Review by Vagnarok

"Fallout: New Vegas - A Fallout Fan's Opinion"

A little background and disclaimer before we begin: I am a longtime fan of the Fallout series, having played the originals many times. I was one of the doubters, the nay-sayers of Fallout 3. This review is written from the perspective of a role player who places emphasis on quality world building, dialogue and voice acting. If the reader feels that other aspects of a game are more important when determining its quality, perhaps they should take the following with a grain of salt. As always, my reviews are spoiler free.

GAMEPLAY

For players completely unfamiliar with Fallout 3 or New Vegas, the engine is very close to other games that Bethesda (its creator) has crafted. In a nutshell, this means that after the introductory sequence, the player is placed onto a large, 3D over-world map. The player immediately has the power to go wherever they please, if they can survive. Hundreds of points of interest populate the map, ranging in scope from a little hole in the wall gas station years beyond use, to the ruins of a factory, or even a populated, rebuilt remnant of the Las Vegas Strip.

Combat in this game is primarily focused on projectile weapons, though for this release Obsidian endeavored to make unarmed a viable combat option. They succeeded, by the way; it is a force to be reckoned with. However, most players will likely choose either Guns or Energy Weapons as their primary combat skill. This plays out as a typical 1st or 3rd person shooter (by preference) during combat. Players new to the FPS/RPG hybrid genre will likely complain that their shots are not aligned with the crosshairs, that they seem to fly about uncontrollably. This is intentional! In an RPG, the beginning character has a low combat skill that will improve as he or she gains experience, modeled after reality. If you don't like your weapons skill represented realistically, then use a cheat or pump up the skill as fast as possible. It doesn't need to ruin the experience.

If a player wishes to avoid combat, they can always run, or they can engage in the other primary facet of the role playing game: Talking! Speech is a powerful skill in this game, and can take the place of a primary combat skill for the advanced user. There are many ways to advance quest lines and plots sin violence in New Vegas, though if the player aims to get the most bang for their buck their first time through, they better sling a rifle over their shoulder and prepare to draw some blood.

One of the other alternatives to the standard FPS gameplay is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS). This allows the player to pause combat and assign shots to various targets and body parts. As a side note, unfortunately the eyes and groin did not return as targets from Fallout 2. VATS shots take up action points which slowly regenerate in real time. This system allows the player to fire in VATS, where the action is in a bullet-time like state, and then return to real time. Upon which they can either choose to let their AP regenerate again before firing, or to unload a fresh clip into the raider's face. Most players will choose the latter. Because of the balance issues that such a powerful tool creates, VATS has been significantly nerfed in New Vegas. It still functions normally at ranges of less than about 30 feet, but anywhere beyond that will yield dramatic drops in the players to hit percentage.

If you're familiar with the Fallout 3 engine, you will immediately be comfortable with New Vegas. This has its ups and downs. On the plus side, Obsidian was able to address many qualms that players had with the original engine. For instance, the companion interface is no longer solely dialogue based. When interacting with your companion, you will first see the Companion Wheel. This gives many helpful and oft used options for healing your character, inventory and tactics management, and dialogue initiation. If you prefer, the old dialogue menus are still easily accessible underneath the wheel, but they seem tired and clunky in comparison.

Obsidian also made an absolutely massive improvement in the way that the armor and damage systems work. Though simple, this completely changes much of the gameplay and improves the quality ten-fold. Without going into the mechanics of it all, a character with a very high armor rating, or “Damage Threshold,” will not be damaged by a weapon without enough power to punch through the armor. No longer can one attack a giant scorpion's hardened carapace with a piddley 9mm spitball shooter and expect results. This allows power armor to be the power house it was meant to be. When you're wearing it you are a walking tank, not a house of cards.

Another major change concerns ammunition. If a weapon doesn't have enough oomph to get past the target's Damage Threshold (DT), the player has the option of using armor piercing rounds instead of stock ammo. These pierce through a targets armor but do slightly less damage overall. On the other end of the spectrum, hollow point rounds bounce off of stronger armor like petite peas, but punch inch wide holes in a target that isn't properly protected.

