Ain’t that a kick in the head? Or rather, a 9mm bullet.
Fallout: New Vegas has long been a favorite of mine, along with other titles such as those from the Mass Effect and Deus Ex franchises. Fallout always looked interesting to me; it being one of those games I’d see in a CD jewel case in Wal-Mart for $15, but I never ended up buying it. Back then, I had it in my mind that games like that weren’t any good.
Now I find myself regretting that judgment. Luckily, Bethesda gave away free copies of the first Fallout on Steam recently, so I’ll be able to give it a shot soon!
Of course, fast-forward to 2008, when Fallout 3 released, and I fell in love with the setting. I didn’t much care for the loose mechanics, dated graphics, or the mediocre DLC, but I still sunk countless hours into it.
So imagine my delight when Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas came out. The promise of a game made by some of the folks behind the originals, with modern touches? How could I say no?
Hell, I still can’t say no.
Fallout: New Vegas introduces some refinements to the franchise, fixing many of the problems that Bethesda created when they brought the turn-based RPG series to the first-person shooter era.
You can aim down the iron sights of your weapon, instead of the antiquated zoom function in Fallout 3. There are unique modifiers to gameplay in the form of traits, like Early Bird and Trigger Discipline. Reputation systems are expanded beyond the extremely polar Good and Bad Karma system, though Karma still is present. There are dozens more weapons and even ammo types to make use of, which also conform to those found in earlier Fallout games. An expanded crafting system allows players to not only make weapons, but chems and ammo as well. Obsidian also introduced Hardcore Mode, which adds survival elements that force you to monitor more than just health and radiation exposure; even making healing more complicated by reducing the effectiveness of stimpacks and forcing you to use doctor’s bags to heal limb damage.
What Obsidian Entertainment did was they took the framework of Fallout 3, and implemented many of the improvements that were introduced by Fallout 3‘s modding community, while adding in their own flair to craft a world that feels close to the source material.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect; far from it, in fact. Real-time combat is much more fluid and useful, though there is still a great deal of wonkiness to it. Fighting with anything other than ranged weapons takes a great deal of guesswork. Playing a melee character in particular is much like playing Oblivion… Rough. There’s also significant input delay sometimes on the console versions, though I haven’t noticed the same issue on the PC.
Of course, just like in Fallout 3, V.A.T.S. tends to break the game a bit. You can use it to spot enemies that are far beyond the range afforded to you with your Perception skill on the compass, though the overpowered nature of it has been pared back a bit. You’re no longer near-invincible in V.A.T.S. in Fallout: New Vegas.
But what makes Fallout: New Vegas a truly unique experience isn’t the gameplay, it’s what you can do, and how you can go about it.
Options. Only a handful of NPCs are marked as essential in Fallout: New Vegas, which is a far cry from the Elder Scrolls games and Fallout 3, where pretty much anyone linked to a quest is invincible. Furthermore, many quests can be handled with limited to no violence at all, with things like your Speech skill playing a large role in how you get things done.
Fallout: New Vegas demonstrates how useful those previously ancillary skills are in the very beginning, providing you with multiple ways to gain an edge in your dealings in the introductory area, Goodsprings. If you choose to help out the locals, you can go about it as a solo effort, or you can use your various skills to obtain explosives, better armor, medical supplies, and enlist the help of the town.
Sure, not every quest is like that, but there’s far more depth to your dealings in Fallout: New Vegas than many other games I’ve played.
To say that Fallout: New Vegas looks rough would be a monumental understatement. It looked dated even in 2010, when it first hit store shelves. The console versions were easily the worst, with the PC barely edging them out with higher resolutions, though that had a similar effect as putting on glasses to help you see a lipstick-smothered pig better.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s an ugly game, and as much as I love it, I just can’t lie y about it. Even so, Obsidian was working with what they had available to them, which consisted of the framework provided by Bethesda. Obsidian worked wonders with a dated engine and clunky mechanics in my opinion. They chose to ditch the oppressive green-tinted wasteland in favor of something that looks much less ugly, creating a wasteland in the west that looks somewhat livable.
Unfortunately, Bethesda’s open-world engines run about as well as a car that’s been sitting in a field for two decades. Fallout: New Vegas is still a buggy mess. The version playable on the Xbox One suffers from less hitches and crashes than I remember in earlier days, but it’s hard to not notice when terrain in the distance fails to render properly, or enemies spawn in walls during the main quest. Fallout: New Vegas is a rough diamond… You can definitely tell that something of quality is there, even though there’s little polish.
I’m not sure if I can qualify much of what I’m about to say as “original”, but it’s new to the series once Bethesda got their hands on it. Obsidian Entertainment put the care of a company that is invested in the lore of setting into Fallout: New Vegas. Like Fallout 2, they chose a location that was close enough to be impacted by the events of those games proceeding it, without being tied inextricably to the previous entries.
