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Fallout: New Vegas Review

Sparky Clarkson's picture

Yes, that's a Kick in the Head

Fallout: New Vegas Screenshot

HIGH Getting to the final boss and talking him out of a fight.

LOW The innumerable bugs and crashes.

WTF Man, where to begin? The gang of Elvises? The blond-wigged Nightkin in love with a robot? This whole game is screwy.

Although much about it was praiseworthy, Bethesda's open-world role-playing game (RPG) Fallout 3 suffered from a weak and uncompelling core narrative and a ridiculous ending. It was a notable aberration in a series known for the quality of its storytelling. Disappointed fans of the older games were heartened to learn that Obsidian (largely built from the ruins of series originator Black Isle Studios) were going to handle the writing duties in the sequel, New Vegas, and their hopes for a return to that storytelling quality have largely been fulfilled. Though it doesn't fully realize its potential, Fallout: New Vegas has an interesting plot that the player can shape in rewarding ways.

Like Fallout 3, the major plotline in New Vegas boils down to a conflict over resources. In this case, it's the water and electricity from Hoover Dam. These things have made the Mojave desert a relatively hospitable place with functioning agriculture, and have resurrected the casinos of Sin City. Drawn into the power struggle while trying to make a delivery, the player gets to make the plot's most interesting decision by choosing who will rule the desert. New Vegas also improves on Fallout 3's story in that this judgment actually deserves some contemplation, because each of the major factions vying for control has serious flaws.

Obsidian's writers carefully use both dialogue and quest objectives to characterize the disorganized democracy, the callous technocrat, and the brutal dictator. Fallout 3's ludicrous karma system is de-emphasized in favor of a more robust reputation system in which different groups judge you by your service to their interests. This fits the game's moral ambiguity well, although that effort is undercut by its cartoonish neo-Roman villains. Even in this bit of silliness, however, the superiority of Obsidian's creative effort shows. Simple touches like the way the Romans pronounce Latin served to tell the story of Caesar's Legion long before some NPC informed me it had been founded by a pedantic linguist.

However, Obsidian didn't fully pick up the environmental storytelling mastered by Bethesda. Explorable locations generally feel smaller and less involved than in Fallout 3. It seemed like I explored the same cave in New Vegas a dozen times over, just with slightly different decoration. This repetition was more jarring than in the previous game because it occurred so often in natural, rather than man-made, spaces.

The spaces that have been fully elaborated are sometimes incoherent. The luxury hotel rooms on the strip don't have windows, not even the boarded-over ones common in the wasteland. One vault I visited had a backstory that climaxed in a battle, but although the area was strewn with traps, mines, and tons of ammo, there were no guns. Nor was there any mention made of what might have happened to the vault's children, although this is understandable as most of the settlements in the Mojave appear not to have any children at all. These are small things to be sure, but they cumulatively made the whole game feel just a little off.

Fallout: New Vegas Screenshot

More significantly, the story doesn't really make use of its setting. Las Vegas is a place associated with riches, fantasy, and organized crime, but New Vegas focuses on political, rather than economic, conflict. That story is well told, but it's one that would have worked just as well, or even better, had it been set in D.C. New Vegas features a number of excellent side-quests involving the Strip's ruling families and maneuvering between the various trading consortia active in the region. Had Obsidian built the game around these ideas rather than relegating them to side-quests the story might have fit better with its location.

The core gameplay remains as compelling as before, although Obsidian made small and welcome changes to the way Fallout plays. The expanded repertoire of enemies makes the wastes more interesting to cross, and these foes generally pose more interesting tactical problems. The (optional) hardcore mode requiring the player to keep his character hydrated and fed while managing ammo that actually has weight is nearly perfect, enforcing a disciplined and frugal style of play that fits the universe perfectly. Obsidian's dedication to ensuring that every problem has multiple solutions also deserves praise; even the game's final boss can be talked out of a fight.

On the other hand, the expanded crafting system (though an excellent concept) doesn't quite work. Crafting locations are too far from safe storage places, and the recipes can only be seen when you're ready to start, which can lead to an irritating round trip if you forgot to bring the pressure cooker to the water purification party. The proliferation of empty casings, ammo types, and aid items made inventory management a chore due to the lack of sorting options.