More on the negative side, the game's crafting system allows the player to take advantage of all the junk in this post apocalyptic world. You can craft food at a campfire, ammo at a munitions bench and other items at a work bench. This sounds like a very cool idea, but its execution was clumsy and uninteresting. Occasionally I converted ammo from one type to another, or I cooked up a nice wasteland omelet at the fireside, but more often than not the items that I could craft were available for purchase. When faced with the choice of hauling around junk across the desert (which can weigh a lot if you've got enough of it!) or keeping my weightless caps at the ready to purchase what I need, it was an easy choice. The only item that I relentlessly crafted as much as possible was the weapon repair kit. While I purchased as many as I could as well, there were just not enough to go around. The major advantage of the repair kit is that with one or two of them, you can increase the worth of a higher end weapon from around 30 caps at its lowest useable durability to potentially several thousand. This is a great money maker for the frugal traveler. However, even the mighty usefulness of this item wasn't enough to interest the reviewer to spelunk further into the dark reaches of what turned out to be an annoying and fairly useless system.

Finally, in a glorious stroke of brilliance, Obsidian created Hardcore Mode. This mode is separate from the normal difficulty settings of easy, normal, hard and so forth. Instead, this option changes fundamental gameplay aspects to make the game more realistic and challenging. The changes made by activating Hardcore Mode are: Stimpaks and RadAway heal over time instead of instantly. Ammunition has weight. Companions die permanently, they are not knocked out. In order to heal a crippled limb you must use a doctor's bag instead of a stimpak. And last but certainly not least, the player must eat, drink and sleep or suffer serious penalties and death! While this certainly sounds hardcore, the mode was quite a bit easier than expected. Upon reflection, this turns out to be a blessing, as it's not fun to be constantly scrounging around for water when you could be questing. Obsidian found a pleasant balance between forcing players to survive in a realistic desert and letting the player play the game.

Overall, New Vegas was fun to play, and that's what it really comes down to. I simply ignored the aspects of the game that I didn't feel were fun, and I didn't feel any sort of crafting shaped holes in my heart from doing so. 8/10

VISUALS

The graphics for this game are in the genre of stylized realism. They are not photorealistic, nor do they try to be. They present the game world in a realistic way with a slight artistic flair. Considering this, the graphics are dated, Obsidian barely touched them. This was likely a purposeful choice intended to allow more time for world building and writing. I could bore you with technicalities, or try to describe some of the landscape, but that wouldn't really replace the effect of looking at a few screenshots now would it? 6/10

ACOUSTICS

The soundtrack to this game is very good. With a highly atmospheric and ambient feel, the musical stylings of Inon Zur compliment the mood of the game quite well. The opening theme is a little generic in my opinion. Also, many of the locations in this game have music from the original Fallout and Fallout 2! This was a welcome surprise to say the least. In several areas I was moved by memories and feelings of the older games' atmosphere in ways that made me more deeply appreciate this new venture into the franchise.

Sound effects in this game were fairly standard. There were some minute complaints that arose as I played: Shouldn't such a large sniper rifle have a heartier boom? Why don't my enemies scream in agony as I tear them in half with a chainsaw? Is that really the sound a walking tank would make running on a steel floor? However, most of the sound was well done. A player shouldn't notice good sound effects; they should take them for granted because that's how a real world would function. That's exactly how it was in New Vegas.

The voice acting here was far above the caliber traditionally seen in partnerships or ventures by Bethesda. It was not quite up to the Bioware standard, but then, what is? There were only two instances where the voice acting threw me for a loop, and both of these were instances where a character switched to a different voice actor for a line and then switched back. One of these was in the final 4 minutes of the game. While expected in Bethesda's track record, Obsidian should do better. Come on guys. 7/10

THE GLITCH SECTION (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

Fallout: New Vegas has its share of technical boo boos, yes, but it's nothing like some would have you believe. Occasionally a user will have major problems with frame rate, but this can be fixed with an unofficial dll file. Sometimes I hear about severe full system lockups, but very rarely are they anything more than un-updated drivers in windows 7 or Vista. Because of this, I fully recommend playing Fallout: New Vegas on a high powered Windows XP machine until more patches are released that address these issues.

Aside from the occasional program crash, most users will only experience mild bugs. Clipping issues are commonplace; I often encountered radscorpions that were half encased in a boulder or the ground. Other times I would come out of fast travel 10 feet above the ground and fall.

