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SummaryOn the way to RPG perfection
The GoodI love Obsidian. I think they are a bunch of very talented individuals with plenty of creative ideas; and, above all, individuals who really know how to make RPGs. Not surprising, considering the fact this team was assembled by some of the leading RPG developers of the past, particularly those who did all those magic games for Black Isle.
To date, I loved everything Obsidian has done. That's right. I don't want to hear any complaints from those of you who have suffered from bugs and rushed releases - can't you see I'm a fanboy??.. Anyway, the thing is that I don't care for technical stuff. Technical flaws can be corrected by patches and community mods. Lack of soul and heart is something that is much harder to correct.
That's what the people of Obsidian have always put into their games: soul and heart. Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights II and its wonderful follow-up, and even the troublesome Alpha Protocol - those are all games that are pure gold for people who care for RPGs.
So now, using the already existing 3D engine and basic gameplay mechanics made by someone else, Obsidian decided to create an entry in the venerable Fallout series, which is to RPG lovers what Jerusalem is to Jews: holy. This "holiness" was somewhat disturbed by the previous installment, which divided fans into warring groups and left many hardcore Fallout junkies unsatisfied.
Here I must stress that I do love Fallout 3. I think it was a grandiose achievement. The series was revived in glorious 3D, and most of its basic gameplay elements worked wonderfully. The game was highly atmospheric and fun. There was just one problem: it wasn't really a great RPG. At least, it wasn't a great RPG in the sense that was defined by the first two Fallouts. Moral flexibility was the key. In the first two Fallout games, the player was able to truly play a role, shape his alter ego in nearly any way he wanted, with an incredibly wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and freedom of choice.
Fallout 3 also looked like something very big and open-ended; but veteran role-players weren't fooled by that. The thing is, Bethesda doesn't really know how to do moral role-playing. They create atmospheric and interesting worlds, and they know how to encourage exploration, but their idea of role-playing is basically "do whatever you want, because whatever you do doesn't matter anyway". You were roaming those huge worlds and having fun, but the narrative remained rigid and uninvolved, the side quests failed to excite, the writing was mostly mediocre.
But it would be a mistake to under-estimate Bethesda's role in RPG design. Yes, they didn't know what to do with plot and characters, but they created awesome worlds. When it came to creating immersive, detailed, and large environments, they were the true heirs of Origin; they were the ones who translated all this sheer scope of interactive environment into breath-taking 3D.
And that's how Western RPG development split into two sub-genres: "exploration" and "story-driven" RPG. Bethesda kept doing their sandbox experiments (followed by Piranha Bytes with their excellent Gothic series), while the story-driven RPG started shrinking. Yes, shrinking, that's the word that comes to my mind. Look at games like Mass Effect and you'll understand what I mean. And while people talked about how Dragon Age was big and interactive, they forgot one important thing: Dragon Age was the same old thing, only with 3D graphics. It didn't take any advantage whatsoever of its engine. It didn't have physical interaction, and its world couldn't be truly explored. By "explored" I mean, in this case, interacted with in every way possible, physically. You couldn't simply go anywhere in Dragon Age. You didn't see that endless, breath-taking landscape in front of you, you didn't feel the whole gorgeous world was lying at your feet the way you felt, for example, when playing Oblivion.
I was waiting for a game that would combine the two. A game that would have this kind of addictive exploration, but also add everything I loved so much in the classic story-driven RPGs.
And now, at long last, this game came. It is Fallout: New Vegas.
I can't stress it enough: if anything I wrote above about my personal RPG preferences echoes in your heart, stop reading this review. Go and get this game. If you feel the same way as I did, you should be jumping and singing and performing religious rituals right now. New Vegas is what you've been waiting for. It's the true sequel to Fallout 2. In gorgeous 3D. With an open world and full physical interaction.
New Vegas is the best of Bethesda, and the best of Obsidian. It's the jewel in the crown, the fruit of continuous historical development, the logical conclusion which came so late.
