It seems that recent years have seen the post apocalyptic setting used more and more in video games. In 2008 Fallout 3 took the systems and mechanics that Bethesda had created for their earlier, more fantastical, Elder Scrolls game and threw them into Black Isle Studios’ (members of which departed to form Obsidian Entertainment in 2003) created world of a dystopian, post nuclear future.
Fallout 3 brought a world of desolate, ravaged wasteland and claustrophobic, vault-dwelling communities to a new generation of gamers. It was a high water mark in the action RPG genre which managed to engage an audience like nothing before it.
Fallout: New Vegas looks to build on that universe, using similar characters and – at least for fans of the previous instalment – familiar narratives. This time we leave the wasteland around Washington DC for the Mojave Desert and the bright lights of a re-modelled Las Vegas Strip. The gambling town has been taken over by a mysterious figure and a group of factions, all intent on gaining more control and moulding their emerging world into their own model of perfection. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The game starts with the protagonist being caught, robbed, shot and buried in a shallow grave in the desert. It’s not the first hole dug on the outskirts of Vegas but it is perhaps the first one to be emptied by a cowboy-robot. The game’s central character is pulled from his not-so-final resting place and taken to the town of Goodsprings where you will go through the now-familiar rigmarole of naming and building your character under the guidance of the town doctor.
One of the first things to notice about Fallout: New Vegas is how similar it looks to Fallout 3. In the first few scenes of the game you could be forgiven for thinking you had put the wrong disc in. That’s not to say that there are no differences but to an unfamiliar eye, or one that hasn’t played in the wastelands for a few weeks, the only stand-out difference might be the colour of the game’s HUD.
The buildings, characters and textures are all verging on identical to the ones we saw in 2008’s trip to Washington DC. There is certainly more use of colour and the overall greyness of DC is replaced with the amber hues of the Mojave but squint a little bit and you won’t know the difference.
Weapons, too, are largely similar although there are a lot more of them. There are some new names, slight tweaks to the abilities and new models but ultimately they all work and feel much as they did two years ago. You have the ability now to use different ammunition for different circumstances (armour piercing to punch through tin, hollow point to mess up flesh, for example) and you can purchase or salvage certain components to upgrade your weaponry (scopes, stocks and other additions). When it comes to combat, though, fans will be instantly familiar with the unchanged VATS targeting system.
Another hang-over from the previous game is, unfortunately, the litany of glitches and bugs that are present (at least in the PlayStation 3 version we had). While playing the game for review we’ve seen several instances of an area loading into unplayable frame-rates, only becoming playable again after a re-load. We’ve also had a couple of complete system freezes and an almost constant case of occasional and sporadic mini-freezes which only cause the game to stutter for a fraction of a second but are nevertheless extremely frustrating. It’s a depressingly familiar story for anyone who spent any time with the previous Fallout title.
Time is something you will need with this game too. Fallout: New Vegas, like its predecessor, is compelling to the point of absurdity. Almost in spite of the many worries about glitches and frame-rate there is always a reason to keep going back. The central story might be possible, with a levelled-up character, to run through relatively quickly but the barriers put in place to prevent you from racing through are substantial. There are no easy kills for the first twenty hours of game-play and for many hours after that you will still need to plan your attacks, manage your inventory and self-medicate copiously to navigate certain areas and situations.
The new ammunition types and their inefficiency in certain situations certainly add to the tactical nature of combat, as does the new stat of Damage Per Second (DPS) which accounts for reload and firing time with a weapon to give a truer representation of its ability to quickly deal death to your foes.
The social and political landscape of southern Nevada is much more complex than that of the area around Washington DC too. Two main factions are struggling for military superiority. Caesar’s Legion is a group modelled on the ruthlessness, arrogance and staunch sense of honour of the ancient Roman legions. The NCR are the closest thing the region has to a government; led by a President and modelled largely on the pre-nuclear military, they claim to be attempting to rebuild society in the region.
Add to this the numerous other, slightly less powerful, factions and the fact that each faction now keeps its own opinion of your character and you will start to see how delicate a path you need to tread. When you also consider the political power struggle going on between the different groups who own property on the New Vegas Strip and the large military powers, the complexity of relationships between groups – and the protagonist – is astounding.
The game builds a system of quests around the player. Each step along the mission structure to get the central storyline progressed is dependent on fulfilling another set of side-quests, meeting another new faction or making a few more difficult decisions.
While the game is slow to get going and there seems to be a lot more friendly interaction (and perhaps a little less random confrontation) than in previous outings, there is never a lack of something to do. In fact, it might be easy to understand some players finding their erupting quest list a little daunting. Stick to the distinct groupings of quests and try not to do too much out of sequence though, and you’re rewarded with unparalleled depth and intertwining in the narrative which really is a credit to the writers.
The narrative is compelling enough that you might not realise that the tale of vengeance you started playing all those hours ago has developed into a tense political standoff. Will you pick a side or will you go all in and make a play for power yourself? Fallout: New Vegas not only encourages you to get to know who you’re fighting for, and against, it tricks you into caring more about their story than you did your own.
- Compulsive in a way that is only comparable to its predecessors.
- Fantastically complex quest system and intermingled relationships.
- A huge world, full of deep and immersive situations to get lost in.
- Fans of Fallout 3 will be instantly at home here.
- Plenty of glitches and bugs which seem to be left over from its predecessor.
- Often slow-paced with an over-reliance on the fast-travel system to keep things moving.
- Perhaps it’s too similar to its predecessor.
Fallout: New Vegas is a peculiar beast. It is so similar to its predecessor that it can be difficult to see where the development time was spent. While that is certainly not going to be seen as a problem for the millions of fans who spent hours with Fallout 3, it would be disingenuous to pretend that this is much more than a tweaked and relocated return to the Fallout universe.
The fact that the many issues with glitches and bugs weren’t ironed out of this release would be unforgivable if the core game wasn’t so tirelessly compulsive and complex. As it is, we have to warn our readers that there are some serious problems here. Your enjoyment of the game will largely depend on how much you’re willing to forgive the issues. If you don’t mind working around them then this could be a game of the year contender, otherwise, you might just think it’s broken.