The wait is finally over. It is time for us seasoned vault dwellers to dust off our jumpsuits, load our packs with iguana on a stick, grab the shotgun and oncemore venture out into the post apocalyptic wastes of the future. We forever leave the choking city corridors, connected only by long forgotten ghoul ridden subway tunnels. This time we are completely abandoning the well trampled eastern seaboard and heading out west to see how the other coast fared.
Welcome to the Mojave Wasteland, the modern Wild West. Gone are the constant sickly green tones and tight city complexes, and they’ve been replaced by a placid blue sky and rolling, sometimes fertile hills. While still fitting the title, "wasteland", it feels like the west coast fared far better than the east. You are presented with a series of towns that are far less irradiated, and more battered down by constant wear and tear of the desert winds.
The soul of Fallout 3 was the urban crusader Three Dog, who gave you constant vital updates about the climate of the wastes. This tradition has been continued by the similar but far more detached, Mr. New Vegas as voiced by Wayne Newton. News updates will be far less clear, and your travels far less documented. While Three Dog was very much the voice of the revolution, Mr. New Vegas is very much the voice of the establishment, with all his rough edges sanded and buffed to a mirror shine.
If you are familiar with the modern Fallout franchise you will be able to immediately pick this game up and start playing with no adjustment. In many ways this feels like a massive expansion more than a new game. Trust me, this is a good thing. All the magic that kept you playing the first one for hours on end, will keep you searching the Mojave Wasteland. I’m still seeing things off in the distance, and finding it almost impossible to fight the urge to wander off away from my mission to see what they are.
War Never Changes… Almost
I just got finished telling you that the game plays the same as it always did. Well, that is a half truth. The game from the moment you start feeling plays immediately familiar if you were used to Fallout 3 and its many expansions. However there are a number of little tweaks here and there that greatly improve the gameplay experience. None of these changes are so earth shattering as to make you have to relearn anything, but each fleshes out something that was perfectly fine in F3 but could definately be improved on.
Goodbye V.A.T.S. Hello Iron Sights
I have to admit, one of the things I always disliked in Fallout 3 was using the V.A.T.S. system. I avoided perks that used it, and in general completely avoided the system like the plague. Stopping the action constantly to target seemed disinguine to me, and in a way like gaming the system. However I really did enjoy the special bullet-time finish sequences. So all throughout the first game I ran around attempting to play Fallout 3 like an FPS, all the while frustrated that my aim never actually factored in wether or not I hit the mob.
Now in New Vegas, I finally get the system I always wanted. You have a system that allows you to aim by iron sight, and have your aim actually effect the success of your shots. The V.A.T.S. system is still there as a fallback for those players who prefer it, and it still functions essentially the same. However little things like using iron sights, and crouching while shooting greatly increases your chances of critical damage.
As much as I am in love with this new system, there is one fatal flaw. Sometimes you will encounter a gun that was poorly designed. Currently my favorite gun is still the Sturdy Caravan Shotgun, that came with the Caravan pack included with my steam preorder. Granted I really shouldn’t be "sniping" with a shotgun, but the iron sight included with this gun is a thick metal bar, which completely occuldes any target you are drawing a bead on. There have been a few similarly poorly designed pistols, but I am hoping that the mod community will take this into their own hands and release "fixes".
One of the fatal flaws for me in Fallout 3 was the limited options you could give your companions. Obsidian has put some comsiderable effort into trying to improve this with New Vegas. Long gone is the cludgy dialog driven, question/answer configuration system and it is replaced with a slick HUD with custom pipboy icons. Now at a glance, once you are familiar with the interface you can see the state of your companion follow distance, aggression level, as well as other menu options like opening inventory, and dialog.
All in all the new interface makes it much more enjoyable to have a companion. I personally tried to survive as long as possible in Fallout 3 as I could without a companion because in the long run they would just get in the way. Now that you have much greater granularity of control, it feels far more beneficial. The only confusing thing is that in order to remove a companion you need to open dialog, similar to how you did in the past. This seemed counter intuitive to me, but I am assuming that they did not want someone to accidentally do this. When you remove a companion you are given the fallout equilvalent of an "are you sure" box, just to drill home the concept that you are about to lose your "buddy", which is nice.
Better Skill Checking Feedback
Unfortunately I don’t have a screenshot sample for this one, as all the skill checks I have found have given away plotlines. In the past in fallout when a Skill check appears in dialog you recieve a line that looks something like this. [Perception 81%] meaning you are 81% likely to pass the check. Problem is you have no clue what the math is behind that check or what you can do to influence it. In New Vegas, it feels more like playing a pen and paper game where you know the score you have to beat on the dice that just got rolled. For example the same check listed in New Vegas would appear something like this [Perception 24/30]. The first number is your current score in a skill and the second number is the number needed to completely pass the check.
Why is this more useful you might ask? In Fallout 3 the game had rare skill books that you could find while roaming around through the game, each increased your skill permanently. New Vegas continues this tradition, but adds an additional item: Magazines. Reading a Magazine will give you a large but temporary boost (+10 to skill) in a certain skill. In the case of the skill check described above, reading a magazine and then re-entering the dialong will make sure you can pass whatever checks you need to. This is extremely helpful as there are a number of quests that become far more difficult if you do not pass a certain skill check along the way.
There is no Black and White
One of the things that gave me both great hope and concern about this game was the fact it was being created by Obsidian Entertainment. On one hand you have a return to the same studio (descended from Black Isle Studios) that had birthed the Fallout franchise from its loins oh so many years ago. On the other hand, this was the same studio that was responsible, at least for me, for the great disappointments that were Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2. I believed in the fact that once upon a time, Black Isle could weave a complex storyline better than anyone else in the industry. Going into New Vegas I had great hope that with them returning to the license that had essentially placed them on the map would bring out their best.
Granted, at this point of writing this review I have only put in about eight hours of gameplay. But already you are presented with a far more complex world than that of Fallout 3. In the washington wasteland you knew immediately who the black hats and white hats were without much thought involved. You knew going into it, that sooner or later Three Dog and the modern Paladins known as the Brotherhood of Steel would end up playing a pivitol role in the "good guy" side of the storyline.
In the wildwest however you have many different competing organizations, each with its positive traits and character flaws. Do you side with the military power of the region, the New California Republic and their Rangers. Do you side with Caesar’s Legion in their effort to cleanse the west and create a new pax romana…. through force. Or do you side with any of the many other factions, like the Powder Gangers who are just trying to survive and fight for their freedom.
As you help one faction, it effects your rating with the other competing factions. As you choose to save this town, it may damage your reputation with another town. Make your choices carefully as each one can possibly cause a ripple effect with factions you may not have even been introduced to yet. Each door that opens, closes another one behind you. As a result the faction system makes the world seem much more alive and vibrant.
So for those who simply skipped down to this paragraph, here is the quick sell. What you have with Fallout New Vegas is all the goodness of Fallout 3, infused with a shot of excellent and complex storytelling, and a side order of very nice features that will add to your gameplay without making it feel unfamiliar. This is in fact that Fallout sequel we have been waiting for. Granted there is nothing ground breaking here. Don’t expect new graphics, radically new gameplay or anything that can be described as "cutting edge". What you get instead is what the industry needs more of, focused gameplay. Obisidan has delivered to us another yarn about the post apocalyptic wastes, in the same easy to swallow package we fell in love with before. I am loving every minute of it.
Review by Belghast the Author/Creator of Tales of the Aggronaut and Guild Leader of House Stalwart on World of Warcraft (and elsewhere).