They Rolled the Dice and it Came Up Seven
HIGH My personal balls-out resolution to the Ultra-Luxe Casino quest.
LOW Getting confused and stuck in Vault 22—twice.
WTF Even after the last patch, several big bugs and glitches remain.
The timing of Fallout: New Vegas couldn't have been worse.
Although it arrived almost exactly two years after Fallout 3, it still felt a little too soon. I had spent over a hundred hours in the wastelands of DC, and while that game became one of my all-time favorites, I didn't feel a strong urge to repeat the experience. Even worse, New Vegas was released with a wealth of glitches, bugs and technical problems—issues so common and severe that several friends had quit the game out of frustration and warned me away from it.
Jump ahead one year.
Having completed my review duties for 2011, I found myself with a span of free time and the desire to play a big Western-style RPG. I knew that New Vegas had been patched several times since release, and that all of its DLC was available. Having purchased a copy at a deep, deep, deep discount, I figured I had nothing to lose—at the very least, it would be as bad as people told me it was, and I'd just move onto the next thing in my backlog.
Although Fallout: New Vegas follows the same basic template of wandering a post-apocalyptic land set by its predecessor, a number of factors come together to create an experience that's superior in nearly every respect. I was quite surprised to find that it's one of the best RPGs I've ever played.
When the game begins, the player takes on the role of "The Courier"—a person with no backstory other than knowing they were delivering a package before getting robbed and shot in the head. It's not much to go on, and I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. However, I eventually grew to appreciate that Obsidian left it so open. Having the ability to be any kind of character that I desired was a perfect fit for the freedom to make significant, game-altering decisions as I saw fit—and choice? Fallout: New Vegas has it in spades.
At nearly every turn, the player will encounter characters that need something or offer an opportunity. These people are sometimes free agents, but are usually associated with one of the various factions populating the desert. It's up to the player whether to indulge them, and if so, to choose between good, evil, or other. For example, performing missions for the militaristic New California Republic can end in supporting them, or undercutting them via sabotage. If neither of those appeal, players can look for an opportunity to further their own agenda, everyone else be damned. This help/hinder leeway holds significance on two levels; the first is that it lets the player be as benevolent or as poisonous as they like, and secondly, it determines how the inhabitants of New Vegas will relate.
This web of relationships built by currying favor with one group or becoming the enemy of another builds a connection and buy-in that's hard to ignore. I might not have been very inclined towards supporting the NCR at the game's beginning, but after having seen towns ravaged by Caesar's Legion, the phrase "the enemy of your enemy is your friend" proved to be quite true of over the course of my adventure. On the other hand, choices must be weighed extremely carefully. Is it worthwhile to fulfill the request of a close friend even if it means that friendly soldiers nearby will be cut off from resupply? What's more important, maintaining a reliable source of plasma weapons, or trying to bolster the competing business of someone who may be of help later?
Further enhancing the game is that the quests available are incredibly varied and interesting—in fact, I am hard-pressed to think of anything in my experience that's done better than Fallout: New Vegas. From the trivial to the grand, from the mundane to the bizarre, Obsidian has something for everyone here, and almost every bit of it is worth seeing.
I will never forget helping Boone figure out what became of his wife in the town of Novac. Locating an undead cowboy dominatrix? Did it. Having a meal with the Great Khans and tricking one of the attendees into embarrassing himself to a fatal degree? A high point. I felt warm fuzzies when I brought together two lovers separated by a bombardment zone, and the Pulp Fiction-style resolution to the events uncovered in the Ultra-Luxe Casino will go down as one of the most exciting segments of gameplay I've had the pleasure of experiencing. When it comes to quests, New Vegas is second to none.
Other areas of the game are just as strong and smart. For example, the player can meet memorable companions full of personality to accompany him on his journey, but it's rarely as simple as "Hi, please come with me." Even better, once found, each companion has a request or an issue that needs solving. However, in stark contrast to other recent RPGs like Skyrim or Mass Effect 2, the player has to work hard and get to know the character before they will open up. It makes more sense, feels more rewarding, and gives the companions greater depth.
Apart from this, the dialogue in general never fails to be smart, quite witty, and a few notches above what other developers turn out. Incidentally, I was thrilled to see that Fallout: New Vegas handles homosexuality in a way that's shockingly mature and accepting. The respectful treatment of gay and lesbian characters was stunning, and if for nothing else, the writing team absolutely deserves the highest possible praise for this work.
I could go on lavishing praise for quite some time, but as with any project, there are aspects that don't quite hit the mark. Small issues like confusing maps leading to wandering in circles can irritate, and crafting ammunition feels misguided—it's a lot of extra inventory to parse through, and doesn't seem worth the effort with so much ammo available for purchase. I also felt that adding "damage tolerance" on top of damage dealt, on top of changing ammo types needlessly complicated gameplay that should be streamlined.
However, those things can largely be ignored or worked around with little effort. A larger concern is the fact that even though New Vegas has been patched, I still encountered several bugs and problems that should not be there.
For instance, my companion Veronica had a glitched personal quest that was impossible to start—very disappointing, since she was one of my favorites. One quest in Jacobstown could not be completed because the person I needed to speak to kept getting killed by ambient wildlife. One quest deep in Legion territory auto-failed a matter of seconds after I began it, for no apparent reason. Towards the end of the game, a boat I needed to take simply vanished, leaving me no way to get to my destination. I could go on.
I realize that a game as large and intricate as New Vegas must be indescribably difficult to properly bug-test, but the fact remains that the game shipped broken, and even a year after its release, it's still having some issues. Nothing was more heartbreaking to me than falling in love with this game and finding that parts of it are still busted… In light of the problems I encountered, it is to Obsidian's credit that I walked away with an almost entirely positive view on things.
Although the still-questionable technical side cast a faint shadow on the experience, I still cherished my time with New Vegas and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone interested in a top-flight Role-Playing Game—strong emphasis on the role playing.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 44 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway or contact him at bradgallaway a t gmail dot com