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4.08.2012

Fallout: New Vegas Review

Fallout: New Vegas? Didn't that come out like over a year ago? Why yes it did. Why did I wait until now to review it?

Well, much like I waited to review Crysis 2 until the DX11 patch was out, I waited to review New Vegas until the last of the planned DLC were out. Then I left this review unfinished for six months. Yeah... I do that sort of thing all too often. I have half-finished reviews of Arkham City and Skyrim I need to finish off too.

Anyhow, since all four DLC are out for New Vegas I feel like I can review the game in full. So, I guess this is effectively a "game of the year" edition review.




I freaking love Fallout 3. I can't believe it's been four years already since my first step into the incredible Fallout Universe. When I heard that I wouldn't have that long to wait for a new Fallout game I got psyched, naturally. The new standalone game titled FalloutNew Vegas, was developed by Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian seem to be the masters of producing sequels to games that other companies made successful. They've done it before with Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. Better still: some of the top people at Obsidian were former employee's of Interplay's Black Isle Studios - the original developer of Fallout. The planets seemed aligned for a good game.


Fallout: New Vegas

Built on the same engine using many of the same materials as Fallout 3, it would be a mistake to treat it like a whole separate entity on the technical side. It's the same mutant-shooting, quest-solving, war-never-changing fun as the previous game.

The appeal of New Vegas isn't that it's an entirely new, fresh experience. Roger Ebert once wrote of the Indiana Jones franchise: "If you eat four pounds of sausage, how do you choose which pound tasted the best? Well, the first one, of course, and then there's a steady drop-off of interest." The same thing might be said of New Vegas.

Fortunately the story is entirely new. The main quest line in New Vegas is, for the most part, fairly linear with a couple different occasions where it branches out giving you a few options. These forks in the road revolve around the game's most surprisingly impactful new gameplay feature: reputation.

Faction reputation practically replaces Fallout's "karma" morality system. Although karma is still present, it hardly matters. Now your actions, in addition to giving you good or bad karma, will give you positive or negative reputation with particular factions in the game. And there's no way to make everybody happy. This gives more weight and moral ambiguity to your choices rather than having the game instantly deem them "good" or "evil."

Reputation is highlighted well by the main storyline which centers on a clash of two post-apocalyptic nations: the New California Republic and Caesar's Legion. I found these factions to be more interesting than the Brotherhood of Steel and Enclave from Fallout 3 mostly because they're a lot more distinct. The Brotherhood and Enclave felt like mirror images of one another. They're all guys in big metal suits. One side was good; one was evil. Their similarities made sense given that both factions were derived from the remnants of the U.S. government and military. Still, the new factions are more immediately interesting and distinct.

There's still a very clear good/evil distinction (at least for most players) with New Vegas's factions. The NCR is the echo of the United States attempting to bring order and democracy to the Waste even if there's a little corruption and inefficiency here and there. Caesar's Legion is (unsurprisingly) modeled after the Roman Empire complete with their own Caesar. Their dialogue is peppered with Latin phrases, they dress like Roman soldiers, have Roman names, and they crucify people. Yes, really. It's kinda weird and unsettling to see that at first even in the nasty, mean world of Fallout.

Then there's the titular city of New Vegas which is the only known major city in the Fallout Universe to have remained largely in tact after the Great War. There's an interesting reason for this and why the city has power. Most of the game's surprises come from this part of the main quest line so I won't spoil anything here.

I feel that there's not quite as much to see in the Mojave Wasteland as there was in the Capital Wasteland. Maybe that's because of shorter development time, maybe it's because there wasn't as much there to begin with, or maybe it's just because I played Fallout 3 first.

The ending isn't as strong as Fallout 3's (though may people were not fans of that ending either.) Normally weak endings really hurt games for me especially RPGs which claim to emphasize story. But Bethesda's strength both with Fallout and The Elder Scrolls isn't storytelling, but creating a free-roaming world to inhabit. Generally speaking these strengths and weaknesses are continued by Obsidian in New Vegas.

The DLC

I have a mixed feelings on DLC. On the one hand, I believe (along with a lot of gamers) that day-one DLC is next to Satanic. One the other hand, done correctly, it's a fantastic way for developers to extend the experience of their game adding new information and gameplay elements. Y'know, like expansion packs from back in the day. I miss those.

Actually, I rarely care about DLC at all. Since most of it seems to be comprised of lame map packs, additional weapons, or silly cosmetic changes (such as Oblivion's infamous horse armor pack) I tend not to buy it. I have to be really invested in your game to do that. But you know what I will pay for? Additional story.

