While I’ve never played more than a few minutes of the first two Fallout games, Fallout 3 was a very good, bordering on great, game. It had an interesting world, fun gameplay, and was hampered by a story that was passable at best followed by an ending that didn’t matter. For all its flaws, though, it provided a good follow-up in the vein of Oblivion. New Vegas is better. From start to finish, it’s just better.
The story takes place in 2281, several centuries after a nuclear apocalypse happened, leaving America as a wasteland. You play as a courier for the Mojave Express, who was supposed to deliver a platinum chip to the New Vegas strip. On your way, you get shot, the chip is stolen, and you’re left for dead. From there, you have to track down the man who shot you and get back the platinum chip. And from there, it’s all up to you. Fallout 3 had one plotline which you had to follow like a straight line. At some point in New Vegas, the plot branches off in 4 different directions. The best part of it is that there’s no black and white here. You can’t peg any of the 4 paths as particularly good or evil. In fact, it ends up a general rule of the Mojave Wasteland that every faction falls under different shades of grey.
The faction system as a whole is much more interesting than the basic karma system (which is still around, but much less important). The various groups and gangs of the Wasteland will like you more or less depending on your actions. It’s a basic idea: they like when you do quests for them, they hate you running into town and slaughtering everybody. What makes it really interesting is that your relations with factions will change how other people like you. When I left one of my companions behind to do some Legion quests, talking to him again had him confronting me about working for them. You can try to please as many people as you can, but more likely than not, a few people are just not going to be happy with you by the end of the game.
There’s really nothing too new here in the basic gameplay. For those who didn’t play Fallout 3, New Vegas is an action-RPG, playing half like a first person shooter and half like an RPG. You build up your stats and fight with a chosen specialty in either firearms, energy weapons, melee weapons, or unarmed. While it is possible to be a jack of all trades, it means you’re going to have to sacrifice points in skills like Speech, Bartering, or Lockpicking. These are easily just as, if not more, important than the combat. It’s extremely satisfying to talk your way out of fights or right into the enemy base. This also means everybody can play the game a different way. Whether you choose to sneak through enemy bases, slaughter everybody on your way in, or walk right through the front door and hack the guard robot, the game has it set up for you to do it.
This could almost be seen as a good point for why I love the game so much as a whole. You’re always given a choice, and there’s plenty of sidequests (far more than 3 had) where your choice matters. It’s not just “I’m going to play this quest good or bad”. One quest has you reactivating a power plant, and you’re given five choices where you can redirect the power. While one of them is obviously evil (well, from a certain point of view), which of the other four you choose is entirely up to you. This freedom from a karma meter is one of the nicest feelings in the world. Bioware could learn a lesson from this.
The game, sadly, does have flaws, and the flaws it has aren’t exactly small. First, the graphics are ugly. It looks like it’s running the same engine as Fallout 3, which I want to say was the same engine they used in Oblivion, which came out in 2006 and didn’t look great then. Four years have not been kind on this engine. And the other thing it took from Oblivion is the bugs. I was fairly lucky to only get hit by one major one, where I outright lost my dog companion. There are far worse ones that could possibly completely cut you off from completely certain paths or certain quests, and the released patches and DLC have managed to screw things up even more. My suggestion: Always keep a backup save on file, and if you even think you’ve hit something that’s wonky, get on the Fallout Wiki. The last thing you want to do is be walking around in a completely screwed up game world.
Despite this glaring lack of QA, New Vegas is a world I was completely engrossed in from start to finish. The characters are interesting. The Mojave Wasteland is a far more interesting world than 3’s Washington DC, with the Strip being a highlight. And the quests and choices just had me hooked. At the end, there’s an epilogue that shows what happened to the various characters and factions you met along the way. Minor sidequests I had done long hours ago suddenly came back to show me what results I had on it. I wanted to head right back into the game, make a new character, and see how things would change if I had done things differently. That is the sign of a good game.