Review by GC13

"Fallout is BACK, baby!"

The Verdict: 9/10

I think Fallout: New Vegas could fairly be given an 8/10; it shares the same bugs that have plagued Bethesda's Gamebyro engine games since Oblivion, and there are some annoying ones that require mods or care to avoid. Still, the 9/10 captures the great fun of Fallout: New Vegas, its improvements over Fallout 3 (not exactly rated as a 7/10 game), and the triumphant return of the Fallout the old fans remember.

Compared to Fallout 3
It is impossible to talk about New Vegas without also talking about Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is, after all, the game that put the series back on the map and was made by the recognized kings of the freeroam genre: Bethesda. On top of that Fallout: New Vegas was marketed as an expansion to Fallout 3 and uses the same engine.

It is also a fair assumption that most people considering New Vegas have played Fallout 3, or at least know a lot about it. A proper review of New Vegas must, then, take into account its similarities to and differences from Fallout 3.

Quests
More quests. A lot more quests.

By the count of the Fallout wiki Fallout 3 had a total of seventeen marked quests that were not part of the main path. Megaton, Tenpenny Tower, and Rivet City each had a few quests that started in them, but the others you just had to find for yourself. In contrast Fallout: New Vegas has thirty-nine marked quests available that are not part of the main path and are not for one of the two main sides in the game—supporting one side will understandably make you an enemy of the other. Characters who support the NCR will find themselves with twenty-two more quests to do making for a total of sixty-three—more than three-and-a-half times as many quests.

Now, admittedly, those who support Caesar's Legion will have far fewer faction side quests: only four. Either faction, Caesar's Legion or NCR, may be supported on three of the four main quest lines; only when following the enemy's quest line for the main story – or doing the enemy's side quests – will the other side's quests be blocked to the player. Since Caesar's Legion is pretty much the evil faction the massive reduction in eligible side quests will probably be a "second playthrough" problem for most players.

Not only does New Vegas have many more side quests than Fallout 3, but the player is likely to encounter more of them simply because of the way they are structured. Perhaps half of Fallout 3's side quests can be found without exploring the wasteland while New Vegas's side quests are more focused in the settlements, either taking place wholly within the settlement or sending the character out to a remote location for more exploration. Many of the NCR's side quests do begin in remote military installations, which you travel to and ask what their problems are, but the game has ways of directing you to some of these over the course of other side quests.

A very subjective observation, but one I have made all the same: the quests in New Vegas make you care a lot more than the quests in Fallout 3. Especially when you are questing to aid your preferred side in the NCR/Caesar's Legion conflict, but all through the game. There is a very large consensus that the writing in New Vegas is much better than in Fallout 3, and it really stands out in the quests.

Combat
Less combat, and that's a good thing!

It's not that the combat is any less fun than Fallout 3's was; combat in New Vegas retains the same flow from Fallout 3, there's just less of it. Many areas in Fallout 3 seemed chock full of enemies with little purpose in life other than carrying around your loot and experience points. It seems rare in New Vegas to find more than a dozen enemies making a location their home, though feral ghouls seem to travel in larger packs than sapient enemies. This may not appeal to everyone, but for others it means less time spent on filler combat and more time spent on the game's writing.

Of course the frequency isn't the only thing about combat that was changed in New Vegas: the actual dynamics of it were changed as well. The change from Damage Resistance, a percentage reduction of incoming damage, to Damage Threshold, a flat numerical reduction of incoming damage, changes the balance of power greatly. Shotguns and submachine guns – and anything else which fires many weak rounds – will tear up an unarmored enemy, but will merely bounce off of an enemy wearing power armor or sporting a tough hide; when a character warns you that some enemies only get mad when you shoot them, kiting won't take care of the problem for you. Of course this can work to your advantage as well: a heavily armored character will only need to concern themselves with the effects of enemies sporting strong attacks. Be careful though: wildlife attacks penetrate all armor!