Turns out I am enough enamored by the Fallout Universe that I played all the Fallout 3 DLC. And that's really rare for me. While I enjoyed those expansions (particularly Broken Steel) they were certainly a mixed bag when it came to story.

How did Obsidian fare?

Well they tried something very interesting, I thought. With the New Vegas DLC they told four independent, but loosely connected stories. Each one can be played completely separately from the others, but I feel that they were intended to be played in release order leading up to the final DLC Lonesome Road.

Dead Money

I hear people don't really like Dead Money. I'm not really sure why. So I'm sure I'm in the minority when I say that Dead Money was creative, interesting and the most memorable of the bunch. It's kinda disappointing that they came right out of the game with the best one.

Dead Money's plot involves robbing the Sierra Madre Casino - a relic of the Old World which didn't get the chance to hold its grand opening before the bombs fell. The characters you meet along the way are pretty  interesting particularly a ghoul who was meant to perform at the opening and has stuck around ever since. The quests have you navigating the dangers of the casino's still operable security systems and the greedy intentions of the other characters. It's great.

Dead Money is far more linear and less exploration oriented. There really aren't any places that aren't vital to the main questline. Maybe that's why people didn't like it? I played for story and I felt I got a pretty good one. Best of all it had great endings. I loved it.

Honest Hearts

This was probably the second-best DLC of the lot. The highlight of the story is that you get to meet Joshua Graham a very, very fascinating character mentioned in the main game. He is quite unlike any other character I've encountered in the Fallout Universe before or since.

The story gives us insight into a region we've never seen before. We get some background on some pretty significant elements from the main game like Caesar's Legion and the Great Khans. It's also more open and exploration-oriented. There are definitely some nice vistas in this one since you travel to a part of the earth that isn't completely barren. And there's rain too.

Old World Blues

I liked mainly one thing about Old World Blues and that was "World of Tomorrow" style map it takes place in. Some of those buildings are pretty friggin' cool.

A lot of people seemed to like this one. Why? 'cause it's funny. Or at least it's supposed to be. Honestly, I thought they were trying way too hard to be funny. Maybe it was because I played this a mere few months after Portal 2 and comparing any other game to the writing of Portal is kind of unfair.

I found the plot to be incomprehensible and nonsensical. I think that was by design, but it still lost me.

I realize the original Fallout games had tongue-in-cheek elements from time to time and that many people thought this was lost in Fallout 3. Probably so. I could never slog through the first two games myself. I don't mind a little humor in my Fallout, but this was too much. Fallout should be funny because it's satirical. A floating brain-in-a-jar robot is funny all by itself. It doesn't need over-the-top ridiculous dialogue with it.

But that's really just a personal preference thing. I guess there's really nothing wrong with the DLC.

Lonesome Road

Finally! This is it. The one we've been waiting for.

Each DLC before has been building up to this one. At the end they always mention some kind of epic clash to take place in the future. Armies. Flags. Someplace called the Divide. Woah. Sounds pretty awesome.

And a few hours later I had finished. Disappointing. Massively disappointing.

I can appreciate the challenge Obsidian faced. They had to write four stories independent of each other and the main storyline without knowing what order the player would go through the DLCs in or what kind of character they were playing. That's tough. All they had to work with was what backstory the player character was given before New Vegas starts.

So it's like this: you are a courier. This DLC is about another courier who almost took your place at the beginning of New Vegas. He would have been the one shot and left for dead instead of you, but for some reason he passed on the delivery. And now apparently he's out to screw you for some reason.

So there's lots of interesting potential to learn the backstory between your character and this other courier, but Lonesome Road squanders it. There are a few memorable sequences, but mostly Lonesome Road lives up to its name. It's incredibly linear and there aren't any characters except for the other courier nemesis guy at the end. I know they were trying to make you feel like you're on a solitary journey but characters are primarily what make the other DLCs interesting.

The "Lonesome" part would be fine if the final confrontation were satisfying, but sadly it isn't. We don't really know this guy other than him being lightly mentioned elsewhere. He's not an especially hateable antagonist nor is his motive very interesting because it relies on a past action your character made before the game starts. You didn't pick it. Consequently, this guy being all ticked off at you feels like someone else's problem and not a personal choice come back to haunt you.


I'd say pick up New Vegas if you like Bethesda style RPG games or if you liked Fallout 3. By now it's much cheaper and you'll get a great bang for your buck. Pass on the DLC expect maybe Dead Money and Honest Hearts. But that's just my opinion.

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