Fallout: New Vegas
It’s not an expansion to Fallout 3. It’s not a sequel to Fallout 3. And it’s not really quite as good as Fallout 3. So what exactly is Fallout: New Vegas? It’s a full, stand-alone game of approximately the same size as Fallout 3, which uses the same engine and a lot of the same technical nuts and bolts. It does introduce some ideas of its own to the Fallout formula, but it isn’t a completely new evolution of the Fallout experience. That’s why it’s not called Fallout 4.
So what are the new features? And why, if it’s got new stuff, is it not as good as Fallout 3? Well, the most important addition in Fallout: New Vegas, the one that makes it in one major respect better than Fallout 3, is the quest structure. Where Fallout 3 used much the same structure used in Oblivion, whereby the main quest was a pretty linear string of missions that existed quite separately from the various optional objectives, Fallout: New Vegas takes its cue from the original two Fallout games.
This means there isn’t one set, clearly defined path from the beginning to the end, and that there’s a lot of deliberate overlap between main and optional quests with events tying in with each other and having a variety of knock-on effects. It’s linear-ish for the first 6-7 hours – although you are free to wander off wherever you like within about 10 minutes if you fast-track through character creation – but then there’s a pivotal point in the game where the main plot gets blown very wide open and both the course and outcome of the story are put very, very much in your hands.
At this juncture the game calls an amnesty on any naughtiness you might have got involved in up to that point, resetting any hostility incurred from certain factions back to neutral, then explicitly states that this will not happen again – from now on, everything you do has consequences that could potentially steer the main plot. In some cases it’s obvious that your actions will have an impact.
For example, working for one of the major factions is bound to put them in the driving seat of the power struggle central to New Vegas’ plot – although opportunities to betray them might well arise at a later date – but pretty much any side mission, or even just a bit of dicking about, is likely to make at least one of minor factions friendlier or more hostile towards you, and every faction relationship has some bearing on the story, as well as on what you may or may not be able to do at a later point in the game.
Overall, this complex, interwoven system is definitely better than Fallout 3’s simpler, more linear approach to storytelling and quest structure. You really feel engaged and empowered, like everything really does revolve around you, but there is a slight downside to it. First, you’re not really quite as free as New Vegas makes you think you are. Of course, a sense of freedom in a game is always something of an illusion, and it’s to Obsidian’s credit that we got a little too caught up in it for our own good.
But at the same time, it’s disappointing when you think up a cunning solution to a problem in a quest but it simply doesn’t work because you’re not doing it in one of the pre-set ways it was designed to be done, regardless of the perfectly sound logic and reason behind your thinking. And logic and reason can take a bit of a backseat in the storytelling department as well. With there being so many different paths the story can take, there’s a fair chance that the story you end up with won’t make that much sense.
It’s not that we found any glaring inconsistencies, plot holes or continuity errors, just that the whole thing lacked cohesion. We were aware of having a wide range of options and aware that our choices would have an impact on the people and places around us, but our own motivation wasn’t always very clear and this meant the experience sometimes lacked a sense of purpose or of direction.
It doesn’t help that later in the game, we found that one simple decision can set off a whole string of quest completions, activations and failures in one go and this kind of thing, while providing a clear illustration of how much of an impact some of your decisions have, did our heads in a bit and it was perhaps harder than it should have been to keep track of what was actually going on.
Because of the open, free nature of the main quest thread, everyone is going to have very different experiences of it, which in itself is awesome. But it also means that you might have a much better experience of it than we did, or maybe much worse. The potential is definitely there for it to go either way. We’d suggest though that a patient, thorough, attentive kind of player will probably get the most out of it because the more stuff you get out there and do, and the more attention you pay to what you’re doing, the more you’ll appreciate how smartly put together the quests, factions and plot developments are.
So yeah, the quest structure isn’t perfect, but it’s a significant improvement on the equivalent in Fallout 3. There are other additions too, like the item creation system, which dramatically expands on the workbench feature of Fallout 3. It’s cool that it makes everything you find potentially useful in some way, but it’s too cumbersome and fiddly to add much to the overall fun factor. That said, item creation does tie-in somewhat with the greatly increased range of available weapons and weapon customization options, which adds a layer of strategy to combat and enhances the makeshift feel and scavenging nature of the game.
Then there’s the companion command wheel, which is pretty handy, although the game has wider problems it comes to its handling of NPCs generally – as in Fallout 3, more so perhaps, they’re dumb and frequently get lost and stuck for no good reason. And this is part of a wider problem with New Vegas – it simply isn’t anywhere near as polished as Fallout 3. Sure, Fallout 3 had its glitches and quirks and New Vegas’ are of a similar nature, but there are so many more of them. Plus the frame-rate is choppier, there’s more pop-up and it generally doesn’t look as good. It’s the same engine, but it looks like the settings have been turned down a notch.
This technical sloppiness is compensated for, and made more understandable, by the vast scope of the game, but it’s hard to forgive when New Vegas is struggling more than its predecessor. Another area in which New Vegas fails to come even close to Fallout 3 is in its atmosphere. This is a very different game world to the Capital Wasteland. It’s a cartoonish and quirky patchwork of caricatures, which is perfectly likeable and entertaining in its own right, but compared to the bleak, darkly comic yet strangely believable post-apocalyptic picture painted by Fallout 3 it feels quite immature and dated.
This might all be taking place in a less devastated part of the United States, but there’s still been an apocalypse and the overall mood didn’t feel right to us. New Vegas is packed with detail and humour, but not as engrossing as we would have liked. Reading back through this review, it reads a little negative, but that’s simply because we’re assuming you’ll want to know how New Vegas compares to Fallout 3, and in that regard it’s difficult to be very favourable.