Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
I loved Fallout 3. I clocked up to fifty hours in Bethesda's post-apocalyptic wonderland, so when I heard a sequel was in development, I was excited, to say the least. Excited, but cautious. A new setting, a new adventure and, most unnerving of all, a new team. Bethesda, presumably entrenched in an Elder Scrolls MMO, handed the reins to Obsidian. An almost identical change of hands occurred last generation, with Knights of the Old Republic 2 passed to Obsidian from Bioware. It was a divisive decision, and Obsidian's recent Alpha Protocol flop hasn't helped in quelling doubt.
But then it was revealed that former Black Isle staff, the developers of Fallout 1 & 2, had hopped on-board the Obsidian express. Who better to help oversee the game than the original creators? But could Obsidian handle the pressure? Could they both replicate the Fallout experience and carry the series forward? As I loaded up New Vegas on my 360, it soon became obvious what the answer was...
Like A Bullet To The Brain
Unlike the measured, paced opening of Fallout 3, New Vegas wastes no time in kicking things off. Not only do you receive a bullet to the brain from an anonymous sniper, but you're then dumped in a shallow grave in the Mojave desert by a dapper gentlemen and his escort of thugs. You're rescued from the dead by a kindly robot who's convinced he's an old West cowboy. Victor delivers you to Doc Mitchell of Goodsprings.
It's here where Fallout slips into the right gear. You choose your gender, your appearance and, most importantly, your skills and traits. Are you a silver-tongued rogue with a proficiency with guns? Or a thick-skinned, lump of a man fond of explosives? It's up to you. Once you've decided, you're released onto Goodsprings, a dusty town on the outskirts of the Mojave desert, sprawling before you in all its sun-baked glory.
Fallout wouldn't be Fallout if it forced you on a linear path, choked on both sides by sheer, unassailable walls. You're free to go where you please, within the limits of health and equipment. You could set off immediately to enact revenge on the men responsible for your death? Or why not save Goodsprings from the Powder Gangs, a tribe of once-prisoners who hold sway over the nearby territory?
If you're familiar with Fallout, you'll know the rest. What sets New Vegas apart is the inclusion of 'factions', well-armed groups you can ally with or oppose. The major factions, the New California Republic and Caesars Legion, appear prominently in the story. Caesars Legion is an army of slaves, led by the despotic Caesar. The New California Republic, on the other hand, are essentially a political army, and control New Vegas' most important location, the Hoover Dam.
You're actions, relevant to either faction and others, will determine your standing in their group. If you slaughter a few NCRs, expect the Republic to not treat you so well on your next encounter. However, side with Caesars Legion, and not only do you enjoy certain privileges, but entire new quest lines unfurl from the depths of the disc.
It's a great addition the series, and works pretty well in practice. If you had any worries about Obsidian's ability to wrangle a Fallout epic as well as Bethesda did, fret no longer. New Vegas is crawling with quirky characters, brilliant dialogue and jet-black wit. It perhaps lacks Fallout 3's epic set-pieces, like the Super Mutant Behemoth scene, but it's sharper, denser and, thankfully, has a much larger vocal cast, which means less recycled voices.
One Man Army
The majority of Fallout: New Vegas is spent wandering the wastes, scavenging for supplies and ammunition, stumbling on quests and blasting critters. The much-loved Vault Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S, returns, and is as visceral and rewarding as before. Simply tap RB/R1, and the game flashes to a still-image of your target. Then, you pick what location on the body you'd like to inflict punishment on, before a cinematic finale, often culminating in severed limbs or exploding craniums. What game doesn't benefit from having a dislodged eyeball roll across the floor?
However, it must be said that Fallout's combat is clunky. Outside of V.A.T.S, the aiming is a chore, despite the added 'iron-sights' feature. It's slow to aim, hard to target and the lack of visual feedback is underwhelming. What's sad is that it's been two years since F3, and yet New Vegas' combat is just as stilted as before. The AI, of both friend and foe, doesn't help. Your companions often run off blindly into danger, whereas enemies often sit back and soak up damage.
However, the passive aspects of combat have seen a welcome improvement. You can now 'mod' weapons, be it attaching a scope to a pistol or an expanded magazine to your assault rifle. Obsidian has also returned to the hardcore RPG roots, allowing gamers to 'craft' items at camp-fires and work-benches. You can concoct powerful healing powders from local flora, or upgrade your ammunition with old or abandoned machinery. It's nice to see New Vegas hasn't forgotten what the genre was built on, and it's somewhat ironic for such a traditional, old-school RPG to be releasing within weeks of Fable 3, a game so desperately trying to escape its own trappings.
Fifty Hours In, And Counting
I've clocked upwards of fifteen hours in New Vegas already, and can safely say I've yet to even scratch the surface. I've clearly got a way to go in the story, and I've only managed a few of the lengthy side-quests, of which there are many. So far, I'm enjoying myself, although the pervading sense of deja vu is a distraction. Fallout 3, despite the 'Oblivion With Gun' tag-line, was a real breath of fresh air, and while it's admirable how well Obsidian has replicated this experience, it's perhaps been too slavish to Bethesda's design, keeping the pace but moving the series forward very little.
But whatever. I'm not fussed. Claims of New Vegas being Fallout 3.5 are, to be honest, dead on the money. It is more of the same, and then some. But if you lost yourself in Fallout 3, gobbled up all the DLC and then loaded up a brand new game, New Vegas is for you. Hook, line and sinker. It's built on aging tech that often rears its ugly head, but it can also offer moments of startling beauty. Glimpsing the New Vegas strip from afar, as the dawn sky twinkles with the last vestiges of stars, is quite the sight.
- Exactly what you'd expect from a Fallout game
- Deep customisation, rewarding progression
- An excellent story
- Plays it safe
- Combat is still a chore
- The engine is beginning to creak
The Short Version: Fallout: New Vegas is an epic adventure, simply overflowing with content. It might be a tad too similar to its predecessor, but its well-written and engaging enough to make amends. It can be frustrating, especially in combat, and the visuals are a step behind the curve. But if you liked Fallout 3, you couldn't ask for any more.