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SummaryOn the way to RPG perfection
The GoodThe guys at Obsidian certainly are a bunch of talented individuals with plenty of creative ideas; and, above all, individuals who really love RPGs. Not surprising, considering the fact this team was assembled by some of the leading RPG developers of the past, particularly those who did those classic games for Black Isle.
So far Obsidian has been more successful with sequels to existing franchises than with independently conceived games. After the troublesome Alpha Protocol they decided to go back to their old ways, creating an entry in an established series. The high status of the Fallout franchise was somewhat downgraded by the previous installment, which divided fans into warring groups and left many hardcore Fallout junkies unsatisfied.
The thing is, Bethesda doesn't really know how to do role-playing based on ethical choices. Their idea of role-playing is basically "do whatever you want, because whatever you do doesn't matter anyway". But what they certainly can do is create big, generous playgrounds. 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 Gothic), while the story-driven RPG started shrinking. 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. We didn't see that endless, breathtaking landscape in front of us; we didn't feel the whole gorgeous world lying at our feet the way we did, for example, when playing Oblivion.
I was waiting for a game that would combine those two approaches. A game that would have this kind of addictive exploration, but also add everything I loved in classic quest-driven RPGs. Fallout: New Vegas turned out to be exactly such a game.
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 might not top Fallout 2, but it's as close as it gets in transporting its spirit into a gorgeous third dimension.
Essentially, New Vegas combines Obsidian's own charismatic personality and unwavering passion with the best of Bethesda. It is the fruit of continuous historical development, the logical conclusion that 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 - its game world is more beautiful. The artists clearly had more inspiration when designing this world; it is more detailed and more natural. Gone are the monotonous subways and the 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.
Though the basic gameplay system is the same as in Fallout 3, the playing experience is quite different: it feels much more like a flexible RPG. Typically for Obsidian, the game is ripe with clever setpieces and situations that call for choices - and this time, your ethical proclivities are harmoniously combined with a vast world you can freely roam. The game is absolutely non-linear, meaning that you can go wherever you want, behave in any way you want, do any quests in any order, 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. The fusion of meaningful choices and physical freedom, which was so sorely missing from modern RPGs, is finally back.
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 - from an ethical standpoint. I actually felt I truly created my own character. I didn't just assign a bunch of attributes 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. Those tired of BioWare's schematic "good-bad" moral structures are welcomed to a world that is 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, and 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 plot of the game. But there are also so many other factions, groups, towns, settlements, locations, people, etc. The ending changes depending on what you have done. What is most interesting in this game is not the actual story, not the series of events that leads to an ending, but the way your choices push this story forward, often with unexpected results. The writing is also decidedly better than in Fallout 3, and there are more interesting characters.
The role-playing system generally works much better than it did in the preceding game, returning to the series' roots. One phrase: speech matters! So many quests (even including the final boss confrontation) can now be solved differently depending on the speech parameter. That was perhaps what I missed most in Fallout 3, and New Vegas is quick to fix it.
The shooting mechanics are as solid and as satisfying as they were in the predecessor; but even during combat, the game somehow feels more RPG-like. 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: underpowered characters are bound to take a serious beating near the end stage of the game, since many enemies are extremely dangerous, and V.A.T.S. is your friend much more so than I found it to be in Fallout 3. New Vegas also has a cool "hardcore mode", which opts for realistic elements such as the necessity to rest, serious damage from radiation, limited usage of stimpaks (instead of the magical "instant healing" items they have become), etc.
The BadIt 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. That game re-invented the Fallout universe, 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 that they could devote their time and energy entirely to creative content.
That said, it is a bit perplexing why bugs weren't ironed out of the tested, solid engine. New Vegas has quite a few 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 whole idea for the main plot is somewhat 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. I'd prefer to retain the option of not allying with any of those ethically dubious factions and get to the "neutral" end without the hassle of double-crossing all of them.