Fallout: New Vegas Review – The House Always Wins.
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date: 22nd October 2010
Note: This review contains minor spoilers about the game’s characters, factions and plot.
Fallout: New Vegas puts you in the boots of The Courier, a man (or woman) with a hidden history and a job to do and they have been shot in the head. After recovering from this minor injury the player is giving access to the interface for creating their character. If you are a creative type this system is going to take up a good amount of your time otherwise you can make a few edits and get straight into the game. After choosing your character’s facial features, hair style and colour, the game then introduces you to the SPECIAL system, the Fallout series’ signature ruleset. SPECIAL is an acronym for the games main stats: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck.
Each stat affects what your character is capable of in certain situations, do you want to wield a .50 calibre anti-material rifle? You need a higher Strength stat, want to be more accurate when you fire that rifle? Increase your perception. Every stat has an affect on something and it won’t be obvious or explained to you until you first experience the part of the game that these stats will influence which is great, this creates an immersive sense of character development and learning. The SPECIAL system also has three additional modifiers that affect your character and interaction with the game: Perks, Traits and Skills. The player is introduced to skills after selecting their desired SPECIAL stats, the player is asked to choose three skills to be their tag skills. The game implies that these will be the player’s specialisation but they are mechanically a fifteen skill point boost. Your skills influence whether or not you can pass dialogue checks, pick a lock, hack a terminal, buying prices and so many more small and large parts of the game world. Many of the skills may seem redundant to your playstyle or personal roleplaying restrictions initially, however as you encounter more difficult enemies, areas and traps you may find some usefulness in them. Due to the freedom the game gives the player in the way that you play your character it is impossible to minmax your character to be amazing at everything at least without prior knowledge or some (arguable) exploits.
New Vegas’ game world is set in the Mojave Wasteland which is set partially inside what would be modern day California and Nevada, with real world towns like Goodsprings and Nipton to the west and Hoover Dam to the East and New Vegas in the middle. New Vegas is a city untouched by the bombs that dropped during the great war that brought the rest of the world to it’s knees. Each side of the map is owned by factions vying for control of the city of Vegas and the energy producing capabilities of Hoover Dam. Dotted along the map is many locations that the player can visit, the game is filled with locations each with a unique atmosphere and something to do. Exploration is rewarded with loot, lore and interesting experiences, there are several areas of the map that the player could never come across by following the just the main quest including a ski lodge filled with friendly mutants, a radio station on top of a mountain with hostile mutants and a wacky DJ and a prison filled with dynamite obsessed gangsters. There are also unexplored bunkers and ruins containing interesting factions and cults that will give you quests to go out and explore even further into the wasteland to find technology, fuel and supplies. The further you get from the starting town the better the loot you will find but the tougher the enemies that you encounter will be.
The game’s plot is incredibly expansive, almost every quest in some way or another influences the game world overall which influences other quests which influence the gameplay. Every choice you make is meaningful too, choosing to resolve a situation with violence is more direct and eliminates the threat permanently but this may cause problems down the road for the settlement or faction that you came to the defence of. Whilst exploring I found a town that was under siege from mercenaries, the town leader asked me to get rid of them, he insisted on resolving the issue peacefully so as not to bring unnecessary attention to them. At this point in the game I was unable to convince them to leave but I was able to convince the quest giver to bribe them. On a separate play through I resolved the quest by killing the mercenaries instead this time just to see how it plays out. With the first option the town was saved, the mercenaries got to return home to their families and the conflict was ended, with the second option I angered the New California Republic (who are a very significant faction) with my actions making it difficult to approach them and their representatives to offer them my services. This side quest completely changed the way I had to approach the main quest since it affected my standing with a faction that is heavily present in the main quest.
In another situation I had befriended the Brotherhood of Steel and joined their ranks, I had developed a bond with my Brotherhood companion and used the services available at their to resupply ammunition for my energy weapons since I destroyed the only other major supplier of these supplies. My character now relied on the Brotherhood and they relied on me, suddenly I was given a quest to destroy them by Vegas. I had to make a choice to kill my friends, my main source of supplies and my favourite companion or not. I chose not to, which made it impossible to continue the main quest line with the Vegas faction. This opened up other options to me, I could try and overthrow the Vegas leadership and decide the fate of the wasteland myself or perhaps try and make amends with the NCR. By joining a side faction I had to decide which major faction I would side with due to some major factions’ hatred towards the Brotherhood.
Combat in New Vegas varies based on the type of weapon(s) being used by the player and hostile NPCs that you come across, available weapon types include firearms, energy weapons, explosives, melee weapons and unarmed weapons. Firearms have the largest variety due to the amount of ammunition types available most weapons found in the low level areas of the game range from handguns to varmint rifles but as you travel through the Mojave Wasteland the variety of firearms you come across will start to include semi-automatic rifles, machine pistols and revolvers and in very high level areas you will find varied shotguns, sniper rifles and miniguns. Energy weapons don’t have as much variety but vary in how they are used, you get laser pistols and rifles and plasma rifles and pistols with heavier options available. These guns are different to the firearms in that they have less ammo types to keep track of as well as plasma weapons using twice as much ammo but doing more damage. Explosives include rocket and grenade launchers, frag, plasma and pulse grenades and mine equivalents. Melee and unarmed range from knives, baseball bats to boxing gloves and golf clubs. Alongside all of these weapons is unique variants of them and some unique weapons that don’t have a standard model. With this massive selection of weapons there is bound to be something for everyone and if fighting is not your thing you can always sneak past hostiles and talk your way out of dangerous situations.
