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Fallout: New Vegas review

Written by Vince D. Weller

Fallout 3: New Vegas is a faithful sequel to Fallout 2: New Reno. Much like its predecessor, the game features a desert, gangsters, casinos, guns, surprisingly good role-playing, and Chris Avellone.

It’s a bastard child born out of an unholy union between Bethesda and Obsidian. It has inherited the engine, the animations, the bastardized character system, VATS (a “horribly conceived attempt to capture Fallout's turn-based targeting”), the interfaces crammed inside a TV-friendly Pip-Boy, and quite a few other annoying little things.

Obsidian has brought to the table some much-needed brains. The moronic writing in Bethesda’s Fallout 3 made everything involving NPCs (other than shooting them in the face) almost intolerable and often incredibly painful. The writing (and the difference it creates) in New Vegas will be the first thing you’ll notice. It’s like a breath of fresh air that adds a surprising amount to the atmosphere and setting.

The “amusement park” setting has been replaced with a dark, bleak, and consistent world with factions locked in conflict. The two-tone gameworld has been replaced with a wide spectrum of shades of grey, and once again, the difference is very noticeable.

The vastly improved quest design is probably the main source of attraction and a reason to replay the game. The amount of choices and consequences is often overwhelming, but I'll delve into that in the Quests and Role-Playing “chapter”. The best part is that the quests are interconnected and well integrated into both the faction system and the setting, filling New Vegas' world with much-needed depth.

A recently posted article creatively called The Top Six Reasons Fallout 3 is Better Than Fallout New Vegas listed, well, six reasons why New Vegas isn’t as good as Fallout.

The top reason is the “increased emphasis on speech”:
…for some reason, Fallout New Vegas depends a lot more on speech challenges than anything else. I, like many of my contemporaries, began by tricking out my skills in firearms and explosives, lockpicks and medicine and the like. But as it turns out, the biggest part of this game seemed to be the thing I usually needed least, especially in the last go-round. Sure, in Fallout 3, if I was a smooth talker I could get some things done. But in Fallout: New Vegas, I’m at a serious disadvantage if I can’t talk straight. It’s almost preposterous how much of this game depends on my ability to talk my way out of a fight instead of blast my way out of it
All this, in a nutshell, is the difference between Fallout 3 and New Vegas. It is the difference between an excellent RPG and a “good for what it is” sandbox shooter with stats. It is the difference between a Fallout game and a game containing a loose assortment of stuff that was featured in the first two Fallout games.

So, without further ado…


The world and factions

The game takes place in the Mojave Wasteland – a pretty much lifeless, appropriately monotone, and HUGE (twice as many locations as in Fallout 3) desert. Most towns are made of a few surviving buildings, shacks, motor homes, and/or junk. The post-apocalyptic feeling is superb. It’s a bleak world without much hope and the choice is between bad and worse. It’s not easy to tell which choice is which and that’s what makes the New Vegas world one worth exploring.

While I wouldn’t claim that the setting is a 100% authentic, notary-verified Fallout, it’s definitely much closer to it than Fallout 3 or even Fallout 2. It has a strong Wild West theme, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a Fallout game. The Brotherhood of Steel, clad in the familiar T-51b power armor, is once again a monastery-type order dwelling in hidden bunkers. They are no longer “protectors of humanity eager to fight the good fight” but reclusive protectors of technology.

The Enclave is back where it belongs – a remnant force. They blamed their failures on the retarded design of the Fallout 3 “menacing” armor and went back to Mk 1. The super mutants have mutated back to their original design and once again look like super soldiers, not orcs. No Behemoths this time.

The three main factions are the Strip (what’s left of Las Vegas), the NCR, and Caesar’s Legion. The minor factions are the Brotherhood of Steel, the Khans, the high-tech Boomers, and the Followers of the Apocalypse – another blast from the long forgotten past. Plus you have the Jackals, the Powder-Gangers, the Vipers, the Van Graffs, the Scorpions, the Fiends, the Kings, the Bright Brotherhood, Crimson Caravans, the Enclave, etc.

The Strip is made up of, basically, casinos and criminal families. They have significant firepower and enough Securitron robots to keep the other factions in check within the bounds of New Vegas, at least temporarily.

The NCR in this game is the army, represented by a truckload of camps and ranger stations. Apparently, Shady Sands, that little engine that could, kept expanding and now has enough soldiers to send them across the continent, looking for places to take over and shine the light of democracy and taxation on them. Kind of like Bush’s America and the “we’re invading to liberate you guys, hang on” Iraq thing.

The biggest problem I’ve always had with the NCR is that they’ve jumped to democracy and elected presidents from cattle barons, bypassing more logical, brutal, and less “enlightened” phases. It would have been nice to see and explore the post-apocalyptic adaptations of the early societies - chiefdom, feudalism, monarchy - in a Fallout game.

Anyway, so the NCR finally makes it to the Mojave but they are late to the party. Caesar’s Legion is already there. The Legion is another army, but it’s a different kind of army.

Caesar, who was raised in a library and further educated by the Followers of the Apocalypse, was sent to carry the torch of knowledge into the desert but was captured by tribals. The tribals were fighting a losing war against several other tribes, and Caesar had to teach them what he had learned about the art of warfare from history books simply in order to survive. Eventually, all neighbouring tribes were conquered and assimilated into a new Great Tribe - the Legion. Caesar continued using the Roman (military machine) model to unite the wasteland tribes and communities by conquering them, breaking down tribal loyalties, family ties, and emerging social structures and replacing them with the new identity, purpose, and structure. This time-tested approach makes a lot more sense and fits the post-apocalyptic world much better than the democratically elected presidents of the NCR.

So, overall, we have the NCR, the Legion, and the Strip. Both the NCR and the Legion want the Strip, but neither can afford fighting each other AND the Strip at the same time. Hence, the stalemate. The Strip’s owner has his own plans, but the NCR and the Legion seem to be in the way. Now, throw less powerful factions into the mix and you have a pretty good setup for a “choose your own enemies” RPG.

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