The new ammunition system is one way to level the playing field against heavily armored enemies: armor piercing rounds give up a slight damage penalty in exchange for a massive reduction to the enemy's damage threshold. Hollow point rounds will add a large multiplier to the target's existing damage threshold, but also give a large damage boost; use HP rounds against unarmored enemies for a massive damage boost with no enemy DT to improve! Hot loaded ammunition will deal higher damage to the enemy while causing your weapon to degrade more rapidly. While energy weapons don't get the benefit of AP ammunition they do get the hot loads in the form of overcharged cells. The ammunition system, combined with the damage threshold system, adds a bit to the combat and inventory management.

Companions
Get them sooner, utilize them more easily.

Compared to Fallout 3, New Vegas companions can be obtained early simply by following the main quest and doing any side quests you happen to encounter along the way; your first companion can be easily obtained in the first settlement you reach after you leave the game's introductory town, Goodsprings, and your first humanoid companion can be reached two or three (it depends on how you count) settlements later. You can get another companion immediately before you reach New Vegas, and all of the other companions become available to you once you reach New Vegas (the ~1/3 mark on the main quest), assuming you know which side quest will take you to them. While you may only have one humanoid companion and one robotic companion at a time, the quickness with which you can get to your companions means you won't have to lug around someone you don't like just because they're the only available companion for very long.

The companion wheel is a huge improvement in utilization of companions. The wheel can be used to switch them between melee and ranged weapons, open their inventory, have them use a stimpak from your inventory in the middle of a fight, or begin a conversation all without any scrolling at all. While companions retain the old "interface" in their dialogue options as well, it mostly serves as a reminder of what was improved on.

Companions are a great help in combat. While they can suffer from overly aggressive behavior, charging into combat to be killed by particularly nasty enemies, this is only a problem on Hardcore where their death is permanent; even on Hardcore they are usually able to handle themselves very well, though enemies with heavy weapons will prove to be a problem. In both normal and hardcore modes the companions heal fully after each fight. All in all most players will appreciate the ease of getting a companion and what they can do in a fight. For those players who do not, the storyline does not ever force a companion on the player, and if you ever decide to go on without a companion you can order them to return to where you met them or to your house which you get when you reach New Vegas.

Each companion also has their own companion quest, not counted in the Quests section's count of total side quests. The humanoid companions' quests are not all immediately accessible, however; you must adventure with them for a time before it opens up. While this lends realism – a character will not tell you all of their secrets right after signing up with you – this limits the amount of companion side quests you will be able to complete in a single playthrough.

Mechanics
Lots of dialogue skill checks, zero level scaling.

One major change to the game mechanics, the damage threshold change, has already been discussed in the Combat section. The addition of ammunition types was also discussed in the same section. These are not the only big changes to the game mechanics, however.

The first thing a player is likely to notice is that traits have made a return after a notable absence in Fallout 3. Gone, however, are the days where the best choice was to take Gifted as your trait and put 10 points into Agility and Intelligence. First of all you can't do that since Gifted no longer exists—in fact the only way to get extra SPECIAL points is to take Small Frame for +1 Agility and a doubling of vulnerability to crippled limbs (which can be a problem in melee range on Hardcore even without the vulnerability). In fact, the traits are far better balanced. While Four Eyes is usually regarded as bad because it penalizes your base Perception for perk qualification – the attribute's reason to exist – the other traits are useful to different people and are all around much more well balanced than they were in the originals.

The attributes, too, have been rebalanced. Agility now is slightly better, giving three action points rather than two, and Intelligence only gives half the skill point bonus it used to. Luck is considered by many to be very good because in addition to skills and critical chance it factors into the gambling in the game—its effectiveness at enhancing gambling profitability, while significant, is often overstated. All of this balance matters because aside from a limited number of implants (one implant per point of Endurance, and only one implant per attribute) available for purchase and the Intensive Training perk there are no ways to permanently increase your attributes. Clothing and armor can still give temporary boosts as they did in Fallout 3.

Perks have been massively rebalanced. Instead of gaining a perk every level characters only gain perks on even levels, making for a total of fifteen at level thirty. They are, on the whole, better balanced than Fallout 3 but not so well balanced as the traits; there are still some real stinkers but fewer stick out as being obligatory perks that every character must take.