Many users new to the Fallout style of RPG complain of bugs and errors when they simply aren't thinking about the game world in a logical manner. If you hear another player whining about how a quest NPC isn't where the guide said they should be, ask a supplementary question. For instance: Is the game time 4 am? If so, it is likely that they're asleep. Most RPGs don't attempt to generate this particular aspect of realism. Thus, it is unsurprising that many players don't consider this particular avenue of thought.

Considering this, however, several of the more involved quest lines are touchy. They require the player to do exactly what the developers had in mind with little room for error. While not buggy, per se, the slightest deviation will result in disaster. For example: entering a room standing and then immediately going into stealth instead of entering already stealthed. Though from a strict standpoint this makes sense (unstealthily letting the door slam would likely get everyone's attention at least), the developers ought to have left the more casual gamer some wiggle room. Make no mistake though, these are not bugs, merely lack of polish.

When all is said and done, the glitches encountered in Fallout: New Vegas are nothing compared to past games of Obsidians and other companies alike. They are an inconvenience at most, and a slight amusement at least. Nothing to avoid the game over. Besides, any experienced RPG player knows that you should save your game at least every 5 minutes no matter what game you're playing. If you follow that rule, you'll be fine. 5/10

WRITING

This section is heavily weighted in the overall score for the game. The essence of an RPG is in its writing, and by definition the entire game depends on it. The main issue with scoring writing in a game is that it is difficult to provide spoiler free examples. In that vein I have left this section “New Vegas Example Free” for your protection. I guess you'll just have to trust me.

The main plot of any Fallout game is short, and this iteration is no exception. The game is primarily side-quest driven with a dash of free exploration on the side. Considering this, the plot is still interesting, and the Legion is one of the most compelling and original evil factions in recent gaming history. They're bad guys that you'll love to hate, and perhaps love working for even more. The early plot leads the player around the map in such a way that it opens up many side areas for the player. Depending on the player character's own motivation, they may or may not find the time to stop and smell the side-quests immediately, but the plot offers several breaks where the next objective is not particularly pressing.

Dialogue is the meat of any RPG, and Fallout: New Vegas is no different. Gone are the clumsy and awkward fumblings of Fallout 3's protagonist: Remember when, if choosing an “Intelligence” check dialogue option, your character would say something completely mundane? After this the NPC conversing with you would comment, “I can see you're pretty smart…” Instead, with New Vegas I was forced to remember things from my undergraduate education when choosing science related options. What a breath of fresh air. Other than the dialogue feeling natural, at times it was just plain bad@#%, but most of all, the humor is back. While not as joke ridden as Fallout 2, New Vegas definitely has its fair share of hilarity. With the “Wasteland Wanderer” perk the experience is enhanced further, almost reaching the comedic threshold of its predecessor. The jokes will not disappoint.

The game world in this game is absolutely fantastic. This is where New Vegas truly shines. One major complaint about Fallout 3's game world was that there was little to know food being cultivated even 200 years after the bombs fell. With no way to sustain themselves, the communities in that world felt cheap, tawdry and fake. They were merely placed there for the amusement of the player. That has completely changed for Fallout: New Vegas with the addition of visible agriculture and pastoralism. The Mojave wasteland is filled with cultures that not only exist in their own minds, but in the world around them as well. Another major complaint many Fallout fans had about Fallout 3 was that each town seemed so isolated; this was drastically changed as well. There are so many strings tying factions together that it would be easy to become trapped in New Vegas' social webbing for weeks. Not only that, but the strings fit with the context of the world around them. Every aspect of the Mojave Wasteland feels like it works together to form a cohesive organism that will thrive with or without the player being there. It's this feeling, that the world does not revolve around the player, that differentiates good world building from great world building. 9.99/10

CONCLUSION

This is the game that I had hoped Fallout 3 would be. However, it is another two years later and I wanted something more than what Fallout 3 should have been. New Vegas mostly delivered, but it didn't capture my imagination quite like its early predecessors. I plan on updating this review after repeated playthroughs; we shall see if that changes. The components of this game all add up to an excellent RPG by any standards, and even a pretty good Fallout game. Despite its few downsides, Fallout: New Vegas is a worthy addition to holiday gift lists everywhere. If you're reading this after December, buy it anyway.

It's well worth it.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/10

Game Release: Fallout: New Vegas (US, 10/19/10)


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