To the extent that the tweaks improve the game, however, they are overwhelmed by the appalling quality of the code. Obsidian has never been praised for its QA, and Fallout 3 was infamous for its instability on all platforms. New Vegas lives down to, and even below, these reputations. The game crashed regularly, and even when it didn't I often had to quit down to the dashboard as some persistent memory error prevented a a quest objective from being recognized, or caused the game to stutter. Occasionally, I would fail quests I hadn't begun for reasons that couldn't be discerned. Even simple things don't work—at the base of some stairs in a tunnel, I fell right out of the world, a problem so obvious it is difficult to believe the area was checked at all.

Due to the bugs, it felt at times like I was fighting New Vegas rather than playing it, and the weariness I felt at the prospect of that battle sometimes was not outweighed by the draw of exploring yet another minimalist location or mowing down more legionaries. That's a real shame, because Fallout: New Vegas almost manages to perfectly synthesize the different strengths of Fallout 3 and its predecessors. Had the world design and the code been as excellent as the writing, we might have had a masterpiece on our hands. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 80 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 2 times with one alternate ending path).

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, sexual content, strong language, use of drugs. The V.A.T.S. retains all its bloody characteristics from Fallout 3, with limbs being blown off regularly. A few characters may be skimpily dressed, but "sex" involves nothing more than a screen fading to black. Drugs and alcohol provide numerous benefits, with addiction posing only a minor challenge. Save this one for older teens.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Primary and incidental dialogue is subtitled, but occasionally some background dialogue is not. A change in music and certain sounds are used to indicate that the player is under attack; unless you are sneaking there may be no visual indication that a nearby enemy is after you.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Obsidian  
Key Creator(s): Chris Avellone   Feargus Urquhart  
Publisher: Bethesda  
Series: Fallout  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Shooting   Open World  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Just starting playing this

Just starting playing this on PC and am 6-hours in so far. I'd rate Bethesda's Fallout 3 an 8/10, so I'd probably be more inclined to slap a 7 on this one, but it's early days yet.

Having only been playing for 6 hours I can already agree about the repetition of the environments, and considering Fallout 3 suffered from the same problem due to recycling the same 4-5 interiors it means my enjoyment is severely reduced.

Combat is still extremely weak too. VATs was the one and only redeeming feature for Fallout 3 to make it playable for me, but now that function is starting to diminish. Iron-sights are a minor improvement, but the game really doesn't have any quality at all in that department. It's similar to Bethesda's Morrowind in that regard, except that game had such great quality in other areas that I could manage to cope with it; Fallout 3/NV, kinda doesn't.

On the flipside I agree on hardcore mode being a positive, and that actually was one of the new features that encouraged me to buy the game (I was reluctant to even pay the game any attention to be honest). I like having the ability to try and share any relation to what it would be like for my character to actually survive in that world, and this function does aid that desire.

I'm hoping there'll be a lot more content and depth in New Vegas too, since using the same engine should have given Obisidan a lot more time to make content rather than mess-about with the tech. Fallout 3 could be beat - major side-quests included - quite comfortably within 40 hours, which is rather poor for an open-world RPG (especially considering a lot of it is copy & paste anyway). So I expect a lot more hours-played with this.

Mmmmmmmm FO3 for me was

Mmmmmmmm FO3 for me was about a 5(average by today's standard of flash=good, I'd give it a 6 if it was not a bugy mess) its grand scope was plagued by limited and unbalanced equipment,AI,skills and player pacing it was a mess with a decent story but the gameplay was a disaster and New Vegas dose not do anything to fix the cores issues of AI,mechanics,balance,pacing story is good but a game can be good without a story and its the last thing I use to deem the greatness of a game.For me its mechanics/gameplay is first,level layout and depth is next, pace of mechanics is next, balance of mechanics is next, bugs next. Then after that I can naw on story and character issues. (this is why Bioshock is a 5 to me while dark messiah is a 7).

Its sad to see gaming go vainly in films direction.....

