In my PC heyday, I powered through the original Fallout incarnations. I was younger and found them slightly cumbersome, but I reveled in the life of a vault-dweller. Then Fallout 3 surfaced and turned my world upside down. As finicky as its enormous, detail-rich world could be, Bethesda Game Studios’ near-masterpiece was a vast improvement upon the classic installments in many ways, making it so much more than just, as many put it, Oblivion with guns. And I eagerly sat down to play it the following Christmas right after its release, basking in its newness and uniqueness.
Fast forward to 2010. A few hefty expansions later and the series has marched on…westward, to Fallout: New Vegas. Developer Obsidian Entertainment (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Alpha Protocol) has taken the reins and claimed this post-apocalyptic wasteland as their own. It’s a new frontier all right, but just how new is it?
Fallout: New Vegas is set a few short years after the events that transpired in Fallout 3. Somehow out of the hail of bombs sprinkled over the States, Las Vegas remained intact. And that resulted in relatively normal inhabitants – go figure! Now the city takes its resources from the Hoover Dam and plays host to the incoming storm of a rumble between too main opposing factions, Caesar’s Legion and the New California Republic. Both sides are equipped with their own unique virtues regarding the way things ought to be managed. As you can imagine, their views collide and it’s up to you, a lowly courier, who took a shot to the head while traveling through the Mojave, to figure out who’s on your trail and why, and is it connected to either warring faction?
For the most part, New Vegas looks and plays just about the same as Fallout 3, with the VATS taking precedence in battle, your trusty Pip-Boy 3000 to keep things organized, and the ability to drag along some AI comrades is fully intact. They’re still dumber than a bag of hammers, but you at least have the option available to you should traveling in a group reduce some of that hopeless feeling the game imparts.
Yes, that feeling that you’re fruitlessly exploring a bleak vacuum of a wasteland is back in full force, something I felt Obsidian did quite well with this installment, and is augmented with the game’s newly-added Hardcore mode, which more closely imitates the perils of a real-life explorer. Hardcore mode lets you starve, become dehydrated, and suffer from a lack of sleep. Just as in the real world, being insufficiently rested inhibits your ability to target enemies and you will cause less damage. Similarly, hunger and thirst negatively affect your character’s abilities, so this mode isn’t recommended for newcomers to the series or those who wish to explore freely and uninhibited. It can be a tedious ordeal.
In addition to Hardcore mode, the ability to sway groups of NPCs is a welcomed new piece of the puzzle. You can play to the sympathy of other factions by protecting towns under their control, performing faction-appreciated deeds, etc. But do keep in mind that actions you take to assuage one group may well turn the other against you. This is essentially how the good/evil system plays out and will determine the number of and types of quests that become available to you.
As you might have surmised, this Fallout offering very obviously caters to those who want to squeeze every minute amount of customization out of it that they can, and aside from the aforementioned mechanics, a newly improved weapon customization system does just that. Pick and choose silencers, sights, customize ammo types, and even create healing concoctions. You can create your own poultices like this from the very same supplies you’ll find scattered throughout the wasteland. As you can imagine this is a huge boon to those who prefer to sink time into thorough exploration of every nook and cranny, and healing items are always practical.
New Vegas sounds great. Voice acting is top notch, and the inclusion of familiar ‘50s staple tunes is pretty cool and helps reinforce the nuclear paranoia of that age, and is something I really enjoyed in Mafia II and in Fallout 3. There aren’t really that many in the game’s soundtrack, though, and the standards that do play repeat themselves too often. Unfortunately, I wasn’t digging the graphics so much. Significant slowing was noted during VATS, and even exploration. Your customizable character isn’t particularly attractive either, but at the very least NPCs look decent. Like Fallout 3 before it, the game’s real strength really lay in the breathtaking backdrops of the city (especially at night) as well as the ever-entertaining blood spillage in combat.
Several bugs did hinder my progress: being forced to restart the game after losing my save data, game-breaking freezes, and disappearing captions (I like to be able to hear everything). Early reviews savaged the game – and rightfully so – due to the sheer number of technical hiccups and game-crashing moments, but recent updates seem to have addressed most of the freezing issues; I’m leery of my save data, though. This review was based on the Windows PC version of the game, but I’m told these issues (and their fixes) apply across the board to both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 editions as well.
Fallout: New Vegas isn’t really a new Fallout adventure as much as it is Fallout 3 recast with cool new mods and a ritzy wasteland in which you can still spend countless hours leveling, tweaking your character to your liking, and finding everything there is to see – snow globes included. If you can play without the fear of losing your save or forced to restart every hour or so, then there is a rewarding RPG experience here that, while entertaining, isn’t for the faint of heart or the newbie adventurer. Ultimately, it’s more of the same, albeit presented with less finesse and technical accuracy this time around. Here’s hoping that future editions can bring more apocalyptic change with them.