There are few moments in gaming more enduring or powerful than hearing Ron Perlman saying that "war never changes" before rattling off the devastating effects of nuclear war on the world that constitutes every Fallout. His introduction of Fallout 3 provided a link to the greatness of the previous two titles in the series, whose creators have returned to deliver Fallout: New Vegas to the masses. It is in many ways a departure from Bethesdaís blockbuster Fallout 3, taking a diversion back to the teamís roots while introducing new twists on the fantastic formula.
While Fallout 3 was about the dreary brown-and-greyness of the barren, nuked-out Washington D.C., New Vegas is a post-nuclear Western, a look at the area surrounding the former Las Vegas which was largely untouched by the bombs. As a courier whoís been shot, left for dead, and revived by some locals in a backwater town, your journey for revenge and greater things will take through all manner of valleys and mesas, through quarries and shantytowns, and of course, the bright shining diamond that is New Vegas. This is Fallout through and through, make no mistake: there are Deathclaws and mutated ants and bandit gangs aplenty, along with mountains of caps and weapons to be had as you explore the surrounding areas which by all accounts are as large as that seen in Fallout 3. However, this is also Fallout as seen faintly through the eyes of John Wayne and Sergio Leone, with radio stations filled with country tunes alongside the 50s fare, new sidearms and brahmin rustlers, and clapboard general stores.
This new approach feeds nicely into the introduction of the many new facets of Fallout: New Vegas, which change the experience slightly in some cases and dramatically in others. This includes the new Survival skill, a crafting talent that lets you use the multitude of new items available throughout the New Vegas wastes to keep yourself alive. Whether youíre harvesting desert fruits from the land for use in new foods, hides from Golden Geckos to tan and sell, or a variety of chems to build enhanced versions of beneficial drugs (take THAT, Myron!). Just plunk yourself down in front of one of the many campfires dotting the land, and craft away; itís a fitting addition to the theme, and lends itself decently well to creating even more roleplaying styles.
Also lending itself very well to the new age of Fallout are things like traits and reputation, which make a return appearance from the first two games in the series. Traits allow you to fine-tune your character during the creation process, providing some benefits with the trade-off (and sometimes significant) flaws. Reputation is a wonderful complementary addition as well, making townsfolkís reaction to you more than just a sum of your moral standing. Repeatedly help out a town or faction, and theyíll view you favourably, often providing you with some extra assistance along the way; side with the bandits assaulting them, however, and youíll find yourself persona non grata fairly rapidly, while the baddies will take you in as one of their own. This system also means that disguising yourself as one of the faction types will allow you some modicum of safe passage, albeit in a limited way. All in all, it makes infinitely more sense than the "shoot the mayor, raise your karma later and return like nothing happened" approach of the previous game, while providing a nice, satisfying cumulative impact to the decisions that you make.
It should also be noted that the number of quests seems to have been swollen considerably, with a wide variety of official-type tasks to pursue that allow you to wander rather wonderfully off the plot (which in turn often leads you into places where those tasks can be found). There are fetch quests, of course, but there are things far, far beyond the basics, whether itís interfering with a ghoul cultís quest for religious freedom, helping to stock up a monster arena with new blood, or investigating one high-class establishmentís whispered rumors of cannibalism. Itís all filled with whip-smart dialogue, byzantine twists, and whatís more, virtually all of them can be solved in whatever way suits your character best. Shooting is always an option, but even crafty, silver-tongued devils will find that theyíll be able to talk their way through nearly any potential danger, and more "cerebral" types such as scientists will have no shortage of non-combat options. There are also numerous options for truly world-altering decisions, particularly in the major plot lines, allowing for all shades of the karmic spectrum to have their fun. All of this should be a great delight for those who seek to really embrace the "role-playing" part of this great RPG series, and itís something New Vegas does extraordinarily well.
This isnít to say that shooting has been in any way marginalized in Fallout: New Vegas; quite the contrary, given the addition of almost obscene numbers of new guns, and ways to use them. While there are the nearly standard collection of pistols, hunting rifles, flamethrowers, laser weapons and the like, thereís now a considerable level of variety in each "category." From six-shooters to sawed-offs and combat shotguns to military-grade sniper rifles, the gameís virtual armory is something truly to behold. And if that wasnít enough, there are now several new types of ammunition, from hollow points to armor-piercing, which you can swap out rather easily. And to give you more ability on that end, you can even craft your own ammo (something touched on in Fallout 3ís The Pitt) by using the new Ammo Benches, which let you break down some ammo types to assemble for others. Itís all almost too much to really process, though players who really want to get into the finer details of role-playing survivalism can really dive in.
