I must admit, despite being an enormous fan of Fallout 3, I was surprisingly nonchalant about the sequel. I must have sunk well over 250 hours into Bethesda’s masterpiece, yet I was strangely lacking the expected level of excitement for the release of New Vegas.
Perhaps it was the fact that Fallout 3 was so good, I couldn’t imagine another iteration topping it. Then again, it could be the change in developer, with Obsidian recently spawning the horrid Alpha Protocol into the world, and often releasing buggy, unpolished reworkings of other companies’ titles. Whatever the reason, New Vegas just didn’t stoke my fire.
However, when I managed to get hold of our review copy and sat down with it, I began to wonder why I’d not been more hyped about it. No sooner had I created my new character and set off into the wasteland, than I was totally absorbed in a new Fallout tale spanning a huge desolated world. It’s a world filled with interesting places, characters and stories, and although also home to some issues, I was instantly addicted all over again.
Fallout: New Vegas, as you’re no doubt aware, leaves the Capital Wasteland behind and returns to the series’ home of the western coast of America, more specifically, the remains of Las Vegas and the Mojave wasteland surrounding it.
As a courier on a job to deliver a package to New Vegas, you’re ambushed, shot in the head and left for dead. Luckily, you’re found by some kind folk and are patched up by a local doctor.
It’s here where New Vegas’ character creation comes in. Nowhere near as clever or impressive as Fallout 3‘s opening act, here you simply answer a few questions, pick stats and choose your visual appearance. It’s a little ham-fisted compared to the elegant way in which Fallout 3 masked these standard pre-game choices, and the awe of entering the sun-bleached wasteland doesn’t rival Fallout 3‘s spectacle of leaving the vault. Still, it’s handled well enough, and is certainly better than simple menu screens usually featured in RPGs.
Once out into the world, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. You have a main quest thread, of course, but being Fallout, it’s up to you what you do and where you go. In fact, if anything, this freedom is even more central to the proceedings than it was in Fallout 3, for a number of reasons.
First up is the main story, which is far more interesting and more smoothly implemented than Fallout 3‘s. To begin with, you’re simply given a clue as to the destination of your assailants, and so you have to set out to track them down. This leads you to other settlements, which, in turn, opens up new side quests in a very natural and believable way.
Want to find out who your attackers are? Then rescue a local hostage, who has information, from a dangerous gang. Need to earn some needed equipment to brave the wastes? Then help a town fight off some local thugs and earn your reward, or clear an area of giant ants so caravans can resume their business.
Of course, the story soon becomes more complex and broad reaching, but it’s always interesting and makes use of the world and characters well, interwoven with your wandering. The exploration in this respect feels much more involved, and there’s less of a feeling that the game is forcing you along a set path, revealing major locations one by one. Here, you always feel as though you’re in control, and the story is following you.
As good as the main story is, though, one of the major high points of New Vegas is the array of additions Obsidian has made. Although none are revolutionary or amazing in their own right, they all add up to a far more involving world.
The faction system is one of the major new features, and as you explore the world you’ll meet various groups of people who you can help or hinder. Help a faction, and you’ll earn respect and gain benefits such as cheaper items and places to stay. Work against them, however, and whole towns may want you dead, opening fire if you dare to step foot within their borders.
This feature is always at work too, and even your smallest actions can have an effect on the world, both in the main story and the myriad of side quests, with some choices even locking out certain quests, and effecting others. Make an enemy out of a faction, for example, and you may find a later mission is far more difficult, even though the immediate rewards may seem worth it. It’s all about careful consideration of your actions and the world’s reaction, and in this respect, it’s a game that will have plenty of replayability. The Karma system also returns, but is also improved, thanks to this new reputation feature.
Faction systems are nothing new, of course, and other titles have tried it, most notably in this case, the PC title, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but it’s also implemented well here, and is an element that works very well in both the epic environment, and with the open-ended mission structure.
One of my favourite additions, though, has to be the new Hardcore mode. In this mode, which can be turned on or off at will, the difficulty is ramped up along with the realism. With it switched on, your character needs to eat, drink and sleep, with separate status meters governing each. If each meter peaks too high, you’ll suffer penalties or even death.
For example, as you wander around you’ll slowly begin to dehydrate, and so will need to keep sources of H20 on you. Purified water is great, and decreases your H20 meter, but beer and other alcoholic drinks, although possessing healing properties, will actually dehydrate you more. It’s a clever system, and one that makes scavenging for items far more important than Fallout 3. You really will spend time rooting through old fridges and crates looking for food and water, and this adds to the whole wasteland survival aspect.
