After the success of Fallout 3, Bethesda commissioned Obsidian entertainment to produce a spinoff Fallout game to keep fans busy until their next big game release. The team were given a tiny amount of time to produce a game equal in scale to Fallout 3 but, perhaps due to the fact the team was comprised of veterans who had worked on the classic Fallout titles, a miracle occurred and they made what many fans consider to be the best of all Fallout games: Fallout New Vegas.
You play as the Courier, and the game begins with you being shot in the head and left for dead. In typical Fallout fashion, the game is split into two parts: Part one is as simple as it has always been and requires you to find something or, in this case, someone; the man who shot you. Part two, however, is more complex than previous titles have ever been, wherein you must choose between four potential factions with different story paths that will ultimately shape the future for the local wasteland, or even the larger part of the west coast.
These factions are the NCR: The same NCR from Fallout 2 who are no longer vying for control over towns and villages, and who are now considered an independent nation and one of the largest, most powerful societies on the west coast. The there’s Caesar’s Legion, an army comprised of over eighty conquered tribes who resent technology, but who have an enormous amount of man power, and whose goal is to expand at all costs. There’s also Mister House, the man who runs New Vegas and who speaks through a computer; He’s not keen on Vegas falling into the control of any faction and wants to continue running it by himself with the protection of a robotic army. The final path is an independent one. With the help a reprogramed robot, the player goes down a path to replace Mister House as the leader of Vegas, and must secure the loyalty of nearby factions or destroy them in order to ensure a safe independent rule over the city.
Everything you see is handled pretty excellently not only from a writing stand point, but also in a gameplay stand point from how you interact with these factions. Unlike the previously Fallout’s, siding with one faction does not immediately make you the enemy of another. Faction reputation is modestly complex, allowing you to be as feared as you are loved if you do both positive and negative things to the people who live under them. Additionally, the game’s minor factions like the Remnants, Great Khans and Brotherhood of Steel can emerge in the final battle between major factions if the player is able to convince them to do so, through hard work and dedication to them. This, like the majority of even the smallest quests in this game, means that the choices you make in game have long term consequences and pay-offs. It isn’t the first Fallout game to do this, but it’s perhaps the first to showcase this in such a striking way, as it makes use of the FPS perspective to create the type of spectacle the classic games were unable to.
But if the main story is not enough for you, you might try playing the DLC’s, all of which are unique and have an independent stories that are subtly linked to one and other, which all comes together in the final DLC where you face your ultimate enemy, who has been tracing your footsteps throughout all the DLC areas; Ulysses. I’ll briefly summarise the DLC’s:
- Dead Money is about a mad scientist who is obsessively enslaving people in order to force them to pull off a heist and capture the treasure locked inside a pre-war casino. You are enslaved by him and must follow his orders until such a time as you can free yourself. In my opinion, it is the weakest of the DLC’s because main enemy type doesn’t function as they’re supposed to: The ‘ghosts’ are supposed to be blind to counteract how numerous they are, but I guess the developers forgot to actually make them blind, and as such they swarm you like locusts. Not bad, but a very far cry from the quality of the main game.
- Honest Hearts is about helping devout Christen warriors save a bunch of primitive tribals from an invading army of evil tribals, who have been armed to the teeth by Caesar’s Legion. Though you are confined to a zone, you are free to explore it at your own pace after the intro to the DLC is over. If you rush the main quest it is a VERY short DLC, but if you choose to explore and take your time, you’ll get your money’s worth. Every time I play this DLC I find that the tribal enemies, despite wearing no armour, are harder to kill than most robots and power-armoured enemies in the game. It’s very infuriating and always drives me to complete the DLC as fast as I can, just so I don’t have to fight them anymore. It has some good lore that expands upon the main conflict of the base game, and upon Caesar’s Legion, but is lacking in gameplay. Once again, it’s a very mixed bag.
- Old World Blues is about helping a bunch of scientists, who have ascended from their corporeal forms by putting their brains inside of robots, stop their evil companion from besieging them with his army of robo-scorpions, and escape their prison within Big Mountain. In my opinion this is the best DLC because it features writing that surpasses the base game, a variety of new gear that can appeal to multiple types of character-builds, and some of the most interesting explorable locations. Like honest Hearts, it takes place in a zone that you are free to explore and a story that is short if you simply rush through it, and don’t take your time in the area. However, also like Honest Hearts, it also has enemies that have way too much health and take far too long to die. In fact, the giant metal final boss of this DLC is perhaps easier to kill than some of the regular enemies who are armoured by nothing but a hospital gown. It is by far the best DLC, but isn’t without a couple of drawbacks.