Not only are there more guns, but theyíre now easier to use outside of the VATS system as well, giving you the opportunity to use iron sights to take down your foes, which are now much tougher. This is actually much more practical than it sounds, and lends the gameplay very well to putting a greater focus on action, if you so choose. Itís actually almost necessary at times, given the introduction of ďarmorĒ into the game, which adds a much greater level of toughness to your foes, particularly in the earlier portions of the game. No longer can you simply plink away at all your enemies with moderately powered weapons; some, such as radscorpions, or geared-up bandits, may be all but impervious to your efforts, and you may find yourself wasting huge amounts of ammo if youíre not adequately prepared. Itís an interesting aspect that forces you to think more strategically about your ammo purchases before you set out on the road.
If youíre lucky, you wonít have to set out alone, either, as companions have not only returned, but theyíve been improved upon as well. A new "companion wheel" lets you dictate much of their actions at a glance, from distance to strategy, and even their inventory Ė and given how frequently youíll be using them as pack mules, the latter is a godsend. Making the process even better is the fact that, as you progress through the game, the people you come across can be sent back not only to their place of origin, but also a "home base" you establish a third of the way through the plot. This gives you a virtual clubhouse where you can not only store your stuff but also a place to easily access your entire ragtag crew, rather than having to memorize exactly where youíd have found them. As if that wasnít enough, each companion has a personal quest, whose completion provides you with a unique perk so long as theyíre traveling alongside you. One may keep your weapons from degrading much more slowly, for example, while another will give you better benefits from stimpacks. All these improvements donít translate to perfection, of course, as you may find your people being a little too trigger-happy when youíve asked them to hold back, or stepping into the path of your bullets too frequently, or running off almost at random to chase down foes you can barely see. Still, although itís hardly perfect, itís much better than that seen in Fallout 3.
If youíre the type to play through Fallout repeatedly and want an extra level of challenge, New Vegas is more than happy to provide it to you through a new Hardcore mode. As the name states, the mode forces you to worry about additional factors of exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation. Even ammunition takes on individual weight, forcing you to decide just what you need to bring with you to survive. If you fail to bring enough food or water, you wonít even be allowed to fast travel between destinations if youíd be expected to perish before you get there. Itís an absolutely fascinating option, one that forces you to take a whole other mindset while you play, becoming even more of a scrounger in what is already the worldís greatest Scrounging Simulator. Youíll be scouring every nook and cranny for any scrap of water you can find, and all of a sudden, those "water merchants" scattered around the landscape start to become key points of contact. And when you find them, how much carry weight do you dedicate to food, water, ammo? Again, itís a fascinating opportunity to add a whole other layer to the game, and one that is delightfully optional.
...Was initially disappointed with what seemed like a strong-armed funnelling from one plot point to another: deviation from Where Youíre Supposed to Go results in near-instantaneous death, and youíre taught very quickly to stick to the script. In fact, the first 10 levels are spent all but being led by the hand from Location A to Location B in service of the story. However, once you reach a certain plot point and come across your first couple of companions who bolster your combat capabilities, it becomes clear that this has essentially been an extended tutorial, showing you the game functions, major factions, and the true context in which youíre wandering the wastes. In many ways, this is a big step up from Fallout 3, where your release from the starting vault found you with a wide-open world that was great to explore but with little direction beyond a quest arrow. Itís a more focused approach that chafes at first but is arguably necessary to immerse you in the game, the world, and the story.