You're a lot harsher than me

You're a lot harsher than me with the scores Zippy, but I see where you're coming from, and I much prefer gamers who can see past the novelty and say a game like F3 is a 5/10, rather than someone who is like "omg i can go wherever and shoot ppl! 10/10". =p

Ironically though, you say games are going too much like films, yet even in that regard they are failing! I think story in a game is perhaps more important than you do, however, there are just so few games out there that actually have a narrative I can compare with movies at all. Fallout 3 had a pretty poor story, as did your other example, BioShock. Makes me even more amused when I see people highlight those titles as examples of great gaming story-telling! What a load of rubbish. If those games were films they'd have quickly bombed, ended up in the DVD bargain bins, and had a premier on the SyFy channel within 2 weeks of release.

Crofto wrote: You're a lot

Crofto wrote:

You're a lot harsher than me with the scores Zippy, but I see where you're coming from, and I much prefer gamers who can see past the novelty and say a game like F3 is a 5/10, rather than someone who is like "omg i can go wherever and shoot ppl! 10/10". =p

Ironically though, you say games are going too much like films, yet even in that regard they are failing! I think story in a game is perhaps more important than you do, however, there are just so few games out there that actually have a narrative I can compare with movies at all. Fallout 3 had a pretty poor story, as did your other example, BioShock. Makes me even more amused when I see people highlight those titles as examples of great gaming story-telling! What a load of rubbish. If those games were films they'd have quickly bombed, ended up in the DVD bargain bins, and had a premier on the SyFy channel within 2 weeks of release.

Well looking at film then looking at the action genre then looking at all gaming through that lens you can quickly see what I mean when its like film, and even good film is time sensitive sharing half of its target audience with shiny bright explosions to keep the lesser half awake and not demanding a refund. Ya gaming has become that and anyone to argue other wise needs serious help.

Sure art,ect has been raised with graphics but game play narrative which I think is the most important thing to any interactive medium along with story narrative(which I can easily ignore if there is fun and decent continuity/pacing/balance in gameplay). (Just finished CV:Lords of show it has all the problems that the last 2 console titles had but for iffy combat...or perhaps its iffy just iffy in a different direction, level design is a joke all it needs is pre rendered back drops it will be the best of the worst level layouts of 90's games ALA RE,FF7/8,ect,ect. The story is pretty much like LOI with a couple twists, they really need to stop making the CV like a generic action game and do it as Zelda IE a HUGE action adventure game not a clone of whatever action formula is tendy at the time, hell I had more fun with Soylent Commando than CV:LOS and the only real thing wrong with Soylent Commando was not treating the weapons and drops more FPS style than treating it classic arcade style)

I'd say FO3 has a neat and fun story(or stories?) that is destroyed by witless and fckerd game play, it seems to me once they got the shooting mechanic kinda worked out they stopped working on the game.

Bioshock is rather sad instead of taking the game in the direction of SS2 they watered it down so much it has little balance little pacing little AI little story, its even lite-er than Dues ex 2 and that damn thing belongs in the kitty bin.... then again I did like U-ammo(tho they need more ammo in the game more places to buy from, to go to, to build up ammo and more customization in the bio and weaopn mods) and the AI is not total fail.... so ok DX:IW is bargain bin not kitty litter.

irony of choice, the lameness of choosiness

the thing I really don't like about the current Fallout game design, and it's a problem with most rpg themed adventure games, is that when you get hit over the head with black or white moral choices ("do you a)save the kitten, or b) shoot it in the head") you go from playing a game to stopping and consciously making a decision that you wouldn't think about IRL. I call that 'Choosiness'. It seems like choice, but it isn't. Because choice, IRL, does not seem like choice. That is, IRL, no one shoots the kitten in the head, we don't even think about it. In a game we get a choice to shoot the kitten for entertainment value, because we can't do the other thing in real life. But to me, that's not enough reason to include it. Not when the writing isn't willing to go the distance with moral choice, ie- the possibility of devastating consequences for a seemingly trivial choice.

When does choice work? When it doesn't feel like choice. Ex: freeing the dog from the beartrap at the beginning of RE4- when it shows up later in the midst of a fight, you feel validated you did the right thing, even though it didn't feel like a choice at all, it still was. Or facing the ghosts of men you killed in MGS3. You suddenly realize you DID choose, and it hits you in a revelatory way. BANG, you're involved.

A good game should fool you into thinking you're not making choices, when in fact, you are. To me, Fallout3 did not do this at all, I'm interested if F3:NV does a better job with it.

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