I won't talk much about the "Bethesda parts" of this game. New Vegas looks and plays (on a basic level) the same way as Fallout 3. It has everything the other game had; in my opinion, though the engine begins to show its age, the game world is more beautiful than that of Fallout 3. The artists clearly had more inspiration when designing this world; it is more detailed, more natural, more logical, and generally feels more like a real "world" than whatever we have seen in Fallout 3. Gone are the monotonous subways and endless piles of rubbish; the world of New Vegas is much more "alive", it is vibrant and versatile, with much more variety in location design than the previous game.
Music and voice acting are also of a decidedly better quality, thus enhancing the already heavy atmosphere even more. Even as an "add-on", the game would have worked, though in reality it is more. Much, much more.
Though the basic gameplay system is the same as in Fallout 3, the playing experience is quite different; it feels much more like an RPG than like an action game with RPG elements, which was its predecessor. New Vegas is not just "more of an RPG" than Fallout 3; it's more of an RPG than anything that has been released lately, perhaps with the exception of Dragon Age. New Vegas is as close as it gets to the ideal of Fallout 2. It is less an RPG in which you follow a well-written linear story (which all BioWare RPGs turned out to be), and more an RPG in which you shape the story. You have the freedom of choice, and you design the narrative by yourself.
Much of this genius technique was already implemented in Alpha Protocol; unfortunately, that game was set in claustrophobic shooter levels, leaving an impression of a weird hybrid: outstanding role-playing in an ultra-linear collection of hostile areas? Who came up with this idea?..
But in New Vegas, they hit the nail, and they hit it hard. Now all those incredibly cool moral dilemmas are set in a gigantic world. Your choices are no longer confined to dialogue options. You can do what you want. Just the way it was in the first two Fallouts. Only this time, it's all in interactive 3D.
The game is absolutely non-linear, meaning that you can go wherever you want, behave in any way you want, help or kill whomever you want, do any quests in any order, etc., etc.. Of course, there is a main quest that must be completed if you want to finish the game; but the true experience of the game is in discovery, exploration, and flexibility of actions, rather than in simply following a story line. The freedom of choice, freedom of exploration, that was so sorely missing from modern RPGs, is finally back! Finally, finally, we can immerse ourselves into an alternate digital reality, and role-play there to our hearts' content!
I won't go much into details; suffice to say that the quests in New Vegas are very interesting, and you will feel compelled doing them. Moral choices and dilemmas pop out everywhere; in the best tradition of classic Western RPG, the "meat" of the game is deciding what to do, how to do it - but everything from an ethical standpoint. Many times I was asking myself: "What would I do in such a situation?..". I actually felt I truly created my own character. I didn't just assign a bunch of parameters to him, but shaped him as a human being, made him say things and commit actions that defined him from a moral point of view.
The game is full of exciting, varied, and challenging quests; you will be deeply involved in the intricate world of New Vegas, you will become part of it and determine its future. For those who got tired of BioWare's schematic "good-bad" moral structures: there is no such role-playing in New Vegas. It's not always black and white; in fact, it's rarely black and white, but mostly a dark shade of grey. It's not that there are only villains in this game, but this world is cruel, and you feel it. No matter whom you join, you will have to do something that will probably make you feel uncomfortable. The choices are anything but easy. This kind of approach to morals is involving; it doesn't descend into didactic, preaching morality, but it makes you face the consequences of your decisions.
The world of New Vegas is populated by many organizations and factions; three of them (Mr. House, NCR. and Legion) play the largest role, and joining one of them basically determines the main story line of the game. But there are also so many other factions, groups, towns, settlements, locations, people... whatever you do in the game influences its world. The ending changes depending on what you have done. What is so exciting in this game is not the actual story line, not the series of events that leads to an ending (though they are actually quite interesting), but the way your choices push this story forward, often with unexpected results.
