Fallout 3 was one of those rare games that took a beloved franchise and not only rebooted it, but revolutionised it, and indeed the entire action/RPG genre. It took the baton passed on by Mass Effect, and ran with it to its logical conclusion by presenting an open-world shooter overlaid with a rich RPG experience in an incredible story in a rich setting. There was almost nothing wrong with Fallout 3.
So, it’s logical then that Obsidian, the dev team behind Fallout: New Vegas, might have a task ahead of them in making a sequel that stands proud of its illustrious forebear. However, while it might have stumbled and fallen delivering sequels to other popular games, most notably Knights of the Old Republic, Obsidian’s pretty much delivered a worthy successor, but make no mistake – this is an evolution, not a revolution.
And, to be honest, it’s a long way from being perfect.
Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Well, more accurately, it’s a bullet in the head – that’s how your latest trip in the Wastelands of post-Apocalyptic America begins.
It’s quite the mystery, actually, and very cleverly staged. You’re a courier, whose cargo is a single poker chip, who is then waylaid, the chip stolen, and after a short villain-style soliloquy that suggests you’re meddling in things way over your head… bang.
That’s when the game proper starts, the trauma to your noggin a perfect justification for one of your rescuers to question you and perform a couple of tests. It’s not quite as immersive as the early life sequence in Fallout 3, but it’s quicker and very much in keeping with the story. Once again, it also delivers a very viable set of skills and perks, and again, if you dislike them, you can always tweak them to your own satisfaction.
As we reported in issue 117, we got to play the first hour of New Vegas at Gamescom, so we were looking forward to discovering what we could do differently – and we weren’t surprised. Your first real encounter involves a local gang member trying to extort a bar owner – figuring that a bullet to the head can leave a guy a little short-tempered, we dealt with the dude rather harshly. Once he admitted he was thinking of taking over the town… we shot him. Such a move pretty much let us skip over the entire opening portion of the game, a good example of just how open New Vegas’ storytelling is.
Also, like the original, it’s a game that’s very easy to adapt to your own playing style, and a game that very quickly starts telling a uniquely tailored story. One thing that Fallout 3 did well was when two or more players of the game got together to compare notes – a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that each gamer was talking about a different game. The same high praise can be given to New Vegas.
As well as the story, Obsidian’s also brought a lot of new game mechanics to the Wasteland. Crafting, for one thing, has been vastly expanded and changed. You no longer need blueprints, and can now make food from scavenged plants and animals. You can also craft neat new ammo types for all your weapons. As usual, weapons need a workbench, but food requires a campfire, and ammunition a loading bench. Thankfully, you never feel punished for not wanting to get into the crafting game – we’re not one of nature’s compulsive crafters.
Also new is the faction system. The Mojave Wasteland is full of bandits, gangs and fighting factions, as well as independent towns, and the game now tracks your standing with all of them. The rewards for getting to know a faction are obvious – discounted stuff, free passage, all that, while the punishment for pissing a group off is similarly obvious.
Getting shot in the face. Lots.
Again, it’s not an overpowered part of the game, but it does lend a certain Yojimbo-like feel to New Vegas, that constant hint that if you play your cards right you can play off all the competing factions. Of course, like all good dramas, you must choose a side in the end, but getting there is a heck of a lot of fun if you’re willing to be a wily git to everyone you meet.
A wide range of brown
Sadly, the game’s not so good that you can easily overlook some of the flaws. For one thing, while the updated engine looks great, the setting can be a little drab. But you’re going to get that with almost any game that’s actually aiming for a dreary, post-war feel.
What’s quite unacceptable is the seemingly random rate of terrain and character draw-in. There are some truly impressive vistas in New Vegas, but traversing them can often lead to awkward surprises – whole groups of buildings and gangs of marauding ghouls can pop up almost right on top of you. At other times, you can see figures moving across vast distances.
There have been reports all over the net of far worse bugs, but they’re about our only big issues with the game. That said, the pop-in thing can be pretty demoralising – if you get the wrong opponents appearing out of nowhere they can be almost impossible to beat, even using VATS.
Overall, Fallout: New Vegas is every bit as compelling as Fallout 3, even if it does seem a touch staler and buggier by comparison.