Review: Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas, otherwise known as Fallout 3: Again, is the not-very-long-awaited 'sequel' to Fallout 3. Although the term 'sequel' is used in as loose terms as possible because New Vegas is a sequel to Fallout 3 in the same way that green apples are the sequel to red apples. The point I'm trying to so ambiguously make is that while Fallout: New Vegas does improve on F3 in some interesting and worthwhile ways, the experience is so similar that those who don't look too carefully might even mistake it for the same game.
- Worth The Time?Yes
- Things LovedMultiple tree story progression, well designed quests, Fallout's sense of humour, well balanced skill system, interesting plot, in game freedom.
- Things HatedAnnoying bugs and glitches, slow walk speed combined with long distance travelling, slow start, handing in your weapons resets your quick select wheel.
- RecommendationIf you liked Fallout 3, Mass Effect or Oblivion, if you even remotely like role-playing games, if you want a game that will keep you busy for a long time, if you like to abuse in-game freedom, if you're looking for an interactive story, if you're too lazy to read the review and are obscenely rich.
- Name: Fallout: New Vegas
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Price: R300 (PC), R600 (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3, PC
That’s not to say that it’s a lazy and rushed out sequel – because honestly, Fallout: New Vegas and its brother, Fallout 3, are both damn good games – but if you played Fallout 3 extensively then gameplay-wise, New Vegas has very little to show you. The quickest way to sum it up is that the world is different, the story is different and the quests are different but the FPS and RPG elements are exactly the same, leading to an end product that should be treated as more of a stand-alone expansion pack then a step forward in the series.
Because of the similarities between the two games it’s very tempting to make this review a list of differences between the two games, but instead I’m going to assume that you are only vaguely aware of Fallout 3’s existence and more or less start from scratch. Fallout: New Vegas is an FPS-RPG hybrid from Bethesda – the guys who made Oblivion – that’s set in a post-apocalyptic USA after some unexplained nuclear war that broke out presumably around the time of the cold war. The result is that while the game year is somewhere in the 2200’s, the theme of the world and the lifestyle of the people largely resembles America in the 60’s leading to a very interesting and unique blend of sci-fi in what we would considered to be an old-fashioned world. As opposed to Fallout 3, which took place in the Capital Wasteland (Post-Apocalyptic Washington D.C.), New Vegas takes place in the Mojave Westland (Post-Apocalyptic Nevada) which contains the infamous town/city/whatever of Las Vegas which serves as the central point for the game. The player takes the role of courier who just survived getting shot in the head but the backstory isn’t emphasized much beyond that and the game will fill you in quite nicely as you progress without assuming that you’ve even heard of the first game.
What might have interested some of you by now is that I classified Fallout as an FPS-RPG. This might tempt you to think that the gameplay is varied and balanced enough to interest you if you’re a shooter fan or a role-playing fan but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The game leans heavily towards the RPG side and while the game and it’s combat take place through the first person camera, the game feels absolutely nothing like a shooter and anyone who bought this game expecting one is going to be sorely disappointed. Compared to an FPS like Call of Duty, shooter fans would find the combat sluggish, unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated while finding the game in general to be too slow-paced with nowhere near enough action or high points. That’s not to say the combat is bad, but it’s slower and more tactical for a reason and it accompanies the RPG and character building system quite nicely.
That being said, the RPG part of the game is downright fantastic and any fan of role playing of any form is going to find the game to be an absolute treat. While it does suffer from that typical RPG flaw of having a slow start, there is always a blatant shortcut that can be taken through any of the quests so that the player can rush the crappy initial quests and get straight into the good parts. The RPG elements are more or less what you’d expect from a game in the genre; there’s the travelling from place to place meeting people, taking on quests and killing stuff but what Fallout does better than any of its competitor games is make you feel like an actual force in the game world. Unlike Oblivion, where you can save the world from the brink of destruction but still have innkeepers offer you fetch-quests, or Mass Effect, where good and evil puts you on the exact same unchanging story path, Fallout goes a very long way to make you feel like you have a real impact on the way the story unfolds. Fallout 3 players will remember some of the drastic choices the player got to make early in the game such as destroying the entire city of Megaton or assassinating some very important game world NPCs, and New Vegas will not disappoint in this regard.
