New Fallout, New Vegas
So here we are at long last, Bethesda has finally released the long-awaited next Fallout game in this post-apocalyptic franchise. Handing the reins to Obsidian was a very big gamble since the reception for their last game; Alpha Protocol was lukewarm at best. Has Obsidian redeemed themselves then - the short answer is yes, the long answer is a bit more complicated. There are bugs and glitches that are prevalent in the engine still even with a patch.
Fallout New Vegas takes place in a new area of the Wasteland and right away it kicks off to an interesting start. Captured, nearly murdered, your character wakes with no idea of who he is or why he's out there. Slowly they piece together information and set off to find answers. I don't want to spoil the story, but I actually prefer this one to Fallout 3 in terms of both narrative pace and style.
If you've played Fallout 3 then you're going to be right at home with the mix of old features, like VATS and new features like the Companion Wheel, Workbenches, Reloading Benches, campfires and weapon mods. The former give you a way to break down certain items and make new ones, along with new weapon upgrades and so on, whilst the latter allow you to mix poultices, powders and other effective medicines. Weapon mods do just that; modify your weapon in some way. I found a sweet night ops scope for my Varmint Rifle, turning it into a credible sniper weapon for example.
You can play the game as a first or third person tactical shooter via VATS or as a straight out shooter. VATS if you don't know what that is, well, it's a fancy name for a pause activated RPG based system that lets you shoot at a target's limbs or body parts, working out if you can hit based on a variety of hidden dice rolls and so on. You get bonuses and penalties just like in a tabletop RPG allowing for distance, line of sight and even type of weapon.
You can spend VATS Action Points to mark target locations, multi-targets and once you're done, let the game work it all out. You can get some sweet kills this way and you're often rewarded with a cut-scene animation of your attack even if it hits or misses.
Fallout 3 and New Vegas are basically hybrid shooter/RPGs and they do a good job at mixing both. You have the SPECIAL stats, which stand for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. You have a number of points you pop into these as you generate your character, done here in a very nifty way indeed that's part of the story I won't spoil. You have the same deal with some skills and you can tag three of them to be your specialist skills, ones that get boosted by a large amount at chargen.
You also have various Perks, here in New Vegas you get to choose 2 interesting character Perks at the beginning that you won't see again, so pick wisely. Once you earn enough XP from doing quests and killing things, you'll level up and you can assign skill points and every other level, you can assign a Perk...these are just as fun as Fallout 3's Perks and many of them have returned, along with some new ones that are pretty cool.
You have a variety of shops and services, where you can barter and pay for goods. Of course things like weapons and armour degrade over time and use, so you best be able to pay for repair or do it yourself. Or you might find that your gun breaks at a most annoying time, like right as you get swarmed by angry Gekos out for blood. The key to the game is effective management of your resources and of course, exploration. You're not tied down to the core story; you can take on side quests and explore the whole of the massive Wasteland to your heart's content.
I endorse this particular pastime since you can find some very cool loot indeed hiding away out there.
You'll be able to find companions later on; you can control them through the new Companion Wheel, an interface that makes ordering them a lot better this time. You can tell them to use healing items or attack enemies, hold fire or hang back and so on plus more commands. It's a good feature and well implemented. There's the usual dialogue system back from Fallout 3 and it has a few tweaks, some extra options become available when you have the right perks and you won't be able to succeed unless you have the correct skill and number in the brackets.
So if you see something with Speech 25, you need that in your skill before you can even have a hope in hell of making it.
Apart from these new mechanics it is pretty much the same game as Fallout 3, only a lot better in terms of game mechanics and systems - fast travel is back, so is sleeping to regain health or pass time.
Lastly since it's such a mammoth game and there's way too much to detail, some of it would spoil the story too, there's Hardcore Mode a new mode where ammo has weight, you need to sleep, eat and drink and healing items only restore health over time. Basically it's a layer of extra realism on top of the already grungy, post-apocalyptic cake. Hardcore Mode is a fantastic new addition to the game and there's a reward for anyone who plays the whole of NV from start to end with the mode active.
New Vegas is a league away from its predecessor with a much better palette, a greater diversity of environments. The graphics engine has been tweaked a little and delivers a better experience all-round. There are some higher textures for many of the exterior environments and interiors as well as the characters themselves. They look better than their Fo3 counterparts and whilst there aren't as many NPC's as in Fo3, it doesn't matter since they all have a better sense of individual personality. The day/night cycle and the lighting effects in the Wasteland are the King of the Castle here with excellent transitions and some truly moody design.
It all combines to bring to life the post-apocalyptic world with a gritty (somewhat forlorn) and desolate atmosphere.
The animations seem to have remained unchanged from Fallout 3, perhaps appearing somewhat smoother this time around and more fluid. King again is the excellent reactions from characters and enemies struck by critical shots and so on in VATS. You can get some truly vicious cinematic moments and takedowns, which are pretty slick if you like that kind of thing.
On the whole the physics works pretty well, enemies are thrown around or blown to bouncing bits...by explosions. It ties in nicely to the animations via VATS or first person combat and works well now in melee to lend a real feeling of weight to hand weapon based battles.
A mixed bag, there are some pathing issues with companions still and even some of the enemies get stuck on the scenery. It's passable but needs a lot of fixing to truly shine.
The sound is very atmospheric and very spooky at times, especially when travelling at night in the game. It has a good mix of spot and ambient effects, along with weapon sounds and the various screams of agony for the bad guys.
The music boasts fully licensed tracks from artists like: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Along with a score that compliments the in-game action and exploration perfectly, with a far more desolate feel to it along with a little bit of a Wild West vibe. It's the perfect soundtrack for the game and brings to life the Wasteland as you move around, both unexpected and eerie at times.
Voice & Dialogue
On the whole the voice work is solid in the game, the characters don't sound cookie-cutter as they did in Fallout 3 and they certainly have a more believable personality. One of my favourites so far is definitely Sunny Smiles. The VO artists deliver their lines with a good deal of polish this time around. It's nice to hear the gravely tones of Ron Pearlman deliver his: War never changes speech.
The writing/dialogue is actually pretty good too, it doesn't have the same feel as Fallout 3 and the story in general is better.
There are some game breakers, or there were, it seems that the patch has actually managed to fix lock-ups in the wait/sleep screen, as well as numerous other little bugs. Still I discovered a few minor ones as I witnessed a key NPC floating through the ceiling suspended between floors, requiring my character to leap on a table to talk to him. I've also seen characters standing inside objects like the bar in the Goodsprings Saloon.
Before the patch it locked up a couple of times and there were some dialogue/animation bugs. Worth remembering if you can't get an update, if you're not on Live for instance.
Quite a Gamble
Regardless of the little bugs and glitches, this is a better game than 3 due to the atmosphere, attention to detail and the amount of fun you can have. I would also dare to say that this is a far more direct sequel to Fallout and Fallout 2 than 3 was...and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment. There's a lot to do in this game and there's a lot of hidden content if you can find it...
It deserves a high score even when you encounter the odd little glitch, because it truly is a good quality gaming experience that's bound to keep you coming back to the Wasteland for more and more. With promised DLC on the way (for the 360) the future looks bright for the Vegas Strip and I can't wait to get back out there.
See you in the Wasteland amigos!