Big Iron on my Hip – Fallout: New Vegas

By: Tom Hatfield

Published: November 11, 2010 Posted in: Review
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Fallout: New Vegas is in many ways a very different Fallout game. It moves the winning blend of fifties retro future tech and post apocalyptic environment onto the back seat. Instead it takes a more western vibe and puts you in a far less damaged location. The result is extremely mixed.

New Vegas is big. Really big. It takes just about every aspect of Fallout 3 and expands it. There are more weapons, more dialogue options, more factions, more enemies and many, many more quests. The game is so big that by the midpoint most people will two screens worth of quests to scroll through, and I haven’t even touched on the complex crafting system or weapon mods that have been added to the game. Most of all though, it’s just huge, the areas are massive, I spent hours wandering around and I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of towns, people and quests I straight up missed. It’s that damn big. There’s also lots of characters and locations with their own interesting little story, like the tragic tale of Vault 11 that was mentioned on our podcast. There are a total of four full ending pathways, each one clearly distinct from the last (although they will all end with the Hoover Dam).

Sometimes, it’s too big. There are many things to find but the way in which they are scattered around and the sheer size of the areas means that for a lot of the game you are going to be traipsing rather aimlessly through fairly bland wilderness. Few locations match up to the visual design of Megaton from Fallout 3, and all too many locations are just a rather uninteresting grey building from the outside, with the lack of destruction and 1950s stylings giving it a little less character. Sometimes it that the size serves little purpose other than to give you a sense of scale while wandering. One example from this is the Boomers, a bunch of gun nuts who came from a vault and have taken over an air force base. There are about half a dozen named NPCs and a couple of important locations, yet these are spaced out over a vast stretch of land, forcing you to spend half your time there tediously walking back and forth. This can apply to other systems as well. Crafting ammo involves breaking it down into cases, primer, powder and lead and re-assembling it, but since you get that mostly from breaking down ammo and then use it to construct a different calibre it ends up feeling like an unnecessary complicated version of the ammo press from the Fallout 3 DLC.

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New Vegas is clearly an Obsidian game. It’s dark and morally grey. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the actions of most factions and characters and there aren’t any clear cut good guys. The Brotherhood of Steel are back to their original portrayal as technological zealots and the NCR are much less sympathetic than their original portrayal in Fallout 2. You can never be sure who the ‘right’ person to rule Las Vegas (even taking over yourself seems rather dicey at times). While individual quests can often dive into dark and adult themes, while treating them in a mature an non-exploitative fashion. There’s a lot of freedom of choice and those choices can really change the way the game works (although not as cleverly as Alpha Protocol).

Obsidian have put their stamp on the engine too – the Gamebryo engine was often choppy and buggy at best and required a lot of work by modders get it into proper shape and Obsidian’s legendarily bad quality control has only exacerbated this. When I first started playing the game crashed every twenty minutes, and it was only by dropping all the graphics settings down several notches (much lower than they were for Fallout 3) that I was able to stabilise it. More than once I saw enemies become miraculously impervious to bullets while thankfully refusing to do anything but jog gently on the spot. It’s not uncommon either to enter an area and have any corpses left lying around spawn a few feet off the floor and drop down. It also has hands down the worst and most confusing quest markers known to man, some missions will involve spending longer navigating the maze of the dungeons then actually fighting the enemies.

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At least they learnt from the Fallout 3 mod scene though – New Vegas has integrated a lot of ideas that have previously come out of the community like disguise clothing, weapons mods, primary needs (hardcore mode only) and many others. Many of the things fans wanted to see added to the game have been integrated.

Then again, Obsidian have also ignored the Fallout 3 modding scene. While added content mods have been embraced, those that tried to fix engine problems or improve the core gameplay have been resolutely ignored. The shooting model feels a little tighter and more FPS like, but New Vegas uses the same basic mechanics as Fallout 3 in most areas for better or (largely) for worse.

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Bethesda’s dialogue and story have been improved, the writing is clearly of a slightly higher standard and the kind of clever plots that turned up every so often in the Capital Wasteland are commonplace in the Mojave Desert. With many new dialogue options opened up by perks and skills ensuring each player’s tale is slightly different.

And then Obsidian have repeated Bethesda’s mistakes with delivery of that story. The animations and player models remain as horrendously bad as they were in Fallout 3 (and before that Oblivion) while the voice acting, despite hiring several well known film and TV actors, is overall of no better quality than the previous game. Matthew Perry, who plays Benny, the man who shoots you in the head at the beginning of the game deserves special mention for an exceptionally bland performance from a usually charismatic actor. Voice acting, sadly, is a very different skill.

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Fallout: New Vegas is quite simply Fallout done the Obsidian way. Moral complexity, lots of dialogue, multiple paths and added rpg content have been embraced, but basic gameplay, quality control and visual flair have been ignored. It provides a bigger, deeper game than Fallout 3, but also a looser, less characterful one. Seeing the difference between the two approaches is actually pretty eye opening, and any Fallout fan should certainly check it out. The smart ones though, might want to wait for the modders to fix it first.

Tom Hatfield