Bethesda’s approach was very much the “let’s throw it all out the window and keep the stuff we like” type. Setting Fallout 3 on the east coast, roughly 200 years after the events of the Great War allowed Bethesda to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted, and it worked for the most part. Obsidian seemed to take a ballsier (wow, that’s a word) tack by sticking closer to the source material, expanding on the already dense lore of the franchise.
And I have to say, I think it worked better this way. Fallout: New Vegas has much more personality within it, with a setting that makes sense in the context of a post-apocalypse age.
The societies you come across show that there’s an infrastructure that actually supports them. Farmers and ranchers are common across the Mojave, though there are still wasteland prospectors and raiders about. Gone are places like Rivet City and Megaton, which were held together by magical sources of food and clean water. Additionally, the Mojave isn’t a radioactive hellhole like the DC wasteland is, meaning that you aren’t going to be using up your stockpiles of Radaway and Rad-X constantly. It actually looks like people could live in the New Vegas area.
Fallout: New Vegas sells the idea that there could be a functioning society in the Mojave and beyond that isn’t at the mercy of an environment that is lethal at every turn. Sure, it may have been more interesting to explore Fallout 3 when you could run across raiders or supermutants every couple minutes, but at least it’s far more believable that the average Joe could enjoy a lifespan that’s longer than a bloatfly’s.
Call it a cop-out if you want, but beginning in Fallout: New Vegas feels right to me. You’re treated to a horrifying-looking cutscene (think animatronics) where your character is shot in the face and left for dead, and you’re thrust into the search for that bastard.
Because, well… He shot you in the face and left you for dead. What more motivation do you need?
Of course, the rabbit hole gets much deeper and branches off into dozens of little nooks and crannies to explore once you get into it. Each new settlement you come across in the early hours provides a little more insight into what happened to you, and why, while throwing more and more side activities your way.
You’re essentially guided towards New Vegas along a fishhook path in your pursuit of the man in the checkered suit (seriously, who wears that crap?), and you’re definitely better off just going along for the ride. Walking too far north will almost certainly end poorly for you…
I don’t want to spoil anything for folks that have yet to play this almost decade old game, because I feel that the story itself is its strongest point. It’s safe to say that not only is there far more to the proceedings than initially meets the eye (it isn’t just a tale of revenge), but the sheer number of quality side content is baffling. Few games in this day and age accomplish what Fallout: New Vegas has done. The only game that I can think of that does as good of a job is The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.
Yeah, I’m comparing Fallout: New Vegas to The Witcher. It’s not only a broad area to explore, but it’s worth exploring to find all the neat, interesting side quests and characters.
WILDCARD: LESS GREEN, MORE GREY
Perhaps one of the most significant changes comes at the cost of ditching the strict good and evil structure to making decisions. Fallout: New Vegas doesn’t put you in the shoes of being a character that needs to choose between kicking and petting the puppy. The folks you deal with on a regular basis have varying degrees of goodness to them, but there aren’t many (if any) saints or devils in the Mojave.
Even Caesar’s Legion, the New California Republic’s (NCR) enemy in the Mojave, isn’t entirely bad (though much of their behavior is reprehensible). They’re likely the most black-and-white faction in the wastes, dealing almost exclusively in absolutes. The NCR is probably the most relatable faction, though they’re easily the most corrupt and ineffective.
My point is that there’s very little good and bad to guide your decisions, and you are more than free to take the easy way out in many situations, if you’re willing to live with what you’ve done. An early quest involves you trying to weed out a person that sold someone to Caesar’s Legion, and while you can find the right person if you’re willing to put in the work, you can just as easily just pick a person at random to pin the crime on and still complete the quest.
That’s what Fallout: New Vegas does well. It presents the player with situations with a little context, then lets you decide what to do in a free manner.
I may be biased… Actually, I’m definitely biased here. I’ve already told you that I think Fallout: New Vegas is better than Fallout 4, but I just wanted to further cement in your mind the why of it.
Fallout: New Vegas is a flawed, yet enthralling game. It gives you all the tools to create a character and roleplay it as you wish, leaving behind Bethesda’s apparent obsession with family-motivated protagonists in favor of a tabula rasa approach. Obsidian Entertainment created a world that meshes well with established lore, and did well to improve on the framework that Bethesda created with Fallout 3, and I’d further assert that Fallout: New Vegas is one of the best games in the franchise.
Is it a must-own for everyone? Definitely not. It’s rough around the edges, and it’s dense as hell to get into. But for those that like that kind of experience, it’s a dream come true.
Plus, there’s cowboys, and robots, and even a cowboy robot.
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