War never changes, and sometimes a good formula doesn’t change much either. Fallout: New Vegas takes the 2008 hit and updates it with a few tweaks to bring you right back into the fight. Does a change of venue and some small modifications warrant a trip back into the wasteland?
Fallout: New Vegas brings you back to the West where the original games were set, transplanting you to Las Vegas which surprisingly was barely touched by the nuclear war that decimated the rest of the United States. New Vegas has become a Mecca in the wasteland as the Colorado River provides clean water and power via the Hoover Dam and as such it has become a home to conflict between multiple factions vying for control of the people. When the New California Republic came from the West to try to stabilize the area, they ran into a brand new group of power-hungry slavers from the East trying to seize control for themselves. In addition, Mr. House tries to maintain peace as he can from New Vegas but he needs more to stop the ruthless killing outside his utopia in the wasteland. You are just a lowly courier assigned to bring a package to New Vegas when you are shot in the head and left for dead in a shallow grave. After you are patched up by a local doctor, you take it upon yourself to find your would-be killers and deal with them as you see fit.
Where the story of New Vegas shines is the ability to affect the outcome of the game by choosing factions to support (or none at all). Karma is still in play, but it doesn’t matter as much as faction reputation does. Past the main three factions are numerous smaller factions for towns and groups that affect how they interact with you, including having a town outright attack you when you come by if your reputation is low enough. While this doesn’t replace karma, it should have. If you play only the main quest this may not even register on the radar, but given that the majority of the game is side-quests that pit faction against faction this seems like a major oversight by the developers to punish a gamer for choosing sides, which you eventually have to do anyway.
Anyone who has played Fallout 3 will instinctively feel at home as the gameplay mechanics have not changed much. You can alternate between first-person and third-person perspectives as you fight across the Mojave Desert. You could approach this game as a straight-up shooter, or play it as a mixed RPG by using the VATS function that pauses battle while you choose sections of the enemy body to target based on hit percentages. Die-hard shooting fans will be happy to know that bore-sighting has been added to the FPS mode, while VATS fans will be sad to know that implementing VATS commands doesn’t stop an enemy from attacking you while you shoot them. This last was a fair addition, as in Fallout 3 it just seemed silly that an enemy would stop attacking while you performed your VATS attacks. Small additions like this and the new hardcore mode show the developers’ intent to instill a sense of realism.
Hardcore mode is my new favorite game mechanic that all games should implement if they can. Purely for bragging rights (and an achievement/trophy), hardcore mode completely changes the way you approach the game by putting additional constraints on the player. In addition to the Radiation meter you have to monitor, in hardcore mode you have to look after how hungry, tired and thirsty you are, constantly questioning whether you need to take a nap before tackling that band of outlaws, lest you succumb to the sleepless nights you have been working. The mode causes your ammunition to have a weight that slowly adds up, makes all healing items work over time and requires specific rare items to heal critical damage. Without instant-heals, fighting requires a different approach, so you can’t just rush into an overwhelming fight with plenty of stimpacks. If hardcore mode isn’t for you, you can simply turn it off, but for once a game increases difficulty in a way deeper than raising enemy stats.
Every level you gain, you earn skill points to bolster core skills such as guns, lockpick, barter and more, while every other level you get to choose a perk. Each perk is unique and allows you to truly customize how you play your character. Want to have an increased chance to deal damage with rifles? There’s a perk for that. Want to see enemies explode in a pile of goo? There’s a perk for that too. These choices are especially critical in hardcore mode, where you need all the extra help surviving in the desert.
As well as the game replicates its predecessor, it also picked up some annoyances along the way. This is the glitchiest game I have played in a long time. There are graphical hitches that slow frame rate as you wander the Mojave, and cause ghost dead enemies to flicker in and out. Enemy AI is extremely spotty at times. The new mini-game Caravan randomly doesn’t take over the screen so I can’t see what cards to play. The console freezes up completely. Thankfully the autosave feature is robust enough that I never lost more than ten minutes of data, but still these items should have been vetted before the game hit the market.
As annoying as these bugs were, it still didn’t stop me from reloading a save file and heading back out into the wasteland. New Vegas doesn’t veer too far from its 2008 predecessor, but the original was worth it, and this is worth it too.