The writing is decidedly better than in Fallout 3; the story is more intelligent, more detailed, and presented in a more clever, involving way. As a matter of fact, I did enjoy the actual story of the game, I enjoyed most of the material that was connected to the narrative. Varied and interesting sub-quests also helped to establish the mood. Well-written, natural dialogues, range of emotions - from humor and grotesque to cruel and macabre moments, and even a few "humane" interludes (though the overall emotional tone is rather dark and sometimes a bit cynical - which befits the Fallout universe), convincing motivations of the characters, colorful characterization - all this makes the story of New Vegas above average. Actually, I found it more realistic and convincing than the supposedly realistic, but disappointing "video game-like" story of Alpha Protocol.
The role-playing system is much more refined and generally works much better than it did in Fallout 3. One phrase: speech matters! So many quests (including even the final boss confrontation!) can now be solved differently depending on the speech parameter. That was perhaps what I missed most in Fallout 3. There, the decisions were mostly mechanical, and the character growth went one way: kill your enemies more efficiently. This is not the case in New Vegas. The role-playing here is just like in old times, where you could talk your way out of unpleasant situation, but where nothing is for granted; you'll have to work hard, and you can't have everything! That's the beauty of role-playing, and it shines in New Vegas.
The shooting mechanics are as solid and as satisfying as they were in Fallout 3; but even during combat, the game feels much more like an RPG than it was the case with its predecessor. For once, the game is much more challenging; you can be on par with the enemies, underpowered or overpowered, and this constant evaluation of your skills and character growth feels just right. The balance is perfect for the most part, though I must warn you that the game is quite challenging. Underpowered characters are bound to take a serious beating near the end stage of the game; many enemies are extremely dangerous, and VATS is your friend much more so than I found it to be in Fallout 3. New Vegas also has a very interesting "hardcore mode", which opts for realistic elements such as the necessity to rest, serious damage by radiation, limited usage of stimpaks (instead of the magical "instant healing" items they have become), etc.
The BadIs New Vegas perfect? Well, as far as role-players' wet dreams go, it probably is. Though for the sake of objectivity, it must be noted that New Vegas wasn't exactly developed from scratch. It became possible thanks to Fallout 3, and we mustn't forget that. It would be wrong to dismiss Fallout 3 as something along the lines of "okay game, but not a real Fallout". Fallout 3 re-invented the Fallout universe, and it is possible that New Vegas would have never seen the light of the day if Obsidian hadn't had the engine and basic gameplay at their service, so they could devote their time and energy entirely to creative content.
Other than that, I'm sure everyone will experience loads of minor annoyances with this game, which is, frankly, inevitable when we talk of an RPG of such scope and detail. Ultima VII, the first two Fallouts, Arcanum - all those great RPGs of the past were buggy and had all kinds of weird things happening; this merely testifies to their immense ambition and grandeur of thought.
New Vegas has its share of bugs and weird occurrences. Since the freedom of actions here is nearly unlimited, you can certainly stumble across occasional strange and illogical dialogues, especially if you do everything you can to stay away from the main quests. Sometimes representatives of factions which are supposed to hate you behave nicely for inexplicable reasons; another time people attack you without any provocation on your side, etc.
The interface could have been more comfortable. I've seen better NPC routines in other RPGs. Some quests are under-written, some others are just plain and a bit out of place. The engine does show its age, and character graphics and animations are rather bland.
The whole idea for the story line is perhaps a bit questionable; I, for once, could never understand why the protagonist of the game suddenly decided to get involved with high politics. I always imagined him as a regular guy, someone who tries to stay away from all this stuff. You'll have to choose sides, volens-nolens; you can't just walk away from the political struggle if you want to complete the game. But that's really nitpicking.
The Bottom LineEver since the Western RPG scene entered the age of 3D and split into two distinct sub-genres (exploration-driven and story-driven), my strongest gaming desire has been to see a game that would merge those two genres into a whole.
New Vegas is such a game.
At the very least, it's the only modern RPG that comes close to the original Fallouts in quality of writing, characterization, and quest design, at the same time offering a gigantic, fully explorable, fully interactive 3D world.
New Vegas is the most perfectly crafted, balanced, satisfying, and addictive RPG I've experienced since Fallout 2. For the first time, all the greatness of the timeless RPG classics of the past has been successfully translated into immersive, physically entangling 3D.
New Vegas is a RPG dream coming true.