Creating a worthy sequel to a critically acclaimed and commercially successful game is often more than a developer can chew. Many sequels have fallen short, while others, like Uncharted 2 or Red Dead Redemption, clearly utilized what worked in the original entry and improved upon them on nearly every level. So when news surfaced that a sequel, of sorts, to 2008’s Fallout 3 was in the works, we were inevitably excited, yet cautious at having overly high expectations. Now that Fallout: New Vegas is out and we’ve had our time with it, we think we were right to be cautiously optimistic.
What is inevitably clear with New Vegas is that it isn’t really new, and little is done by Bethesda Softworks or Obsidian to give players something truly unique. New Vegas feels and plays like a giant expansion to Fallout 3. While that certainly isn’t a bad thing seeing as we really enjoyed 2008’s mammoth RPG outing, we were hoping for something fresh and captivating in New Vegas. Indeed, while there are some minor tweaks to the gameplay, some interesting additions (like Hardcore Mode), and tons of new things to do and see, overall you will find that if you haven’t played Fallout 3 in a while, you’ll quickly remember why you either loved it or hated it.
Like all the other Fallout games, New Vegas questions what would happen after a nuclear apocalypse ravages the United States of America. However, instead of crawling around the remnants of Washington, D.C. like we did Fallout 3, New Vegas starts players in the wasteland surrounding New Vegas. As the name describes, New Vegas is essentially an attempt at rebuilding the Vegas Strip following the atomic war of 2077. The city is unique to the country because of the Hoover Dam, which remains mostly intact following the war. Several factions, or groups of organized militias, form to try and reclaim power. Those who support the old government call themselves the New California Republic, known as NCR throughout most of the game. This large organized group attempts to keep order around Vegas with an iron fist. In opposition to NCR is the Legion, led by Caesar, a group that has a knack for enslaving small groups of people in the wasteland. The tension between the two groups is palpable, and throughout the game you’ll be faced with decisions about which side to trust and which side to oppose—then again, you can just play as your own force and choose a self-serving approach. At the end, you’ll have to use the groups to your advantage, but you have the whole game to play before you get that far.
The game introduces a heavy influence on faction support. You gain and lose reputation based on your actions in towns and groups throughout the land. As with all Fallout games, player decisions are crucial, and which group you decide to help or hurt will have an impact on your game. Fallout has always done this well, and New Vegas ups the ante with more subtle approaches. For instance, you may lose some credibility with a certain group, and its supporters may not openly attack you in the town or on the Strip (they can’t, anyway), but out on the wasteland they may take a few shots at you. In addition to the radio on you PipBoy keeping you well informed on the latest news, NPC residents like to jabber about your reputation across the wasteland.
The game opens with a bang, quite literally. Your character is shot by a man in a checkered suit, and after being left for dead, a robot digs you up and brings you to a nearby doctor. It’s in this little town on the Mojave Desert that sets the game in motion. You’ll learn all the basics here, including combat and VATS (Vault-Tec Automated Targeting System), harvesting raw materials for crafting, tweaking your weapons, and more. The starting quests are quite dry, but after a few hours into the game, the pace finally picks up and you start piecing your life together. As a whole, the main narrative and quest line is not nearly as interesting as Fallout 3’s story, but it’s still good enough to drive us to the The Strip and finally me Mr. House.
Gameplay is quite solid, as we’ve come to expect from Obsidian. You can easily switch between first-person and third-person at the press of a button. We found that first-person works best in combat as third-person doesn’t deliver the best perspective for attacking—either hand-to-hand or with a gun. New Vegas allows players to aim down the sights of guns, a welcome addition to the series, but you’ll probably use VATS to pause the action and plan your shots for the most effective attacks. VATS is tied into action points, which deplete the more shots you fire.
