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Fallout: New Vegas (PC) artwork

Fallout: New Vegas (PC) review

"The day I stop counting, that's the day my world will end."

To review Fallout 3 or New Vegas is a difficult challenge. Not because their content is too hard but their expectations of what players want to enjoy are different. While seemingly similar in their mechanics, both games diverge in what players expect to enjoy in a "Fallout" game.

Between the pair, I consider New Vegas the more refined game. Traits, player-choice influenced quest-lines, the faction systems, and the gray morality are important factors for what makes NV so great. However, it's the world-building that puts NV as one of the finest examples of open-world games. As someone who has thought of open-world games as the death of narratives from the Ubisoft games to the missed opportunities of games like Risen, Obsidian has forever changed my opinion on their storytelling merits. NV doesn't tell the greatest story nor the smartest; it tells a world of tales of your interactions that shape the Mojave one grain of sand at a time.

Nuka Cola or Sunset Sarsaparilla?

Before I discuss the importance of NV's strongest suit, I do want to go over the improvements of NV. Many fans I think will consider liking F3 or NV to be something similar to the question, "Coke or Pepsi?" While both games are mechanically the same, there are noticeable differences. For example, F:NV focuses more on the role-playing mechanics by making its perks more unique, sometimes beneficial with consequences or adding a new level of challenge. F3 simply focuses on numbers and how to make them better. I found that by Lv 43 my character in NV still had room for growth whereas my F3 character was maxed out before LV 13.

Quests in NV seem more shorter and to the point than F3. (Admittedly, the travel time between each quest could be the reason for why they feel more brief in NV.) The Mojave is a more compacted, content-rich area than D.C. which might be great to some (like me) and a negative to others. What NV makes up for instead is how quest-lines can feed into other quests seamlessly by the player's exploration and choices. Even when it comes to the FPS mechanics, the iron-sights, weapon mods and various ammo types for every gun make the barebones gunplay of F3 much more tolerable. (I find the repair/ammo-crafting benches too restricting on junk to ever warrant using them.) I hardly ever use VATS in F3 or NV unless I want to get headshots on Deathclaws.

Speaking of Deathclaws, enemies in NV are not leveled to the player from the get-go. They are given a fixed level—and scaling later—which makes enemies more consistent. This change does come at the cost of making the early part of NV more linear as you have to loop around the road to get to Vegas as your first major quest-goal. However, like in Risen, the game tells you this through the enemies' difficulty and there are quests/paths along a more linear beginning than F3.

I personally prefer the grim-humor flavor of the post-post apocalypse of the Mojave over the post-apocalypse consistency of D.C. Your taste may vary, but I hope to explain why NV is the superior game.

It's All A Matter of Context

If you have played a Bethesda game before, then you will more often notice a problem of its open-world design: The world always feels disjointed. Quests in Bethesda games have been focused on telling individual stories with little to no relation to one another. Tone-shifts, relevance to the over-arching storyline, and other narrative pitfalls suffer as a result. While some fans may enjoy this format, the result is a world that feels more lifeless by their lack of context. Fallout 3's main-questline is indicative of this problem. You go from exploring the Museum of Natural History to get a radar dish for a DJ, to wandering to a city made of a shipwrecked vessel to learn about your father's science project, then exploring a Vault with a murder-simulation program, and then later stumbling upon a society of children.

In contrast, NV begins with the town of Goodsprings caught up in the much larger conflict of the Legion encroaching upon the NCR claimed settlements of the Mojave. A gang of escaped convicts harass the people of Goodsprings who have stolen their explosives from the NCR mining outpost of Sloan to exert their power. (The result being that the explosions have lured out Deathclaws along the road of Sloan.) This gang has taken the town of Primm under their rule as they fight off the NCR stationed there, and the gang's other settlement Nipton is under attack by the Legion.

As seen in this one example, conflicts in New Vegas feed back into each other and expand upon the world it tells. This description of events is simply the background window-dressing to your actions as you can side with Goodsprings, the convict gangs, the NCR or the Legion. Your interactions stay within the story's guidelines of NV. Questlines also can link-back up with previous or new areas, and the order of these quests can be stories you create for yourself (ex. Jacobtown and Black Mountain).

What can also be seen in this one example is the careful attention to details. Why are Deathclaws roaming Sloan? Why are the NCR defending Primm/Goodsprings? Even in its environmental design, there is a level of detail of the farming area of Goodspring to explain how a town can survive. Something that was utterly lacking in Fallout 3. The reward from all of this attention to detail is that the world of NV feels more alive than it actually is because the world makes sense. Are there still tone-shifts or missing details? Yes, especially with the cringe-worthy sexual tensions and swear-words. However, these moments are far less abundant and offer a dark sense of humor in a post-post apocalypse.

"I've Got Heartaches by the Number"

I would be lying if I said I thought NV is absolutely perfect.

While I praise the game's means of storytelling and of player-choices in the overall game there are some downsides that I think some people may enjoy. It took me years to be stubborn enough to play to Vegas because I was so used to F3's freeform exploration. The narrative hook of NV is not one to keep you invested if you don't care to learn more about the conflicts around the Mojave. Even then, the plot of the Courier is very sparse and not very personal. (On the other hand, the freeform nature of the Courier lets you make him/her be whoever you want.)

The rushed schedule of the game has had some impact on its development. F3's engine has really shown its age with how much NV has to restrict itself, whether it be the barren New Vegas or the amounts of gated loading screens. Not only do aspects like this have to be rushed but even some interactions aren't coded in. For example, when trying to set a truce between the NCR and the Brotherhood of Steel, if you had gotten rid of the previous Elder then the option for truce does not exist. It's not that the new one is arrogant and won't agree to it--the game is not programmed to understand that option. These type of instances are very, very, very rare but they are a stain on the freeform nature of the game.

On the flipside, it is really telling how much trust Obsidian has with its player when the game has one--and only one--unkillable NPC, the Yes Man (aside from children and Victor in the early part of the game). Fallout 4 is littered with these unkillable NPCs while New Vegas offers multiple optional objectives/paths for almost every quest. If Obsidian was given more time to flesh out the game and on a better engine, then I think this game would be a perfect masterpiece. (In spite of its somewhat lackluster personal narrative.) Instead, it's a masterpiece with a few smudges you have to accept.

Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (November 27, 2016)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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