Saturday, January 1, 2011

Video Game Review - Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas is a game created by Obsidian Entertainment. It's not, as you may think, by Bethesda Softworks, creators of Fallout 3, as they licensed it to Obsidian, a company which makes sequels for other companies. It was made as a... Well, it's not exactly a sequel to Fallout 3... In fact, from what I understand it's more of a "real" continuation of the story of Fallout 1 and 2 than Fallout 3 was. You see the original two Fallout games were set in California. There was a deep universe set up, many creatures and characters were introduced, and then in Fallout 3... All of them were scrapped. Well, ok, most of them.

You see, Fallout and Fallout 2 were set in the Core Region, which was most of California, with bits of Nevada included. 3 took place in the Capital Wasteland, the decimated ruins of Washington D.C. While Fallout 3 is fantastic, it included a mostly separated storyline from the rest of the series. Even the Super Mutants, a staple of the Fallout series, are different from the ones you encounter in 1 and 2.

Now, I haven't actually played Fallout or Fallout 2. However, from what I've heard, New Vegas is much closer a sequel (story wise) to Fallout and Fallout 2 than Fallout 3 was. In any case, as one might expect, Fallout: New Vegas takes place in (surprise!) VEGAS! ...Well, in and around Vegas, that is. New Vegas itself is such a small portion of the Mojave Wasteland, that the rest kind of dwarfs it.

Now, I'm in a unique position to talk about this game, as I actually used to live in Vegas. And I can tell you, they did extraordinarily well. For example, they easily could have gotten away with merely recreating the Strip, and calling it New Vegas, however they did not. They recreated VEGAS, and it's surroundings.

The Strip itself is, of course, there, as well as Fremont Street, which has now become "Freeside", the slums of New Vegas, accessible to anyone, not just those with lots of caps. In fact, it takes around 2000 caps just to get INTO New Vegas proper.

Outside of New Vegas though there's still a LOT of faithfully recreated landmarks. Redrock is still in the game, as are landmarks like Mt. Charleston, Lake Mead, The Hoover Dam... Heck, they've even got that huge soda bottle right off of the Strip, now though, instead of being Coke, it's "Sunset Sasparilla". And each famous landmark has a "Snowglobe" related to it, which can be picked up and sold to a certain eccentric person.

But a faithful recreation of Vegas does not, on it's own, a good game make. So, while the game is certainly a good recreation of Vegas, how is the gameplay, one might ask. Well let me put it this way: Did you like Fallout 3? Because this is... Reeeeeeally similar.

Seriously, at first glance, you may not even be able to tell the difference. You see, it's a first person shooter, like Fallout 3, it has various types of guns, various varieties of enemies, and of course V.A.T.S., the auto targeting system, makes a return from Fallout 3.

However, there are a number of changes which have been made to the gameplay. Most are minor enough that you wouldn't notice them at first glance, but do alter gameplay quite a bit. The first, and likely what many will find to be the most major, is the complete disappearance of the Big Guns skill from Fallout 3. Any weapons which were considered Big Guns have been transferred to other archetypes, for example, Miniguns have been folded into the Guns skill, Missile Launchers and the Fat-Man into the Explosives skill, Flamers have (somewhat strangely) become Energy Weapons... And so on. In place of the Big Guns skill is "Survival", a new skill which has two uses. It increases the health you gain from food (something which will come in quite handy, especially in Hardcore mode, which I'll get into later.) and it allows you to cook more recipes out of various gathered plants, similar to the way Alchemy worked in Oblivion.

An absolutely massive change is the fact that you now only get perks every even numbered level, instead of every level. Personally, though I did a complete playthrough of the game with no mods installed, on my second playthrough I've chosen to install a mod to allow me to get perks on every level once again.

Another large change is that many new types and variations of ammo have been introduced, not only with tons of new varieties, but also with Armor Piercing and Anti Personnel versions of each type. Also, many things which were common in Fallout 3, have become much more scarce in New Vegas, such as Frag Grenades. While Frag Grenades are more uncommon than they used to be new types of explosives have been introduced, such as Dynamite, which works similarly to Grenades, and C4, which can be placed and later detonated at a time of your choosing with a detonator.

Other small changes are things like, for example, the way Speech checks (and Barter checks, and Intelligence checks, and Perception checks, and Luck checks...) work. In Fallout 3, your odds of success would get higher the higher your speech skill was. In this, you either have enough points, or don't. You either have a 100% chance to succeed, or a 0% chance to. It will tell you what your speech skill should be, and if it's that high, great, if not, better find a new way to get what you're looking for. (Perhaps violence. Violence usually works well.)

However, while the gameplay is very similar, the games couldn't feel more different.

You see, the settings are radically different. The best way I can think of to put it is this:

Fallout 3 is a tale of urban survival.
Fallout: New Vegas is a western.

You see, the Capital Wasteland was an area with no government. Complete and total chaos. Utter anarchy. It had been rocked by the nukes, and was still devastated, the air tinged green, and everything completely tainted by radiation.