There are fewer skill books in the game but they each give a base of three skill points each rather than one (though Comprehension still boosts it by one). Skill magazines, a kind of "skill potion"-functioning object, have also been introduced: these give a +10 (+20 with the Comprehension perk) bonus to your skill for perhaps a minute of real time. It's long enough to hack a computer or pick a lock, but unless you hurry – or take a perk for it – the bonus isn't going to last long enough to do more.

However, one thing makes the skill magazines really worth it: a plethora of dialogue skill checks. Speech is no longer the only skill your character will be called upon to use with any regularity: Barter and Science especially see a lot of action in dialogue, Medicine and Repair see a fair bit of use in the game as well, and Explosives is checked a bit more often than in Fallout 3 as well. Most of the time you are free to leave the conversation, check an article that you saw glancing through that magazine when you picked it up, and use your newfound temporary knowledge to help you beat the check (don't worry, it's just a rationalization for the abstraction: use any magazine to give a bonus to any skill check calling for that skill). Skill magazines are cheaper than stimpaks and sold by vendors so you have no excuse not to stock up, and you will find plenty over the course of your adventures.

Finally, and probably most importantly to a lot of people: there does not appear to be any level scaling in New Vegas at all. The NCR and Caesar's Legion will start to bring out their strongest troopers as you progress in the main story, but the main story involves them preparing for a major battle. Everywhere else, you will find the same enemies no matter when you go to a location. Deathclaws will tear your level one character apart just as eagerly as they will your level twenty, but at level twenty you'll actually have the ability to fight back. Radscorpions, with very heavy armor, will challenge your early character with his 9mm pistol and varmint rifle but will yield to your stronger character with better guns and armor piercing rounds. Super Mutant Masters will spawn wherever they are scripted to, and if you try to raid their home without the weapons to take them down the game will not take it easy on you just because you're doing it early in the game.

Bugs
It's like Fallout 3: it completely depends on your computer.

I feel compelled to include this section, as a lot of time is spent discussing it. Still, I will be brief because opinions run the gamut of "bugs? What bugs?" to "A hard crash every half hour." I, personally, did not encounter bugs or crashes at a higher concentration than I had when playing Fallout 3. In forty hours I had two game crashes, compared to ten or fewer hours for the same in Fallout 3.

Enemies do have some problems falling into the terrain and wandering around underneath it, but this is very rare and I have only seen it once. Also, any weapon which you load round-by-round will bug for you when reloading if the magazine had been emptied and your character is in motion when the last round is loaded, though there is a mod which fixes this problem.

All in all, the few bugs I had in New Vegas are insignificant compared to the fun the game offered me, and are essentially non-factors in my decision.

Overall
A very engaging game, even to those who did not like Fallout 3.

It may share an engine with Fallout 3; it may share a name with Fallout 3; it may share a publisher with Fallout 3. Despite all this, it isn't Fallout 3. Obsidian built on top of Bethesda's work and made a game that kept the wide open spaces – and interfaces – of Fallout 3 and built a whole different game out of it. If you found Fallout 3 to be boring because of it having only a few, lame quests, or if you didn't enjoy slogging through enemy after enemy in some random bunker in the middle of nowhere, come and give New Vegas a try.

That's not to say that New Vegas lacks some of Fallout 3's best traits. If you like exploring, Fallout: New Vegas has plenty of places to explore. Even if many don't have many enemies in them, they tell stories (Vault 11, for instance, has for enemies just some token rats and mantises and yet was an incredibly compelling experience). If you like building a character, New Vegas will let you build your character and will let you make more meaningful decisions about how to build that character. If you like choosing your own path, there are four different main quest lines, two of which are directly for one of the main sides overtly fighting for control of the Mojave Wasteland – the NCR and Caesar's Legion – and the other two of which allow you to supplement your main quest line with additional support to either the NCR or Caesar's Legion – or neither – as you see fit.

New Vegas is an excellent game, and is a more than worthy successor to Fallout 3. It may be hyperbole to call it the Fallout 3 Fallout fans always wanted, but I think most fans of the old games will agree with me when I say it is a sequel the original games deserve.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/10, Updated 11/09/10

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


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