Welcome to New Vegas, Baby
Fallout 3’s achievement of 2008’s ‘‘Game of the Year ’’ was undoubtedly a double edged sword for Obsidian. As the developers of the next, entry in the long running post-apocalypse series Fallout, Obsidian was guaranteed a hit with whatever they released next including the word ‘‘Fallout’’ in its title. To keep picky fans happy however, their efforts would have to be doubled. What resulted was Fallout New Vegas.
I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire…
Take a look at any internet forum where Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas are being discussed and you’ll immediately notice one thing: people are genuinely divided over which game is better.
Yes, the main Fallout: New Vegas story is more streamlined and self-contained (read: shorter) than the ‘‘Where’s my Dad gone?’’ plot of Fallout 3. Yes, some of the Mojave factions motives are a little muddied and confusing. Yes, some of the darker & more atmospheric elements have been lost since our adventures in the Capital Wasteland.
However, what New Vegas does give us is a twisted tale of revenge and murder. You’ll be running far and wide between scorched desert outposts and the irradiated ruins of decayed cities on a mission to settle a score with the man who left you for dead. It’s exciting, compelling, and far more immediate than the clean water plot of Fallout 3 and less fractured than the arguably over-stretched Fallout 4.
…I Just Want to Start a Flame in Your Heart
Where the stand-alone New Vegas fails however, is in the sheer blankness of your character. While the entire point of an RPG is to build your own avatar, most give you enough of a background to help flesh out the plot. Final Fantasy 7’s Cloud Strife is a great example – a blank slate skills wise, but we know he’s a troubled ex-military type.
In New Vegas, there’s no such details. The lack of any real information or background about where our character came from means that it’s far more difficult to care about the fate of Courier Six. The real kick in the teeth however is that you’ll have to pay for the Fallout New Vegas DLC to learn more about who you are. Paying for character development just doesn’t seem right to me.
Old World Blues
Fortunately, Fallout is about a series of adventures rather than a singular quest, and New Vegas has hundreds of intertwined sub-quests for you to complete. The missions range from the basic ‘‘go here and get this’’ to epic life or death battles between warring factions who patrol the Wasteland. Somewhat surprisingly, the plots of the individual side quests often over-shadow the main story line, dealing with issues such as drug abuse, rape, loyalty and oddly enough a zombie space religion.
A particular highlight is the “Silver Rush” quest line which has the Lone Wanderer working towards a weapons deal with Caesar’s Legion – the twist at the end is satisfying and unexpected, but the real kick is the fact you’ll have to permanently kill a potential companion if you want to see the mission through to the end. The choice is an agonisingly difficult one to make, and the result if you choose to end Cassidy’s life is brutal. Make sure you have all your affairs in order.
The End of the World As We Know It
In a sense, Fallout players know exactly what to expect of New Vegas. You walk the vast expanses between towns, half purposefully and half just exploring, taking on odd jobs and bigger missions. There is no rigid way to play New Vegas – follow the main storyline, or wander off into the wasteland to explore, and ignore it entirely. It’s a tailor-made gaming experience where everything can be done at your own pace and in your own way.
Becoming a True Wastlelander
Early in the game, you will be offered the opportunity to play New Vegas in ‘‘hard-core’’ mode. Be warned, this is not a difficulty option that gives raiders a million HP, but a choice that completely changes the way in which you must play New Vegas. Hard-core mode introduces several meters that measure hydration, hunger and sleep. You have no idea how difficult Fallout New Vegas can be until you can only carry 300 rounds of ammunition…
You must become a true wastelander, collapsing onto whatever roadside mattress you can find to stave off sleep deprivation, lapping irradiated water from toilet bowls to hydrate yourself, going through every bin and abandoned building you can find, stealing morsels of food from friends and enemies alike to keep yourself alive. Skills that would otherwise be bottom on the list of your priorities, become absolutely essential, especially the ‘‘survival’’ skill which increases your ability to scavenge food and create healing items.
This RPG element remains important whether you choose to play in hard-core mode or not. New Vegas relies heavily on the strategic distribution of skill points as a means to help you progress throughout the game, as opposed to previous efforts where skill points were no more than a means to emphasise your character’s strengths and weaknesses. Looking back now, it seems that Fallout New Vegas really hit the sweet spot between Fallout 3’s skill point system and Fallout 4’s useless “Perks” chart.
The fact is that you’ll close off options to yourself right from the very beginning of the game when you lay the first foundations for your character, whether you mean to or not. You can get by as a nuke-launcher-wielding hard-ass with a strength stat of ten if that is how you want to play the game, but you’ll never see all the hidden dialogue options, and most of the wasteland’s technology is beyond your reach.
