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Review: Fallout: New Vegas

Once again we journey into the radioactive wasteland. The Fallout series has always been lauded for its pop culture references, large number of discoveries to be made, and just the amount of content thrown into the games. New Vegas is no short comer, either. The game boasts roughly twice as many locations than Fallout 3, plenty of new weapons, weapon modifications, crafting system, an improved team mechanic, and the lovely Wild Wasteland perk. More on that later, trust me. I purchased and played through the game on the PC with several different builds on several different characters. As with most Fallout games, it is very hard for me to become bored with this series. I always seem to discover something new on all my playthroughs. I’m a huge fan of the first two games from Interplay and a critic of Tactics, Brotherhood, and even Fallout 3. 2008’s smash hit featured many of the attributes from the original games that made them fun to play, however Fallout 3 felt very lacking to me. The story was sub-par and failed to keep me interested. Both the vanilla ending and the added one with Broken Steel also felt incomplete. The Capital Wasteland was very hit and miss. Many of the settlements were either boring, not too bad, or excellent. I was very disappointed to see that much of the town folk in the more populated territories felt disconnected with their surroundings. Rivet City’s denizens for example at least mentioned some past happenings while they have lived there. While over in Megaton, its all “we’ve got a bomb” and no substance. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I thought of Fallout 3: a lack of substance.

Thankfully, New Vegas and Obsidian Entertainment have improved on all of this. Welcome to Nevada, folks, where if the sun and geckos don’t kill ya, the local tribes and roaming Deathclaws will.

New Vegas starts off on a huge down note: you were just shot in the head and left buried out in the desert. The first thing you’ll notice is the way the game starts. While we were presented with our birth and following 19 years of life in Fallout 3, New Vegas has us waking up in a doctor’s house after being rescued. The way you go about creating your character is actually pretty fun. There is no 10-30 minute Vault adventure this time around. Once you pick your stats, perks, and skills you’re on your way. The Doctor’s examination is pretty cool, however, it seems Obsidian made it pretty useless as well. In Fallout 3, you took that test and the game showed you what stats and skills you got from the results. You could change them but it wasn’t until after having some choice words with the teacher. In New Vegas, after your examination, the doctor pretty much says, “well who am I to tell you who you are, why do you look and see?” After this, you start off in Goodsprings, a peaceful little town filled with normal Wastelanders. Unfortunately, this series has a reputation of having trouble follow you. Goodsprings has trouble up ahead. How you deal with it, is entirely your decision. Help the town, take over the town, make it a ghost town, steal everything and just leave, etc. New Vegas makes it clear from the start that this world is yours to shape.

Your main objective in New Vegas is to find the bastard that shot you in the head. Your journey to that can happen in many different ways. Just don’t try to be slick and go to Vegas off the bat. It isn’t impossible but you simply can’t walk into Vegas. If you try to head North towards the tall buildings and lights, you’ll be met with high level adversity. Head south and you’ll continue the path the game intends. The decision is all yours but unless you want to watch your death animation more times than you can count, I’d suggest taking the road towards Primm. It’s all up to you, though. That is what is so thrilling about playing Fallout; the freedom. The most you play the more shortcuts to items and towns you can manage to get to earlier and earlier. That is until your level 3 carrying an extremely large Gauss Rifle packed with over a thousand Microfusion Cells and combat armor. Nothing screams more badass than that.

Gameplay is just as it was in Fallout 3 with a bit of refinement here and there. Mostly, and unfortunately, the engine is exactly the same. This is the same engine that powered 2006’s Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion. It is dated and bugged to the high heavens. While the game does look good, the bugs can and probably will hamper your experience. Unless you are a big Fallout fan, expect the bugs to either cripple or completely stop you from wanting to play until a patch comes. The game still functions but hard crashes and NPC’s falling through the world can stop progress and irritate the crap out of you. How the game was released this way in 2010 amazes me. As of this writing, New Vegas has received two patches, none of which bring about any bug fixes outside of quests and conversations. The game is not optimized for DirectX11. It also feels very under preforming in DirectX10. The worst part? It seems that the .dll file for DirextX9 functionality doesn’t come with installation. I had to download it manually and implant it into my Program Files directory for the game. That is a huge fix for frame rate issues and a huge mishap by Obsidian. Obviously if you’re playing on a console this means nothing to you but the engine is this a 2006 model trying to run a gigantic game in 2010. We’ve known since Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 that Obsidian loves to borrow engines and make their own games on it. This is simply another example of “jack of all trades, master of none” at work. I usually enjoy Obsidian games but the bugs and issues present in all their outings have become a stable for their development.

The areas around New Vegas range from quiet little towns with secrets, space research plants, various Vaults, and bustling towns like Westside and Vegas itself. There is a great variety present in this game that makes exploring especially fun this time around. Obsidian brought back many of the cool and interesting aspects of Fallout 1 and 2 that made those games such cult classics. One of the most glaring omissions in Fallout 3 was the fact that there were no smart Super Mutants. If you travel north of Goodsprings just a tad (before the rampaging Deathclaws), you’ll meet Neil. This charming Super Mutant will politely tell you not to continue up that road. Talk to you a bit more and you may even insult him for thinking all Super Mutants are idiots. All this is even furthered when you take the Wild Wasteland perk. Now before going on I should warn you that if you take this perk you could miss out on some weapons, items, and events. The game changes with this perk. For instance, you won’t be able to nab that wonderful and extremely huge Gauss sniper rifles I was mentioning early. If you take the perk, exploring New Vegas is even better. You will come across the most subtle, obnoxious, and ingenious cameos ever put into a game. Wile Wasteland truly makes the game better. Just look for the pop-up showing your eyes in a confused state and start looking. I don’t want to spoil any of the findings but trust me, having a playthrough or two with this perk is highly recommended.