You’ll also be unable to heal broken limbs with stim packs, and will have to use a rare doctor’s bag item, or seek the help of a real doctor. Even sleeping won’t heal you here, and you’ll often find yourself fleeing across the Mojave, limping desperately to the nearest settlement.
Other additions include multiple ammo types, such as armour piercing rounds and hollow points, with the former being useful against mechanical foes and armoured attackers, and the latter blasting through organic targets.
There’s an improved crafting system, which is a big step forward from Fallout 3‘s weapon-only creation feature, and further enforces the need to pick up random junk and to search derelict buildings. With the right ingredients, you can make all sorts of items such as weapons, ammunition, healing concoctions and even stim packs. Plus, you can also customise weapons, adding stocks, sights and barrels. It’s a more hands-on approach to the inventory, and one that’s very welcome.
If you get bored wandering around, you can even indulge in some gambling with others (well, it is Las Vegas, after all), including fruit machines and a rather complex card game called Caravan, which also requires you to shop for rare cards to bolster your playing deck, Pokemon-style.
Controls and combat are almost identical to Fallout 3, which isn’t a bad thing, as they worked very well before. V.A.T.S. returns and is as satisfying as ever, and you can also run and gun manually. In fact, Obsidian has actually improved standard FPS gameplay by adding the option of iron sights on some weapons, and slapping in some slo-mo critical playbacks. Aiming also seems a little tighter, and although nowhere near real FPS quality, you can actually play the game without V.A.T.S., if you wish. In fact, on higher difficulty and on the Hardcore mode, you’ll have to master manual combat if you want to survive.
Other elements also return, include the Pip-Boy computer that keeps track of inventory, missions, status and so on, a number of radio stations, and there’s a third person mode included once more. Sadly, this is still all but useless, serving only as a way to ogle your character, but it’s there if you want it.
Another nice new addition this time is the companion wheel, which can be used to order your companions around. Companions can also help in more ways this time, such as letting you craft items in the field without having to find a crafting bench.
As with Fallout 3, New Vegas takes place in a packed and large open world, but despite being set in a new location, it’s hard to shake a feeling of déjà vu. The Mojave wasteland looks very similar to DC’s nuclear-blasted expanse, only with an orange hue replacing the grey of Washington. In fact, visually, Vegas actually appears to be a step backwards from Fallout 3, with occasionally murky textures, some ugly weapon models and plenty of graphical glitches and anomalies. Granted, the Gamebryo engine is two years old, but it would appear that no effort has been made to improve the game visually at all, save some improvement in character interactions, and slightly improved character textures.
The world is still chock full of things to find and places to explore, though, and you’ll never be short of something to do. Towns, villages, factories, prisons, military bases, and, of course, the Vegas Strip, are absorbing and brilliantly realised locations, and the sheer number of missions and sub-quests will have some reeling. While wandering the wasteland, you’ll struggle to resist mooching around that newly discovered location, and on long journeys, the sight of a derelict gas station or shop, potentially home to much needed supplies, will be a godsend.
It’s a shame, however, that Obsidian’s uncanny knack of breaking other people’s engines returns once more. I noticed several bugs and glitches, ranging from minor graphical clipping and flickering problems, AI issues and frame rate drops to more worrying and frequent loading pauses and even total system lockups, with my PS3 requiring a hard reset. Bethesda are no strangers to this either, granted, but New Vegas has far more in the way of such issues.
New Vegas, like many in its irradiated casinos, is a title that plays it very safe, indeed, and even with all of the new additions, new weapons, enemies and locations, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is more of a glorified expansion pack than a true sequel.
I’ve no doubt that some may find New Vegas to be far too similar to Fallout 3 for its own good, and many may come to the party expecting more in the way of originality and overhauled content. Personally, though, this doesn’t really bother me, and the new features and rich world are more than worth the asking price.
The game itself flows a little more smoothly than its predecessor, and the level of immersion in the world, thanks to the new factions and crafting systems, improves upon Fallout‘s core mechanic of wasteland survival, especially if you make use of the Hardcore mode.
Overall, New Vegas is a great, yet flawed, familiar and buggy action RPG that may not have the wow factor of 2008′s title, but still offers far more content and immersive gameplay than most other titles around at the moment.
If you’re an RPG fan, then there’s no question about jumping back into the radioactive wasteland for another mammoth adventure.