Long-time fans of the series will find lots to enjoy here, with many aspects of the game touching upon its history Ė perhaps unsurprisingly, given its creators. While Fallout 3 skimmed only in the most peripheral ways upon specific plot items of Fallout 1 / 2 (outside of Harold, of course), New Vegas is littered with them. Direct references are made to the origins of the supermutants, the tribal from Arroyo, President Tandi, and a number of other events and characters that will leap out of the screen for devotees. In fact, New Vegas feels a great deal like a direct sequel to Fallout 2, with only scant references to the events of Fallout 3. This, combined with the revival of things like traits and reputation, makes New Vegas feel very much like a spiritual successor to original series. This isnít to denigrate the accomplishment of Fallout 3; this reviewer spent no less than 300 hours poring over the Capitol Wasteland, and holds it in as high esteem as the originals. Rather, New Vegas feels different enough, with enough of the flavour of those trailblazers, to remind you just why they endure as classics, while forging a place in gaming history for itself.
Sadly, Fallout: New Vegas also bears a striking resemblance to Fallout 2 in another, much more unfortunate way: its exhaustive litany of bugs and glitches. From the player falling through the earth to items vanishing into thin air to quest dialogue connecting to the entirely wrong branches of conversation, there is no shortage of game-stoppers and quest-breakers to bring things to a screeching halt time and time again. Some are minor, with things youíd wanted to pick up slipping off a table and into the floor, never to be seen again; others are much more problematic, with quest triggers going off entirely out of order, forcing you to reload and reload and reload until you figure out the exact course of action you need to take to circumvent the problem. Indeed, reloads are a way of life with Fallout: New Vegas, which unlike pre-patch Fallout 2, thankfully donít take up to five minutes...at first. After what seems like random periods of time, the game will take progressively longer and longer to load, whether itís a save or an area transition, to the point where you may feasibly be waiting a handful of minutes every time you do either, which will be frequent.
System crashes are also another significant problem, occurring almost entirely at random. For one day, speaking to a particular merchant would, without fail, crash my system and force a hard reset; the next day, I was free to trade as much as I wanted, problem-free. Saving and re-saving is a wise idea, despite the game automatically saving upon entering buildings.
Despite the hours of progress Iíd lost due to system crashes and broken quests, there are two glitches in particular Iíd like to highlight as being particularly problematic. One is an extreme annoyance, but not game-ending, wherein your ghoul companion Raul (voiced wonderfully by Danny Trejo) cannot complete his personal quest to a problem in the dialogue triggers. This denies you closure to his story, never mind that it also denies access to an improved perk and alternative clothing. While PC gamers can get around this via mods, console gamers are stuck waiting for this to be addressed via patch, even two months after release. Considering that Raul is one of the more appealing companions, due in part to his usefulness and to his Trejo-infused charm, this is a definite disappointment.
Another bug Ė said to be resolved in an upcoming patch Ė is absolutely fatal. After killing a particular individual on the Vegas Strip as part of a specific bounty-hunting quest, any attempt to re-enter the Strip will result in a system crash, and a corruption of the autosave file. This was something I myself only managed to narrow down to my entry to the Strip after three hours of playing and replaying the same quests over and over, only to realize that the crash was not random, but specific to re-entry. After a furious Internet search, I discovered that it was due to a flaw in the quest that could only be resolved by scouring the wastes for a particular type of hat that your bounty had worn, and wearing it yourself any time you want to set foot through the Stripís gates. In other words, it is a Hat That Breaks Fallout, and itís a phenomenon I myself only realized after several hours simply because hard crashes are so frequent that you wouldnít think to pin their cause on any one action. Itís emblematic of everything thatís wrong with Fallout: New Vegas, and why, despite its sheer greatness, any devotee of the game should wait until itís good and patched up proper before diving in.
Fallout: New Vegas is an interesting, glittering beast of a game, whose slow-burn handful of initial hours soon give way to a gloriously entertaining, if far too deeply flawed Western-style take on the Fallout series. At a good 80-100 hours of solid play for a single comprehensive go-through, it has far more than its fair share of content, and can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Fallout 3 as a classic example of gaming excellence. Long-time fans of the series will find a hearty amount of references, and even more recent adoptees will enjoy the solid and comprehensive tweaks from the Fallout 3 formula. Itís a blast and a half, with great dialogue and tons of opportunities for role-playing whatever character type youíd like. Thereís really only caveat, and itís a big one: the bugs are badly in need fixing, and those with little patience for system crashes and replaying entire hours of lost progress should keep their distance until the right patches come rolling through. All in all, playing through New Vegas may be a helluva gamble, but the payoff is well worth it. A new classic is born.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)