If we were to judge Fallout: New Vegas on its merits as a sequel, if it were judged solely on its content, it'd probably be a 10. You can't fault Obsidian for filling every nook and cranny of the New Mojave Wasteland with mystery and wonder. And yet, New Vegas has been the recipient of some stinging criticism, claiming it's little more than Fallout 3 1/2.
It is telling that New Vegas was subtitled rather than numerically adorned. It's built on the same tech, follows Bethesda's well-worn path, and only iterates in careful, precise places, so as not to upset the balance. And so it begs the question; what constitutes a sequel? Is it a new setting, a plethora of fresh features or a revamped engine? Or is it something more?
New Game, Old Ideas
Our Fallout: New Vegas review dropped just this Sunday, courtesy of yours truly. Despite the aging tech, the stilted combat and constant glitches, I awarded the game a 9, which, as you maths wizards may realize, is just a notch away from 10, perfection. An odd choice, but one I felt had to be made. It's not often we see a developer advance the story. New Vegas' strength lies in its narrative, the pitch-perfect writing bolstering its eclectic cast of characters. It has a strong foundation, and built on it with aplomb.
But it's not perfect, and it wasn't entirely innocent when the claims of 'Fallout 3.5' began raining in. It's true, for big franchises we expect big things. Fable, for instance, is shackled to the hype-master that is Peter Molyneux. Or Epic, who when announcing Gears of War 2, championed advances made in the Unreal Engine as much as the game itself.
So how can we judge a sequel without the influence of bias or hype? It's a fact of life that hoping for something is often more rewarding than actually having it. Hope is ripe with promise, whereas reality is rotten with fact. Publishers know this, and naturally exploit it. We're all so critical of figures like Molyneux for his excessive hyperbole, and yet without it, we're confused and a little disappointed. See Fable 3.
The Call Of Duty
It's not enough, I feel, for a game to be considered a sequel just for a few graphical advances and a feature overall. Not if the game itself is a 5 hour adventure with content amputated for a DLC release down the line. I suppose the argument is, focus your efforts on a singular narrative, not a sweeping epic like Fallout's, and you can devote further resources and time to perfecting the experience.
Call of Duty is a prime example of a series that's been honed to nigh-perfection and, every year, is released with little more than incremental updates and a face-lift, or two. I'm not complaining. I've prestiged twice, clocking up to six days worth of playtime. It's campaign, too, is a polished, set piece-laden experience of Bruckheimer proportions. But, again, its covering familiar territory.
To compare Call of Duty to the likes of Fallout would be utterly stupid. I'm not. What I am arguing, however, is fan's reaction to the annualized release of Call of Duty, lapping up each iteration without a moments pause to consider its merits as a sequel, compared to the '3.5' accusations directed at New Vegas. Call of Duty is Activision's prize cash-cow, so I doubt we'll see any major renovations made, in fear of shattering fan's inherently fragile devotion to a series. New Vegas' lack of revision is presumably down to a lack of time and funds. Rumor has it, developers Obsidian worked on a tight budget, while the template set by Bethesda for Fallout 3 was a four year investment, not two.
New Vegas isn't Obsidian's first attempt at handling a sequel. For Knights of the Old Republic 2, they replaced Bioware, and the result was less than a unanimous success. It's not an enviable position to be in, caretakers of a beloved franchise, but you can't fault Obsidian's work ethic. Their writing staff is excellent, as evidenced by both KOTOR 2 and New Vegas. Even their Alpha Protocol flop had sharp dialogue and interesting characters.
I imagine nailed above every developer's desk at Obsidian HQ, while hard at work on New Vegas, was the age-old proverb, "If it 'aint broke, don't fix it". It is, other than the brand new stories and characters, not to mention weapons and features like 'crafting' or 'factions', otherwise identical. The New Mojave Wasteland is simply bristling with deja vu, from recycled flora to fauna. The added colour is nice, but not enough.
But what we can't fault Obsidian for is getting it right. There's no doubt this is a Fallout game, from the charred rubble of a lost city to the mutated critters roaming the irradiated wilderness. It doesn't deviate from the path with anachronistic series' diversions like vehicle or turret segments. It's story is excellent, an epic tale of betrayal, revenge and revolution. It's crawling with characters, both friend and foe, most with tasks for you to undertake. Even if it is Fallout 3.5, it's not a step back, at least, but a nudge forward.
What do you think of Fallout: New Vegas? Did it meet your criteria as a sequel, or was it not to your expectations? As usual, sign off in the comments below!