The Mojave Wasteland, however, first of all, was not hit by the nukes directly. This shows as very few areas have radiation, and rads become pretty much a non-issue for most of the game, with a few exceptions. The Mojave Wasteland also has a government in the form of the New California Republic, but that "government" is very loose as you're at the complete border of their reach... Much like the 19th century American west. Thus, in many areas small settlements will rely completely on local law enforcement... Again, much like the setting of many classic western films. Almost every aspect of the game reflects this.

Heck, even the beginning of the game feels like the start of an old western movie, with your character, "The Courier" being shot in the head and left to die in a shallow grave.

The exceptions to the game having the feel of a western are mostly in the small area of The Strip and it's surroundings, which feel more like an old black and white mobster movie.

But make no mistake, New Vegas is a western. There are Cowboys (heck, there's a perk called "Cowboy"), tribes, vicious untamed wild creatures, outlaws and sheriffs. It's a western set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but a western nonetheless. This setting shines through, and works fantastically well.

Of course one of the most critically acclaimed features of Fallout 3 returns in the form of RADIO STATIONS! This time there are 3 radio stations which can be tuned into, one of which can only be tuned into if you're within a short distance of "Black Mountain".

The first, and the one you'll likely spend the most time listening to is "Radio New Vegas" hosted by Mr. New Vegas. This is the equivalent of GNR in Fallout 3. Mr. New Vegas himself is a smooth talking radio host, who though lacking the energy of "THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE DOG!" is nonetheless a great host for the station. His smooth voice will announce many things, although in a sharp contrast to Three Dog, his news items rarely mention The Courier, although they will at time mention his accomplishments, if not directly.

The second station, accessible only when in close proximity to "Black Mountain" is "Black Mountain Radio". Playing across BMR is the talk show "Best Friend Tabitha" hosted by Rhonda, and Tabitha, an insane Nightkin. (Think crazier supermutants. Also, blue.) Best Friend Tabitha hosts various segments like "Know Your Mutant", which describes various mutants. It's pretty amusing, not gonna lie.

The third, a welcome addition, is "Mojave Music Radio" which is all music, all the time. No talk show at all.

The songs played on the station are, as with Fallout 3, 50's and 60's music, and great. Personally, I found the best two songs to be "Ain't That A Kick In the Head"...

And "Big Iron"...

... I told you it was a western. Personally, I usually don't like that kind of music, but here it really worked, fitting the theme really well, although the other country songs in this certainly took it overboard...


In any case, the radio stations are, again, a great addition.

The story of Fallout: New Vegas, I found to be absolutely amazing. I won't spoil too much of it for you, but it takes you all over the place, and I found it to be more compelling and interesting than that of Fallout 3, which I also really liked. The writing is superb, and even (especially, in fact) outside of the main storyline this game contains some of the GREATEST storytelling I've ever seen in a game. Heck, I could do a whole blog post on Vault 11 alone. (Foreshadowing!)

And in addition to the storyline itself, the various factions and companions you meet along the way also change the storyline, along with having storylines of their own, although the fact that you cannot continue after the ending (until the inevitable DLC to come in the future) is a weak point.

Speaking of companions, the companions have been VASTLY improved upon from Fallout 3. Now not only can you more easily command and heal them, you can change and improve their gear. And each of them, as I said, has their own storyline and quest you can do for them. There are various ones, you can have up to two (one humanoid, one non humanoid) at a time, and they vary from a sniper to a cyborg dog... And of course my personal favorite, Veronica, a Brotherhood of Steel scribe voiced by Felicia Day.

Oh yeah.

Their very powerful, and (unless in hardcore mode) they can't die, only fall unconscious.

Personally though, one of my favorite additions to the game is Hardcore Mode, and optional setting which makes the game harder. I spoke about it previously, and about what it does, but in short, it makes various changes to gameplay mechanics which make the game more difficult, and I'd argue more fun. You can find the specifics in the game or online, but since rads aren't much of an issue in this, I'd say turn it on just for the extra meters to watch alone.

Now, the big dark spot of this game, and honestly one of it's only flaws, is that it's absurdly buggy. I spoke of this previously too, and most of the MAJOR bugs have been fixed by now, but you may still want to wait a month or so from the time of writing to get it if you're debating still.

In short, Fallout: New Vegas is a fantastic game.

Buy this game if:
You like westerns, Fallout 3, RPGs, or great storytelling.

Don't buy this game if:
You're squeamish. Like Fallout 3, this game is ABSURDLY gory.

This review was based on my experiences after around 55 hours of play time. I completed one full playthrough of the game on hardcore mode where I capped at level 30 before finishing. I got the NCR ending, and was considered "Very Good" karma. My character specialized in sneak, guns (mainly pistols and revolvers), lockpicking, speech, and barter mainly. The companions I mainly used were Veronica (duh, Felicia Day, c'mon) and E-DE, occasionally switching out Veronica for Cass towards the end of my playthrough. I had achieved 29/50 Steam achievements upon completion.

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