The Good: More post-apocalyptic good times and adventures The Bad: With all the perks and flaws of Fallout 3 preserved in their own vault The Ugly: Nothing in particular.
Right up front I’m going save all of us a lot of time by saying that Fallout: New Vegas is more or less the same as Fallout 3. There are some changes, and I’ll get into those below, but if you go into Fallout: New Vegas expecting the same gaming experience as Fallout 3 you’ll be neither surprised nor disappointed. With that said, on with the review.
It seemed to me to be some kind of cosmic coincidence that only last week I finished playing The Pitt, which was the final expansion for Fallout 3 that I had yet to play, and here comes Fallout: New Vegas. That gave me a good perspective, a fresh recollection of the things about Fallout 3 that I loved (and didn’t love), and a clear understanding of what changed in the new game (not a heck of a lot) and what remained the same (pretty much everything). So, if on the whole you liked Fallout 3, and I did, you’ll find yourself with a whole new chunk of real estate to explore chock full of new radioactive mutants and towns and quests. And, if, like me, you were kind of tired of the whole V.A.T.S. system and found the graphics a little tired, you’ll get that too. So, fully cognizant of the fact that just about everyone reading this review played Fallout 3 to some extent, I’ll hit the high points early on. For those of you who didn’t play Fallout 3, and yet are somehow, perplexingly, interested in a review of Fallout: New Vegas, read on – I’ll cover the mechanics of the game farther down below.
So, what they didn’t change: most of the game. The V.A.T.S. is unchanged. The initial character setup S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is still there, as is the leveling system of perks and abilities. Inventory, purchasing, bartering, character interactions, the Pip Boy, collecting bottle caps – all there. The sound effects and the graphics are the same, and in fact the whole sort of retro-futuristic feeling of the game is unchanged. The changes? The largest one is a new reputation system, which makes you enemies or friends of groups that you come across based upon interactions with them and their friends and enemies in the past. The nearest comparison I can come up with off the top of my head is a similar system that is part of STALKER: Clear Sky (which is likely a game none of you have played, but there you go). Throughout the game the choices you make in your allies will open some quest lines while closing others, leading you into fights in the name of your allies, and in general impacting your gaming life in ways great and small.
You no longer need to collect plans to build things – you know how to build all of them at the game start. You also now have the ability to hand load ammunition and mix various concoctions. Pretty much anything you pick up in the wasteland can now be put to some use (provided you have the patience to collect and lug it all around). I found little cause to do so because there are plenty of bottle caps to be had, and plenty of supplies to buy when you want to. A similar system allows you to upgrade your weapon with things like an increased magazine size and a scope.
The final big change, or at least the final one that occurs to me at the moment, is the inclusion of a hardcore mode. In hardcore mode you have to eat and sleep regularly, and stimpack and healing aids take time to work, so you can’t instantly heal up in the middle of a firefight. It’s possible to starve to death, or die from lack of sleep. I’m sort of surprised they didn’t include dysentery while they were at it. Also, ammunition in hardcore mode weighs something, so you can’t carry the virtually limitless arsenal possible in the basic game (recalling a time in Fallout 3 that I was carrying something like 12,000 shotgun shells and enough 5.56mm bullets to run a chaingun for an hour plus I had no idea how many power cells for laser rifles and whatnot). Anyway, not my cup of tea, but it’s there if you want it.
So, that’s it for people who have played Fallout 3. What about those of you who haven’t? Fallout: New Vegas (and Fallout 3 before it) is an RPG set in a post-apocalyptic (nuclear war) America, played through either the first person view or using a third person camera-over-the-shoulder viewpoint. You begin simply, level one, with the typical sort of RPG stats common to such games – strength, charisma, endurance, etc. You also have skills like repair, science, capability with various guns, plus perks which have catchy names like Plasma Spaz and Ladykiller that give you advantages against certain enemies, bonuses to experience earned, bonuses when using a certain weapon – that kind of thing. There are dozens and dozens of perks and skills, and your options when advancing your character level are truly vast. Incidentally, when setting up your character you can spend an inordinate amount of time playing with your hair color, style, height of your cheekbones, width of your mouth, set of your eyes and many, many characteristics. I don’t think any of it effects the actual game nor, given the limitations of the engine, do you end up really looking human, but for those who have some kind of Sim fixation you can play that game.
You play the role of a nameless courier, carrying a package into New Vegas, a city that survived the holocaust. New Vegas now resides in the crossfire between a pseudo-legitimate army representing a lose collection of western states called the New California Republic and a hardscrabble army of refugees called Legion lead by a fanatic who calls himself Caesar. See, Las Vegas is unique not only because of its survival, but because of the survival of the Hoover Dam, and the uncontaminated water behind said dam, and the electricity said dam can generate. How you get all tangled up in that I’ll leave you to discover. While you’re onboard that plot train you can wander around and pick up any of a vast number of side quests helping (or hurting) the locals as you choose, collecting bottle caps (which somehow came to be currency after the war), and buying or scavenging supplies. When headed into combat you may try and use the weapon sights, which is pretty hard, or switch on what is known as V.A.T.S. (Something, Something Targeting System). In the V.A.T.S. the game is paused and you are displayed targeted shots (head, limb, torso) and the odds of hitting each. You expend your available action points to different attacks spread across a number of enemies if you choose, then set the game back in motion and let the attack roll out. In real game time it takes ten seconds or so for you to recharge your action points to allow you to activate the V.A.T.S. again, during which time you can duck and dodge like crazy or shoot the old-fashioned iron sights way. When you’ve killed whatever you needed to kill you gain experience, and go on your way.
And that’s Fallout: New Vegas in a nutshell, and Fallout 3 for that matter except for a different plotline. There is no escaping the fact that Fallout: New Vegas is more or less Fallout 3. The map might be bigger, the side quests more expansive, but if you’ve played Fallout 3, you’re not going to find anything dramatically new here. Good thing? I think so. Great thing? Probably not.