When it comes to quests, the player has pretty much free reign to tackle them in any number of interesting ways and what’s more is that completing them will actually give you in-game recognition for doing so. One of the examples is that I decided to kill the head of one of New Vegas’s three principal Casinos and, from then on, everywhere I went, people would either be talking about how he got what he deserved or how awesome I am for doing so. And when I say that there are tons of different ways to complete each quest, I really mean it. One particular quest had me trying to help a town of Super Mutants under siege by a bunch of mercenaries hired by the NCR and one of the ways to proceed in this quest was to bribe the mercenaries to leave the town in peace. I convinced the Town’s leader that the mercenaries could be bribed for 3000 caps (when they had actually asked for 2500) but then, instead of paying the mercenaries, I decided to kill them, leaving me with a very fat wallet. This made me quite happy for a while until the town leader told me that he would have been happier with a peaceful resolution and the NCR got so angry with me that they ignored the previous time I had helped them out and sent some assassins to take me out… and killing these assassins only made them even more angry with me for some reason. And pretty much every single quest goes like this, where there are multiple options along each step of the way and you never feel like there’s an option missing that you wish you could have picked.
The game world itself is also extremely flexible to the random decisions you make. Again, unlike Oblivion where every second character is an unkillable quest NPC or Mass Effect where you can’t engage in combat when in non-combat areas, in Fallout you can pretty much kill anyone at any time whenever you please and the game will still find a way to go on. Obviously killing people will ruin your reputation with various factions (I’ll get to that in a bit) and automatically fail you in some quests but the game does very little to hold you back in terms of choices. At pretty much any point in the game you can just waltz into your boss’s chambers and just kill him for no apparent reason. Doing so will obviously have consequences but the game does very little to stop you from feeling like you really can do what you want. And even the most important of storyline characters can be killed whenever you want to; there’s only a very small handful of characters that you aren’t allowed to kill and most 9*of their immunities tend to be only temporary at best. Explaining how this fits into the context of the story missions would be extremely complicated but it’s pretty damn impressive how the game lets you proceed and still have plenty of options even when you do things as drastic as wiping out an entire faction.
However, like I said, everything you do does tend to have consequences. The game still has the good/evil karma system present from Fallout 3 but this has become almost entirely irrelevant; it’s now more of a play-style tracker rather than something that affects gameplay. The real system that determines the consequences of your actions is the reputation system. In the game there are quite a large number of factions of varying sizes and every time you commit an act for or against them you affect your standing with them. And what’s admirable is that it’s not really as simple as a one way scale between good and bad reputation with them. The good and the bad are on separate axes and your final reputation with them is determined by whether or not your mix of actions leans towards good or bad. Anything you do involving a faction will make you more well known to them, but you also need to be careful about offending a faction because it’s not really as simple as doing a few quests to just win back their trust. It’s difficult to explain this concept without actually seeing it in game, but suffice to say, factions don’t forget wrongs you’ve done to them even if you win back their trust at a later stage.
So without getting more into it than I already have, the quests are robust and role-playing is excellent. Next on the hit list would be the character building system. You start out by choosing your S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes such as your Strength and your Intelligence and these stick with you the whole game. Generally these don’t have a huge impact on the actual gameplay, but they do determine how your character starts out with regard to skills and some innate abilities such as your movement speed and how many skill points you receive at each level up. The bad thing about this system is that the game doesn’t fully make it clear to you what each of these skills really affect and since these attributes can’t be changed for the rest of the game (unless you improve them slightly through certain quests), it’s easy for a new player to misalign them and only realize later that he or she made a mistake. But like I said, they don’t generally have that big of an impact and it’s quite difficult to screw up your character even on purpose. Even so, it does leave a sour taste in your mouth when you set your Strength at 4 and then have to waste two perks to push your Strength up to 6 so that you can wield your new shotgun with full effectiveness.
But what really determines how your character turns out are your skills and your perks. Your skills determine your proficiency at certain tasks such as lockpicking and handling firearms and this is one of the chief areas where New Vegas has dramatically improved over its predecessor. Because of the way the game is now, every single skill in the game is important and can benefit you greatly in one way or another; usually through offering you additional ways to complete quests. For example, if your skill in Medicine is high enough, not only will you be able to treat your own wounds with more proficiency but you’ll also be able to diagnose other characters of their illnesses and this can let you pick up things about characters that you would have missed entirely on a different playthrough. Another example is that the Science skill primarily lets you hack computers but you can also use it to upgrade robots and machines that you encounter along the way. The way the quests have become, every skill is worth taking and previously useless skills such as speech, have now become incredibly important for certain types of characters. This tends to add a lot of replay value to the game and rewards every play style rather than just focusing on killing everything.
