Released in 2008, Fallout 3 was one of the best games of that year. Bethesda Softworks revived the revered franchise while putting their own distinctive stamp on it. Now two years later, they have published Fallout New Vegas, while handing over the development duties to Obsidian Entertainment. Many of Obsidian Entertainment’s employees worked for the now defunct Black Isles Studio, which of course developed the first two games in the Fallout series over 10 years ago. This would lead one to believe that Fallout New Vegas is a sure thing for fans of all three games. However a number of issues technical and otherwise keep it from what it should be striving for. While the remnants of its successor’s achievements are there, Fallout New Vegas falters because it fails to immerse on a number of levels.
Fallout New Vegas begins with our hero “The Courier” (an alias given until you provide him or her a proper name) being shot in the head by a smooth-talking Vegas shark named Benny and being left for dead in a ditch some where outside
the titular city. The Courier wakes up in the small frontier-like settlement Goodsprings. From there our hero seeks revenge but finds himself embroiled in a much larger conflict between numerous warring factions including the prospecting NCR (New California Republic) and the psychotic but efficient Ancient Roman-inspired Caesar’s Legion. There are various other factions and gangs to become affiliated with, including series staple The Brotherhood of Steel. Unfortunately much like Deus Ex: Invisible War, New Vegas paints the morality of its various factions so gray that the player becomes ambivalent to the strife. This detachment hinders the immersion the player might have felt in the past while wading through the more fully realized post-apocalyptic settings of the other games in the series. The notion of revenge and the promise of the New Vegas Strip are enough of a driving force to get The Courier where he or she needs to go. It is just too bad that New Vegas doesn’t know what to do once you get there.
The game play is pretty much identical to Fallout 3. And while Bethesda’s approach to that game worked then, the lack of innovation on Obsidian’s behalf has shown cracks in the overall design. The familiarity definitely hinders the immersion one feels in this desolate world. The PIP Boy menus from Fallout 3 return and remain as unintuitive as before. The in-game maps are murky, vague, and indistinct. VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) returns, though it seems that Obsidian is almost embarrassed by it. The VATS system was one of Fallout 3’s most contentious features, allowing players to pause the game and pinpoint where exactly on the body the bullets will land. It was the best alternative to the otherwise scatter-shot real-time FPS gameplay. Here Obsidian has tacked on iron-sight aiming as a viable solution. However VATS remains the best course of action.
A lot of the quests themselves are not particularly memorable or particularly interesting for that matter. In fact many of them are of the fetching variety. The game doesn’t seem to want you to conquer everything in one play-through. Most gamers will hit level 30, which is the cap, well before finishing every quest New Vegas has to offer. Unlike Fallout 3 it is nearly impossible to max out one’s stats; this change was most likely implemented so as to encourage repeat play-throughs. However a game like New Vegas is so protracted, consuming, and exhausting that it doesn’t lend itself well to that notion.
There is a greater emphasis this time on gathering companions for your quests. Unfortunately switching them out can be pretty arduous, as it requires you to send them back to home base, which could be miles from your current position. This means you will have to fast travel back there in order to grab someone new. Their AI can also be somewhat spotty at times, often not knowing when it’s best to retreat. This lack of sense proves fatal while playing on the newly implemented Hardcore mode, which doesn’t allow AI companions to come back to life.
The new Hardcore mode now weighs ammo similarly to the first two games in the series. It also makes sure you sleep, eat, and drink on a regular basis. Unfortunately giving The Courier more real world bodily needs does not make the game more immersive nor does it add any real challenge; it’s just another hindrance. It adds more stats to watch and forces the player to check the PIP boy more frequently.
Visually New Vegas is appropriately warmer in tone than Fallout 3, which was very grey and took place in and around a bombed out Washington D.C. However since it runs on the same engine, it looks about the same from a technical standpoint. The environments are generally murky and the animations are as stiff as before. Two years is considered a long time in gaming, so what might have been impressive in 2008 becomes less engaging in 2010. Essentially the visuals are a mixed bag: landmarks look impressive from afar but upon inspection many of the textures and models start to look rehashed. The same could probably be said for both Fallout 3 and Oblivion, which was that game’s predecessor.
Less forgiving are the sheer amount of bugs that Fallout New Vegas has shipped with. The game freezes numerous times during its load screens. Several quests become broken if performed in a certain way. NPCs occasionally become stuck in the game’s environments. Save files can become corrupt. It once again breaks immersion when you are constantly worrying whether you did something that prevented you from finishing the game properly. This is by far the most buggy of the Fallout games and that’s saying something.
Still there are a few improvements here and there. The voice acting is quite strong and far more varied than both Fallout 3 and Oblivion. There are several standout performances including Danny Trejo, Felicia Day, and of course Ron Perlman (it wouldn’t be Fallout without Perlman’s narration). And since this game takes place on the West coast, there are traces of Fallout 2’s plot that are thrown in for a bit of fan service.
Unfortunately though, Fallout New Vegas is not the strongest entry into the series. It misses its mark and fails to immerse the player in its vast world. The story is a little too broadly drawn to truly engage the player in its larger conflict. The game’s lack of innovation fails to draw you in and a number of technical issues hinder the enjoyment. While elements of what make the series great occasionally show themselves, too many of its ghoulish mutated warts still remain.