base gameplay works the same as it did in Fallout 3 – take quests, kill irradiated things, use a system called VATS to call your shots for a turn-based feel – there are several additions for New Vegas. Obsidian has added crafting and weapon modification to the game, allowing players to create everything from their own ammo to stimpaks to you-name-it. My 9mm pistol had a scope, a laser sight, and a silencer on it by the end of the game. This works well enough, but it’s not an incredibly deep system like the one seen in Resonance of Fate. Also added is the companion wheel, which gives better access to ally inventories and commands. It works well in concept, but because of some bugs, there were times when I couldn’t tell my companions to stand still so that I could get into some solo-only areas. The biggest addition to combat are iron sights for weapons. Fans of Call of Duty know these well, but I wish that Fallout: New Vegas’ implementation worked even half as effectively as the sights in Call of Duty. After an hour or so of trying to actually keep enemies in my sights, I gave up, as the system was far too slow, and I felt like it didn’t make a difference compared to simply shooting from the hip. I’m sure it’s a concept that was implemented to allow for use of the new weapons – like Sniper Rifles – but it just doesn’t work. My experience with Sniper Rifles was the same as it was at E3 – I wondered where to find the button to hold my breath so that I could actually line up a shot. On the other hand, the new special moves are an entertaining addition to combat. My character – as weak as he was – learned how to trip enemies by hitting them with a melee attack as he ran backwards. Because of my character’s lack of strength and unarmed and melee combat skill, I didn’t find any more combat moves I could learn, but I did run across a couple of scenarios where they could be learned.
The last major addition – Hardcore mode – was one that I did not explore. It doesn’t appeal to my mindset as a gamer, though I can see quite a few of our readers who would love it. Hardcore mode is just that – players need to eat, drink, and rest to stay alive in the desert. As well, stimpaks, which function essentially as instant health packs in the standard game modes, heal over time in Hardcore mode. As such, running headlong into battle, killing a couple of guys, then mashing the menu button to heal yourself ceases to be the most effective battle strategy. It’s an interesting addition to the game itself, as it’s the sort of thing that I would expect to see as a fan-made addon rather than part of the official game. There is an extra part to the ending for those who complete this mode, and godspeed to those who take on the challenge.
There’s lots to like in Fallout: New Vegas. There’s a boatload of new content, with players looking at a minimum of 15 hours of gameplay, even if they just try to burn through the base story content. In doing so, they’d be missing out on some great content, though. I’m not a completionist by any means, but Fallout: New Vegas’ sidequests and stories are absolutely worth playing through. There’s no doubt that I was frustrated by the game’s numerous bugs – especially when it barred my progress in the game – but, honestly, that seems to be par for the course for Obsidian. And for my part, I would choose to play a game that is an unpolished gem rather than a polished turd any day of the week. There’s not a part of Fallout: New Vegas that could be called a turd, and if you’re a fan at all of western-styled RPGs, there is no doubt that this game is worth picking up.