- Lonesome Road is about trying to stop someone from launching nuclear bombs at the factions you’ve come to love, because he blames you for inadvertently nuking a faction he once loved because you once delivered them a deadly package back in a life that you can’t remember because you still have amnesia from being shot in the head at the start of the game. I have a very contrarian opinion about this DLC: That being that it is one of the best DLC’s available in this game, in spite of it’s obvious convoluted story. Honestly, I just find the main villain, Ulysses, to be an interesting character and love indulging in his highly cryptic conversations. However this DLC isn’t for everyone and there is areas on my high regard for it is controversial: It is the most linear of all the DLC’s, wherein you literally follow a singular road to your destination. Additionally it is quite a difficult area, but doesn’t have loot that is all that rewarding. Objectively it’s probably one of the weaker DLC’s, but subjectively I bloody love it for it’s themes and how it attempts to re-contextualise your explorations in the wasteland, and your place within it.
Up until now this review has been everything you can expect from the average new Vegas review: High praise and basically nothing else. Alas, it’s time to look at the dark underbelly of this game, where it hides all of it’s bad aspects.
Firstly this game plays awfully. It contains essentially the game gameplay as Fallout 3, except with iron-sight aiming for guns. However, the shooting mechanics are still so floaty and totally lacking in any and all feedback that VATs is the optimal build for this game, again, and anyone wanting to use it less for a specific build they have in mind will be objectively disadvantaging themselves in combat. What’s more is that this game is, on the surface, very easy, but with the biggest artificial difficulty buffs I’ve ever seen in an action RPG. It is a flaw of many action RPG’s, not just New Vegas, that difficulty is artificially created by giving enemies more health for no reason, but it is more apparent in this game than perhaps any other in the genre that I have played. This is bad because fights last a lot longer than they should, which is also bad because combat is, as previously described, atrocious.
That is unless you have a companion. Now, while various improvements have been made to companions by giving them unique personalities and quests to engage in, a significant oversight seemed to have been made with how powerful they are. In the early-mid game, most companions will one-shot the majority of enemies, except for those of the highest level, who they might 3-4 shot. They make the game way too easy and the game more boring because nothing seems to be a challenge while they are in your party – except for those deathclaws, of course. As a result you either play a game that is too repetitive by engaging in combat on your own against enemies with massive health bars over and over again, or you play a game that is too easy to comprehend by getting a party of companions together.
Then there’s the repetitive nature of the first part of the game: Finding the man who shot you, who is in Vegas. Now, it is possible to go to Vegas at level 1 by locating the correct equipment, utilising the right skills and being smart about your approach. However, it is also a very tedious route to take that early in the game, and one that new players probably won’t figure out until after a couple of playthrough’s. As a result this game has the same problem as the opening of Fallout 2; wherein you passively go from one town to the next until you get to Vegas and the whole world finally feels as though it’s open to you.
The repetitive nature of this games combat and first act, which is only held together by a thread on the part of the excellent writing, makes every New Vegas playthrough feel the same. You’re always going to Prim first, the to Nipton, and so on. You’re always going to be running up to enemies to use VATS at point blank range, and shoot them in the head until you get a higher quality gun. It’s either that – or you’re always going to be sneaking and standing still a lot in order to get to Vegas early, or to try and speed up combat with sneak attack bonus damage. The only saving grace for making each playthrough different are those deep and meaningful choices I mentioned earlier. But even then, if you’ve decided to align with a faction, you’ll probably be making decisions based on what that faction wants you to do rather than what you want to do. That is unless you pick my personal favourite path: The independent path, because you answer to no one.
Finally, since I ragged on Fallout 3 so hard for its graphical incompetency, it is only fair I do it here. Whereas Fallout 3 was green and grey, this game is brown and nothing else. It runs on the same engine as that game, utilises many of the same assets and eye-sore textures, and is worse for it. This game came out in 2010, alongside games like Red Dead Redemption, Halo Reach and Assassins Creed Brotherhood, all of which still stand on their own two feet today from a graphical stand point. By comparison, New Vegas looks like a slice of bread that was left in the toaster for 60 minutes.
My conclusion is that this game is very janky and HIGHLY overrated. However if you are willing to sacrifice a good gameplay experience in return for some of the best writing in RPG history, much like 90% of the Fallout fandom and even myself, then you will enjoy it. I certainly did enjoy it too, but at the cost of being very frustrated. Is it the best Fallout game? In my opinion, that honour goes to Fallout 1. Alas, there is a reason that New Vegas is so beloved and you should definetly experience it for yourself if you are at all interested in action RPG’s.