SummaryNew Vegas brings the role playing back to Fallout
The Bottom LineI won't lie. I am a huge dork when it comes to Fallout. I even wrote an AWFUL "review" for MobyGames that was just me blabbing about how it became my instant favourite without actually, well, reviewing it which I now regret. My feelings on 2008's Fallout 3 were more or less this: From the standpoint of an old Fallout fan, I felt that it was far from a *true* sequel to the game, but Bethesda knew their stuff and it was easily their most engaging and entertaining game since the underrated masterpiece Daggerfall (Which is free to download legally...GO-GO-GO!) and not even the very, very lite RPG elements could bring me down with its well realized world and gameplay.
New Vegas is the followup to Fallout 3, but while not to be considered Fallout 4 definitely gives you enough bang for your buck that you won't feel like you've wasted money on an expansion pack. It improves on Fallout 3 without sacrificing what made Fallout 3 good, and it adds its own stylistic touches.
The game returns to the western stomping grounds of its predecessors, specifically the Mojave Desert, the I-15 and of course the eponymous "New Vegas." I have to admit, it is a little surreal. My wife & I are desert wanderers here in Utah, and we frequent Nevada and the Mojave VIA the I-15. It certainly was a little weird to walk into a post-nuclear Primm, but then again maybe people living in DC felt the same way about Fallout 3.
Anyways, the game begins with your character, a Courier delivering a mysterious platinum chip to a prestigious New Vegas casino (New Vegas is one of the few truly modern, safe havens untouched by the bombs), being shot in the head before being buried and left for dead by a mysterious man in a checkered suit and his goofy, poorly pre-rendered goons. You are dug up by a robot and taken to a doctor nearby, and after naming your character and creating him or her you begin the game proper. Your main quest is of course to find out who tried to kill you and why. In truth, the story is very wire-frame. It's not all too interesting and the world around you is far more interesting than the actual plot; specifically the war between the NCR and Caesar's Legionnaire.
To elaborate, The NCR (New California Republic) are a militaristic organization that want to organize and return the wastes to a more governmental system. Caesar's Legionnaire are a "Clan," who are extremely twisted and perverse who punish their adversaries in torturous ways (Often crucifixion) and deal in human trading, to the point of trading women to breed children before killing the elder off. One of the key points in controlling Nevada is the Hoover Dam, and the NCR and the Legionnaire have been fighting for it for years as it is one of the few sources of generating electricity.
The world is just as alive as Fallout 3's, if not more so. One thing lacking in Fallout 3 is that while you had a karma system that could make you "Good" or "Bad," it was a very hackneyed system and some characters were simply evil no matter what. In the old games and many other RPGs, you could befriend raiders or chat up super-mutants, in Fallout 3 they all attacked you no matter what. In fact there's actually a funny dialogue retconning the Fallout 3 super-mutants where the Nightkin; a new breed of supermutant; are talking about how the "Second generation super-mutants" were all dum-dums. You can now befriend various factions, and this has a huge outcome on the game. Although I regret it after learning of some of their more twisted ordeals, I befriended Caesar's Legionnaire and made a majour enemy of the NCR; which proved getting into New Vegas and making it through checkpoints difficult, but it still brought benefits later on. Another feature of the faction system is that you can wear a factions armour and you will be identified as one of them, which can be used for Stealth provided you aren't completely vilified by the community you are infiltrating or you get a mite too close to one of their superiors.
The faction system can be a bit touchy though. Naturally doing things for one faction will improve their outlook on you, whereas harming them or wronging them will piss them off. You can balance this as you can be "Disliked" by a faction, but still keep enough reputation that you can walk through without being shot on sight. However combat can make this hard, killing so much as 3 or 4 of one faction might instantly Vilify you (Which means they will attack on sight and will not negotiate at all) and there are some instances where this proves very annoying.
I played a second play-through and when I was in "Freeside," the slums just outside New Vegas, I did not have the caps to get into New Vegas and worked for a gang known as The Kings (I won't spoil the humour behind their name, but it was a genuinely funny touch after hearing a news-caster talk about how sinister and mysterious they were.) so that I could get access to New Vegas. I was on good terms with the NCR, but when doing one of The King's quests, I had to fight some NCR. Two of them went down, and I was suddenly taken down to just one level before Vilified. A little more balance or benefit of a doubt would be nice in some cases such of this, plus the number of acts against or for one faction changes wildly.
The SPECIAL system is also improved. When replaying Fallout 3, many of my characters were exactly the same with the SPECIAL system the way it was, with VERY mild modifiers. Here, my two characters were very different beasts. Each stat actually counts this time, and while not as advanced as its original incarnation in the first two games; it is definitely richer and closer. The game also eases up the scaled leveling a bit. While it is still here, there are sections that an inexperienced player cannot survive and some beasts simply will not scale down for the players convenience like in FO3. Leveling is also closer to its predecessors, you do not get perks each level, but rather every other level. You also get two traits when you begin the game, like before. This adds to the role-playing elements, amongst many other things.
The rest of the gameplay will be familiar to those who played Fallout 3. V.A.T.S. is back, you'll explore the wastes and find lots of secrets and goodies, etc. There are some expansions, the workbenches are expanded to traditional workbenches that allow you to build stuff and reloading stations. Workbenches make weapons or tools, reloading stations make ammo. You can also collect plants and use campfires to make things like healing powder. They can all be used in various ways, and much of the junk you find around isn't as useless as you might think. You never know when a pile of scrap electronics can make your trusty plasma-pistol one of the deadliest around.
Speaking of weapons, there are multiple types of ammo and mods now. You can get Armor Piercing rounds which do as they say, but are less effective against unarmored creatures. Armored creatures/characters will be labeled by an armor symbol when you shoot them, which is convenient. AP rounds are especially nice for rad-scorpion packs. There are also hollow point rounds that do more against flesh, but less against armour. If you are low on funds, you can also get surplus ammo; but it isn't as effective. Mods can be anything from scopes to doo-dads that make your bullets or energy shots explode in crippling shots.
Another new addition to the game is hardcore mode. Hardcore mode is much more sim-like, items like stimpaks work over time rather than instantly and only rare doctor bags can be used to heal crippled limbs. You will need to eat, sleep, and drink to survive. Companions can die, etc. It is great for free-roamers who want to feel an even richer experience of living in a harsh-wastelander and allows you to squeeze some more gameplay out of an already massive game.
The game is somewhat more humorous and also more disturbing than its predecessor; a trademark of its 2D roots. The most humorous aspect for me were the Nightkin, the new breed of Super-mutants. I loved their radio station as whenever I would hear their leader Best Friend Tabitha (Who of course has a deep, grunty voice) and the news reporter Rhonda (Who has a throaty falsetto) chatting it up. One of the funniest exchanges regards how cute and huggable centaurs are, and the parts where they try to execute a stereotypical Mexican mechanic for being human is also humorous as he keeps getting off since Best Friend Tabitha needs something repaired. Caesar's Legion punctuate the darker and more disturbing element, along with some other undesirables and acts of desperation. I already mentioned their love of crucifixion and human slavery and trading, but there are many other dark secrets they hold. Even the NCR has some dark twists awaiting for you.
On the whole, New Vegas is a fantastic game. I enjoyed it even more than Fallout 3, and anyone who enjoyed that game will enjoy New Vegas. It offers the same level of fun and expands several elements and gives you an extreme amount of bang for your buck. I simply hope Bethesda considers Obsidian's additions to the game canon and incorporates and expands said elements in Fallout 4.