In true RPG style, New Vegas allows you to level up your character as you see fit. If you want to be a smooth talker for example, then insert points into Speech or Barter. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck) returns, and it’s as important as ever to choose a smart (not necessarily intelligent) build at the beginning of the game. In addition to getting points to spend into your different attributes, you’ll occasionally get to pick new perks. These perks allow you to further customize your character to your liking, and after you’ve beaten the game, you may want to restart and try some of the more obscure perks for a challenge.
In addition to the long main quest line there are also a myriad of side quests to occupy your time. New Vegas is, after all, a giant open-world action-RPG. You can explore the entire map, and then discover something new. The amount of gameplay packed onto the Blu-ray disc is quite impressive, and while the main quest line is reason enough to continue advancing your character, the side missions ensures that the game has very, very long legs. A lot of the missions will have an impact on your karma or your relations with other opposing factions, and while there are several fetch quests to tackle, you’ll also find plenty of lengthy missions to indulge in.
The scenery should look extremely familiar to those who’ve played Fallout 3. After all, the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where, presumably, most of everything has either died or mutated. The actual landscape has quite a bit detail (not necessarily in the visual department) than its predecessor provided, and you’ll find more wildlife, roaming humans, ghouls, and other ghastly creatures.
The game looks like a giant expansion pack to Fallout 3, as we’ve already mentioned. The problem is the graphics in New Vegas aren’t any better than what we found in its predecessor. Perhaps since there was so much detail put into the story and side missions the developers and animators decided not to pay too much attention to visuals. The graphics are not terrible, but they feel dated and very unrefined for a 2010 game. Meanwhile, the game sports a number of other flaws in the visual department, with the actual animations being completely buggered, especially the lip-synching.
The biggest problem in New Vegas is easily the vast number of bugs and glitches that literally cripple gameplay. In our review of the game—which lasted more than a week—we had to physically shut off our PlayStation 3 about 12 times. Games would freeze, NPCs would walk into walls, and lip-synching just didn’t work. It’s extremely disappointing to play a game that has this many glitches, and we were tempted to not post a review until a fix was released – obviously, we opted against this, as there is no telling how long a potential patch may take to see the light of day. The load screens are also obnoxiously long, some lasting a few minutes. Besides the basic discomfort of all these bugs for seasoned gamers, the glitches will also likely turn-off newcomers to the franchise and RPG genre as a whole. When speaking to gaming friends who haven’t tried New Vegas, we simply state that it’s as good as Fallout 3, but with more glitches and a less interesting story. It’s hard to really recommend a game that forces you to shut off your console on more than a couple occasions.
Glitches and bugs aside, New Vegas is still brimming with promise. There is so much to do and see that it’s hard to explain it all in words. You could easily spend hours in one of the casinos, gambling away all your caps, or you could probably spend 80 hours doing all the side missions. What’s best is that you can bring along some NPC companions to keep you company. The voice acting is quite good, but at times overly repetitive. The radio show hosted by Mr. New Vegas is a key culprit in repetitiveness—he only plays about five songs and tends to replay news headline every few minutes—all using the same language. His radio show does change as you progress through the game and complete important missions, but overall we would have liked more chatter about the mundane aspects of post-apocalyptic life. Hardcore Mode is not for the faint of heart—the game even advises you against it. This mode makes you monitor your sleep, food, and water intake. While it’s extremely realistic, it’s not going to be for everyone. Still, it will give the game some extra legs. After you complete your initial play-through, see if you have what it takes to really take control over your character’s life.
As a follow-up to one of the greatest open world action-RPGs in the past several years, New Vegas tries very hard to be like its big brother, but ultimately falls a bit short. Perhaps Bethesda should have left the game in the oven a bit longer to work out all the kinks and bugs. Still, even if the bugs were not present, the overall main story is just fair, the characters are slightly dull, and visuals feel decidedly dated. On the other hand, there is so much to experience in New Vegas, that it’s hard to not recommend to RPG fans. The game will get fixed, eventually, and when it does you’ll want to spend the next couple years playing through all the side missions while Bethesda works on a more authentic sequel to Fallout 3.