That being said, the rest of the perks this time around are similar and surprising. Many of them are tiered and require you to own previous perks and have certain S.P.E.C.I.A.L. levels in order to obtain them. Obsidian has added some new ones and they are very fun. Look forward to the female representation for the Mysterious Stranger perk. The level up system is as deep as it was in Fallout 3. Nothing too new in that area. The scaling system for enemies and NPC’s is different this time, or at least it feels like it is. There are certain enemies that are just way too tough for lower level players. While some of the earlier enemies become too weak later on. It seems as Obsidian put a rough estimate of levels on each type or enemy and person in the game. Couple that with the more defined Damage Threshold mechanic and you find yourself in a Fallout with much more danger than the previous title in the series. I still remember when I first started Fallout 1 and I started branching out in the map and low-and-behold I run into three Rapscorpions. My friend behind me says, “dude, you’re dead.” I deny it and try to fight. Bad decision. I had no issues with Radscorpions and Deathclaws in Fallout 3. With New Vegas, if your low leveled and see either of those two enemy types, run. Don’t look back. Just run. In fact, Deathclaws don’t become a viable target until at least level 20 and your filled up with either Max Charged cells or Armor Piercing bullets. They are just brutal.

Brutal enemies and a much improved DT system means the game can be much harder. Thankfully another fixed aspect to the game is the Companions. There are plenty of people to recruit out in the Nevada wasteland. Getting them to join you, however, can either be as easy as just asking or a list of requisites you must have. Some even have quests you need to complete for them before they’ll join you. Companions even have feelings. Take heart to their history and stories. If you go against their beliefs, they will leave you and even try to kill you.  Controlling your companions is a great new feature. Click on them and your brought to a wheel menu. You can fill up their inventory with items, exchange gear and weapons, chat, and give orders. You can even set them to be aggressive or passive.

The mini-games in New Vegas leave much to be desired. There are only a handful of games to find in Vegas and an even less amount outside of the gambling town. Plus, no Texas Hold-Em? Seriously?! I better this as DLC later on, and for free! This is Vegas, baby! Where is my poker?! Ahem, but I digress. Caravan, Obsidian’s own card game fails to impress. The rules are poorly written and the game is just too long and uninteresting. Blackjack and Roulette are the only true and fun options of playing in New Vegas.

The tribes are much more of a variety this time around as well. From the Great Khans to the Omertas, and from the Vipers to the Fiends, you’ll find plenty of factions this time around and all with their own stories and history. Perhaps one of the most interesting of the bunch is Caesar’s Legion. Unless everything in life for you is as easy as black and white, the Legion will make you question the paths you take during your time in New Vegas. Sure, they aren’t the nicest and more pleasant group in the game but to truly see what I mean, do not kill them because the other characters say so. You’ll run into enough to get their backstory and then make a decision. The fundamental conflicts in this game help make New Vegas a great experience. Also, the amount of factions also mean how many paths you can take in your playthroughs.

One of the big issues I had with Fallout 3 was the subtle soundtrack. Sure there is music while traveling and fighting, but it is so low and bleak. I know you’re traveling in a post-nuclear wasteland but the low representation of the the soundtrack leaves much to be desired for me and New Vegas does not change this. I don’t like having the radio blasting while I play, I’d like to have some better ambiance and memorable tracks while I adventure.

Many fans had a problem with how Fallout 3 originally ended. You completed the main quest and the credits flew by and that was that. Broken Steel fixed that, added a new ending but allowed players to continue their adventures through the Capital Wasteland. Well, if you were a fan of Broken Steel and what it did for Fallout 3, you’ll be disappointed here. New Vegas ends with the completion of the main quest. So when you get the warning that once you proceed, that’s it, take it to heart. The middle of New Vegas cam literally take you with 10 hours or 300, so spend it well and don’t finish the main quest until you are ready to. Should they change this? Some players like having a definite ending to their games. Others like sandbox games to literally be a sandbox, even after they’ve reached 100% in the game. I can’t see Obsidian keeping it this way, especially with DLC on its way (to the Xbox 360).

One last thing I wanted to touch on is Hardcore mode. I have not completed this mode yet, but I have played it. It is very difficult. Hardcore doesn’t exactly make the game harder in terms of enemy strength but it adds several new gameplay mechanics that you need to be VERY wary of throughout the game. First off, you can only get the achievement/trophy for Hardcore mode if you accept the mode when it is popped-up in the beginning of the game and you keep it on until you beat it. Turning it off or turning it on after the pop-up will result in no reward. In Hardcore mode, your ammo has weight, stimpacks cannot heal limbs, you must eat, you must sleep, and you must drink fresh liquids. If you fail to keep up on the demands, you will die. If you try to fast travel and the distance would normally kill you through dehydration, the game won’t let you. It makes New Vegas feel much more realistic but trust me, be ready for a challenging experience.

In the end, I spent a long time playing New Vegas and not once did I get bored with it. Sure, the bugs pissed me off and sometimes made me turn it off for the night (like when I lost 4 hours of playing time and progress) but if you can get past that you’ll find a great game here. New Vegas takes what Bethesda did and improved on it fivefold. With an interesting story, plenty to do and customize, you’ll be busy in Nevada. New Vegas takes the Fallout series to new heights and should not be missed.

*Note* If you haven’t played Fallout 1 and 2, please try them out!

Pros:

  • Crafting system
  • Companion system
  • Engaging story
  • Over 400 locations to discover
  • Cameos and Wild Wasteland
  • Hardcore mode

Cons:

  • Dated engine
  • Huge list of bugs
  • DirectX issues on PC
  • Soundtrack
  • Definite ending

Reviewed by Ron “Cennus” Hoffecker.



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