Far from being a hindrance, you’ll be forced into playing in non-conventional ways, approaching each mission differently, playing to your strengths while avoiding situations which will expose your weaknesses.
V.A.T.S the Way to Do It
If an epic character building RPG isn’t what you are looking for, fear not – New Vegas feels far more like a shooter/action game than previous outings in the franchise, meaning that survival in the Mojave Wasteland is no longer about having enough action points to fend off enemies using the assisted targeting system synonymous with Fallout games, V.A.T.S, which allows very precise dismemberment of anybody who looks at you the wrong way.
Overall, the Mojave Wasteland is similar in size to that of Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland map, but jam packed with far more areas to explore– from irradiated holes in the ground which have nothing more than a long lost safe just waiting to be cracked open, to the vast Hoover Dam, epicentre of the war between the NCR and Caesar’s Legions.
Exploring the vast, dusty desert is hugely rewarding, and can reveal more about New Vegas than any amount of story telling could – coming across a decaying, abandoned shack in the middle of a dried up lakebed, and finding it full of equipment is a real thrill, but other times opening the door to find nothing but burnt skeletons and souvenirs of a better time can really highlight the fear of a post-apocalyptic world.
The New Vegas Strip Club
Aside from the familiar burnt-out cities and trailer parks which have come to define the bleakness and horror of wasteland America, the centrepiece of New Vegas is (surprise surprise) the New Vegas strip – a wonderfully distorted and dark version of its real-life counterpart. Vomiting drunks, voluptuous prostitutes, down and out gang members and a selection of fully playable casinos make it far more vivid and memorable than the decaying US capital of the last game. If you’re returning to the Mojave after visiting Boston in Fallout 4 however, prepare to be disappointed…
Beyond the main plot, New Vegas focuses on the war between the New Californian Republic army and the slave driven legions of Caesar’s Army. Missions have you siding with one faction or the other, gaining their respect. This introduction of a Faction Meter, which ranges from Idolised by a group to Vilified, adds another layer of depth to the myriad of choices you’ll have to make throughout the game.
While being idolised by one group means you will receive support from them, the opposite end of the scale means you will be attacked on sight, whether you provoke your assailants or not. This essentially means you can’t be liked by rival groups at the same time – tough for those wanting to unlock all the missions and rewards in one play-through, but more reason than ever to start again once you finish the game.
Two Tribes Go To War
By presenting a moral grey area, with no clear ‘‘good’’ or ‘‘bad’’ factions, New Vegas lets you blindly fumble between the lines of loyalty and morality. It comes to a point where losing your hard earned ‘‘accepted’’ status with a faction really hurts, compounded by the obvious bias towards becoming hated by each faction – did you off one friendly NCR Ranger just to score some cheap weapons and a couple of caps to complete your only mission for the evil Legion? You better hope his gang doesn’t hear about it (spoiler: they always do, and they now hate you for it).
New Vegas understands that sometimes you must do awful things for a greater cause, or choose the better of two bad options – but rarely does it punish you for choosing one option over the other. The “Loyalty” effect is much more obvious and meaningful than the watered-down faction allegiances in Fallout 4. It might be obvious, but this is mainly down to the fact that in the end, you’ll only ever care about two factions, and the rest are irrelevant to your progress. Sorry, Minutemen.
Please Gamble Responsibly
Unfortunately, New Vegas is far from perfect. Familiar problems, such as regular crashes and glitches mean you will have to reload your games, or power off your system completely, once every 3 hours or so. Not so bad when you save regularly like a good little gamer, but utterly demoralising when you realise last time you saved was four and a half hours ago when your best equipment was a jumpsuit and a tyre iron. You can feel when the game is struggling, and it’s a real gamble to keep going. In reality however, if you do practice safe gaming, this is nothing more than an annoying niggle that interrupts the flow of your game.
In New Vegas, the House Always Wins
Fallout: New Vegas wasn’t the Fallout 4 many had hoped it would be, but truthfully, it never claimed to be. And yet, after the release of the absolutely excellent Fallout 4 six years later, we can finally see what Fallout: New Vegas really is.
A huge, engrossing, well written and morally ambiguous adventure which has that ‘‘just one more mission’’. This all leads to entire evenings and weekends lost exploring the vast wasteland. Ok, Fallout New Vegas definitely has it’s flaws, and thankfully most of these were addressed in Fallout 4, but discovering the full breadth of adventure that New Vegas offers you still takes time, effort and sheer determination. Even now, theres a real satisfaction to setting off into the Mojave sunset.