Fallout 3 was one of my favorite games of 2008. I rarely, if ever, log over 100 hours in a single-player video game, but found myself unable to put the controller down when playing Fallout. I blew through all the DLC, and contemplated starting a new game just around the time Bethesda announced Fallout: New Vegas. Getting back into that universe was something I was looking forward to since the reveal. Unfortunately, my expectations were the only thing great about New Vegas. Though it’s nothing more than an over-sized expansion with a few new, yet practically worthless, additions I had fun with New Vegas. Just not as much fun as I’d hoped.
New Vegas begins with you waking up in a doctor’s house on the outskirts of the Strip. You were shot and left for dead, but the man who tried to put a bullet in your head didn’t do a good enough job. Alive, and now living with a purpose, you set off to find the man in the checkered suit who tired to put you six feet under. Before long, you find yourself at the center of a power struggle between New Vegas’ warring tribes and factions, and you find that you may have a higher calling as the savior, or saboteur, of the local population. The main story is every bit as engaging, if not moreso, than Fallout 3’s search for your father. Even though the first game was a journey to reunite a family and save the land, New Vegas feels much more personal. Many of the game’s quests are much longer than those in the previous title, though that probably a lot to do with how much walking you’ll do for the multipart missions.
The non-story quests you’ll embark on also feel grander in scope and size, yet déjà vu will set in rather quickly. A great deal of the game is broken down into going somewhere, talking to someone who wants you to talk to another person, going to that person, talking to them, and then returning to the first person to report what the second person said. And then doing it all over again with a third party. Sure, you’ll do some fighting along the way, but many of the missions, especially early on, are very droll. That’s not to say you won’t do your fair share of shooting. There’s actually a lot of action if you’re looking for it. Plenty of quests will require you to go to a location and eliminate any opposing forces there, or to find an item being guarded by dozens of things that want to kill you. Too often though, the missions feel like fetch quests, whether your gathering information or loot, and my desire to seek out more optional side quests versus completing the narrative diminished the more engrossed I became in the political plot. I’ll likely go back and finish out as much of the optional content as I can eventually, but for now I’m more than satisfied with taking the mere odd job from time to time, instead of all of them.
If there’s a single thing different about the way combat works in this game, it must be an incredibly subtle improvement. VATS and Action Points return to help you take on any and all combatants, and the weapon degradation/repair mechanic returns relatively unchanged as well. Obsidian revamped the iron sights ever so slightly, turning them from an absolutely useless tool into something that’s just barely passable. Even though you can aim at an opponent with your sights, the game still uses a computerized die roll to determine whether or not you hit, and how much damage you do. Why you would ever use sights instead of VATS, where you can freeze time and specifically target any spot on a foe, is beyond me. You can modify weapons this time around, though you won’t ever really have to. Additionally, you can create new ammo types with leftover casings and parts. The new ammunition does make a marginal difference in certain sections of the game, but why worry about armor-piercing rounds when a regular bullet to the head will do just as good a job?
While you could find random food and sustenance in the wastes of Fallout 3, this time around you can actually create specialty items. All you need is a campfire, the right Survival skill rating, and the right ingredients, and you can craft something from a lengthy recipe list. Again, this is something that’s totally optional, and doesn’t particularly change the game very much on the regular difficulties. Play the game on “hardcore” however, and you will come to use this feature with great frequency. Eating properly, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and drinking plenty of water are essential on “hardcore.” You’ll also find that your ammunition carries weight, so nearly every last item you're carrying must be picked for its usefulness and whether or not it’s worth carrying around in favor of something more important. “Hardcore” mode is a fun mode to try out, but ammo and Stimpacks are sparse enough as it is in the Nevada wastelands. I don’t need to be handicapped even further. Thankfully, you can switch the difficulty on or off anytime during a playthrough, so if it gets to be too much, you can always play the game as it was originally designed.
Perhaps the biggest non-factor new addition to Fallout’s gameplay is the ability to maintain better control of your companions. In Fallout 3, companions were few and far between, and acted as rage-crazy pack mules more than a partner. This time around, Obsidian tried to improve player control by creating an option wheel of options to give your companion. Commands as simple as “Stay Here” and “Follow” work well enough, but there was absolutely no need to implement a “Be Aggressive” option. Companions are once again bloodthirsty maniacs, who fire their weapon at anything that moves, whether it’s an actual threat or not. Sure, they’re great to have by your side in a hectic firefight, but when you’re just wandering around, they’ll run off at the first indication something to shoot is nearby, whether you’re in danger or not. Twice this led to me getting murdered by chasing after them. I understand that they’re there to help, but I’ll be damned if they’re not more trouble than they are worth.
If you like the idea of a game being created on an engine that’s a few years old, with assets that you’ve looked at for more than eighty hours, Fallout: New Vegas should be right up your alley. Though there have been some new buildings and items created for the game, I’d say a good ninety percent of the in-game universe is left over from Fallout 3. Buildings, interiors, textures, costumes, enemies… just about everything you see in New Vegas is either identical to something from Fallout 3, or had its color palette swapped. While that’s not necessarily a big deal, the fact that all of the same graphics issues that were present in a game from two years ago are still around today is pretty sad. I can forgive the pop-in since the world is persistent, and shouldn’t always have to render great detail over long distances. What I can’t forgive are enemies clipping through the ground, being completely invisible, or getting stuck on corners when they’re trying to chase after me. Even though the Xbox 360 version of the game isn’t anywhere near as buggy as its PC counterpart, the console version has its fair share of issues. There’s supposedly a patch coming soon, but the longer Obsidian waits, the more these issues are going to keep cropping up. It astounds me that even after all this time, a game like New Vegas can have so many problems. Weren’t these issues dealt with by patches Bethesda released for Fallout 3? How didn’t those patches make their way to Obsidian’s offices? Like Fallout 3 before it, Fallout: New Vegas could have been one of the most ambitious and beautiful open worlds ever, but huge graphical problems mar the experience a bit too much.
Ultimately, if you enjoyed Fallout 3 as much as I did, you’ll really get a lot of mileage out of New Vegas. The game isn’t bad by any means, but it feels so much like Fallout 3 that you don’t really feel like you’re playing a new game at all. There’s a lot to do, and if you have the time to explore all there is to see, you can spend another 100+ hours in this world. I wish New Vegas had done more to set itself apart, but that’s just not the case. Instead of forging its own path, Fallout: New Vegas wants to be like its predecessor so much it makes the overall experience much less fulfilling.