Enemy variety is great too from men to mutants there is always something lurking behind a corner or inside a room waiting to exact violence on you. Some great enemies that you can encounter are giant radioactive scorpions, giant green mutant men with big guns, giant blue invisible men with license plate swords and giant mutant chameleons with huge claws that tear through everything. Enemies usually appear in groups and in areas that makes sense in the games’ context for them to be, for example you will find human enemies in towns, ruins and camps but mutants in tunnels and caves. Some enemies are insanely powerful in close quarters combat so stealth and high powered snipers is a valid playstyle to counter these enemies. When fighting the Legion you will come up against a group of human enemies armed with machetes, javelins and other melee weapons, they aren’t much of an issue on their own but once they swarm you it can be a struggle to fight back. Fighting NPCs armed with ranged weapons can vary in how they play out, the AI is intelligent when sending them at you, a soldier with a rifle will stay back and shoot at you but one with a shotgun will charge you to do more damage.
Gambling minigames can be found all over the wasteland however the central hub for gambling is Vegas itself. There are blackjack tables and slots available in every casino but if you want to gamble some of your hard earned caps away you can play Caravan, a card game designed by Obsidian for the game. You collect a deck of cards and build a deck that you use to play, every NPC that can play Caravan has a unique deck and playstyle and mastering Caravan can be the difference between walking into Vegas with just enough caps to enter and walking in rich with each casino floor just waiting for your money. Blackjack plays the exact same way it does in real life and slots can be literal one armed bandits. The higher your luck skill the better chance you have at winning the slots, and drawing a 21 in blackjack so stacking luck can be an affective way to earn caps. If you win too much you will be banned from gambling but if you win enough without bankrupting the casino you can be given the keys to a presidential suite. As fun as gambling is it feels rushed and there seems to be a real lack of features that feel like they should just be there. Given that the game is set in Vegas this is a disappointment but doesn’t hurt the actual RPG mechanics or feel of the game.
Writing quality in New Vegas is without a doubt the strongest part of the game which considering that most of the game is fantastic is a big compliment. The way that characters interact with each other and the player portrays genuine humanity which is amazing given that the game is built using Bethesda’s modified version of the Gamebryo engine which is notorious for terrible character interaction amongst other things. The characters and factions in the game are unique and contextually placed where they need to be and play their roles well but don’t overstay their welcome. My favourite faction is The Boomers, a tribe that emerged from their Vault and have an obsession with weapons and explosions, they occupy a military base and have access to howitzer cannons and a large cache of ammunition. If you decide to ally with them they will send you on a quest to recover a pre-war B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber plane. Once you have completed this quest and you have reached maximum respect with their leadership they will assist you in the final battle by using this very plane to obliterate your enemies. You can also choose to eliminate them from the game if you are a heartless monster that hates freedom, liberty and cool jackets.
The writing in this game is fantastic when it comes to individual characters and small groups of people. The games’ companions have some of the best character development I have experienced from any media format. Characters like Veronica, Arcade, Boone or ED-E have interesting stories if their own and as you cement your friendship with them you learn more about them. There are more companions that I have mentioned however these are my favourites and will be the ones that accompany me the most in my adventures. Boone is a sniper, he settled in a quiet little town with his wife and his best friend. Sinister events happened one evening that changed him forever and you will learn about these events as you travel with him and bring vengeance to those that wronged him. Veronica on the other hand is part of a big family that live underground, she was sent out to the wasteland to gather supplies but she decides that travelling with you would be more interesting. Depending on your actions she may open up to you about who her family are or you may stumble across them by accident and may need to rely on her to protect you. Over time she opens up to the player about why she was sent out to gather supplies, who her mentor was, how she feels about her family and how she feels about you, she also really wants a nice dress, so get her one. When travelling with ED-E you will occasionally find that certain key words and locations will trigger specific audio logs in his memory and this will fill you in about who ED-E is, what his purpose is/was and will eventually lead to you upgrading him with options from different factions. Also worth noting is that you should never take Boone’s beret from him, he doesn’t like it and would like it back. You can take one humanoid companion and one other companion with you at once which allows for interesting combinations of tactics and combat proficiency. ED-E’s targeting enhancers will compliment Boone’s sniping ability for example.
Fallout: New Vegas is in my opinion the pinnacle of the franchise and is a template for how to make a great RPG. The game offers more content than most players will ever experience, there are so many ways to play this game and the writing is of such a high quality that is consistent throughout the entire game. A blind first playthrough is absolutely essential if you plan on playing this fantastic title. With this game’s sixth birthday approaching and the recent release of Bethesda’s Fallout 4 you can find this game priced around £5 very regularly however as someone who paid full price for the collectors edition and all of the DLC I feel like I got a lot more than my money’s worth of fun and engaging experiences out of this game and would recommend that you pick it up if you are yet to play it. The game is currently £15 on Steam.
Rating: Nuclear winter wonderland!