You allocate your skill points whenever you level up and every two levels you also get to take a perk. Perks are special abilities that you can take it you meet certain prerequisites and these go a long way to defining your character. Some of them are funny, such as Black Widow which lets a female character manipulate men, others are more strategic such as Stealth Run which lets you move at full speed without compromising your position when sneaking, and others are downright silly such as the Cannibal perk which lets you eat dead people to regain health. The fact that you only get a perk every two level as opposed to one (as in Fallout 3) is a bit of a letdown but you level up faster and the level cap is raised so it balances out a bit. The only other change to the character building system is the addition of traits, which you pick at character creation and they offer both an upside and a downside, but most of these are either too small to notice or absolutely useless. The only one worth mentioning is the Wild Wasteland trait which makes the game wackier and adds in some strange jokes.
The combat aspect of the gameplay is where a lot of FPS gamers will lose interest. Essentially you run around and shoot people with your various guns, but enemies usually have a lot of health and a lot of technicalities like character accuracy, weapon condition and damage threshold make it a lot less simple than just pointing your gun at your enemies heads and one-hit killing them. That’s not to say that the combat is complicated, but it’s pretty damn clear that the game is an RPG through and through in this regard. The thing about the combat that makes it so interesting is the limb damage system. Damage to each limb of a character is kept track of and dealing enough damage to cripple a limb inflicts certain penalties. For example if you shoot the wing of a giant insect enough, it will crash to the ground and if enemies deal enough damage to you to cripple your arm, then your hand trembles when using iron sights and your reload times severely decreases. Because combat can sometimes get chaotic with multiple enemies running around, the game also gives you the VATS targeting system to help you out. Basically you activate VATS, the game pauses and you get to individually target which areas of which enemies’ bodies you want to attack at the expense of action points; then you activate it and your character will perform the actions in slow motion. While you can do some really cool things like shoot a grenade coming at you in mid air or shoot the gun right out of an enemy’s hand, the most effective strategy on non-boss enemies is usually to just shoot two or three in the head and wait till your action points recharge so that you can do it to someone else. Still, it’s an innovative system and even after a year, it’s still as fun as it used to be.
The one new addition to the overall gameplay in New Vegas is hardcore mode, which is not nearly as hardcore as it sounds. You can choose to activate it at the start of the game or toggle it whenever you can change the difficulty but its effects are quite simple. With hardcore mode on, the game becomes somewhat more realistic and challenging, mostly with regard to inventory management. You now have dehydration, hunger and sleep deprivation to worry about and will have to eat, drink and sleep occasionally to prevent yourself from suffering penalties. Also, ammunition gains weight so you can’t carry around an entire supply depot with you and your companions can die instead of getting knocked unconscious. The last thing that it does is make stimpacks heal over time, rather than instantly, and broken limbs can only be restored by a Doctor or a Doctor’s bag. To be honest, I found that hardcore mode did make the more interesting and tactical when it came to managing my items but sometimes it can get really annoying. It is, of course, optional so it’s up to you to decide whether you find it worthwhile or not.
The last thing I’d like to discuss before I wrap it all up is an issue that many of you in the know will claim that I’ve been dancing around; and that’s the technical aspect of the game. There have been a lot of rumours and stories going around that Fallout: New Vegas is the buggiest game EVAR and crashes more times than a blind alcoholic driver on laxatives and unfortunately there is some amount of truth to this rumour. I’m not sure of the state of the game pre-patch but I played the game with the patch on PS3 for close to 20 hours and during that time I only had 2 crashes (which wasn’t so bad) and one serious big which really annoyed me. The bug involved one of my teammates just disappearing completely but still being considered in my party, but thankfully I was able to fix it by using an elevator causing my teammate to respawn next to me. On the PC version, I did have some slowdown issues and a crash or two but then again, I was playing on a laptop for several hours and it was beginning to overheat. Overall, I think that some of the bugs will annoy you, but after the patch the game-breaking ones are reduced to an absolute minimum. The only other technical gripe you may have is that of the graphics. Fallout 3’s graphics were decent but unimpressive and a year later they’re still pretty much the same.
So here’s the decision tree I recommend for Fallout: Vegas: