So I opened the Steam home page this week and was greeted by “Code Vein” which prominently featured an anime girl wearing a Ushanka on the cover so I decided it was time for a retro review. Also I’m short on cash and my bank account needs a respite from my liberal video game purchasing policies. But what to review? I thought to myself as I listened to Marty Robbins “Big Iron,” sipping hot chocolate from my Vault 21 mug whilst snuggled in my New California Republic hoodie. Ah yes, “Fallout: New Vegas” a game of which I have 24 full playthroughs of including all the downloadable content (DLC), and easily among my top five games of all time. Let it not be said, as I stare at my full sized Brotherhood of Steel flag hanging on the wall in my room, that I am not a “Fallout” fanboy.
Aside from the one we don’t talk about, each one fits their part of the niche nicely. The original “Fallout” was an instant classic, a '50s style post-nuclear technopunk romp through a destroyed California that introduced players to the world and sold itself on depth and atmosphere. “Fallout 2” expanded on everything, with a more focused story centered on interesting characters and factions, widened the scope of the world and overall added more breadth to the story. It held the niche of themes on the dying American spirit as titans of old set about reclaiming the new world birthed in the ruin of what once was. “Fallout 3” brought the series from a tightly knit isometric 2-D turn based role-playing game (RPG) to the 3-D open world first-person shooter (FPS) RPG series we know it as today. While unfortunately the characters, story, and depth all suffered; people often forget the amount of content now considered iconic to the series that started in “Fallout 3.” The East Coast Brotherhood, the designs for laser and plasma rifles, T-45D power armor, Vault-Tec lunchboxes, the Fat Man launcher, the Pip-Boy 3000, Vault-Boy bobbleheads, Liberty Prime, Nuka Cola, the Vaults being secret social experiments, and even fleshing out the conflict between the U.S. and People's Republic of China before the Great War. Finally, “Fallout 4” has the quintessential Bostonian charm and the conflict over the Institute's synthetic humans.
But amongst all these, it is likely “Fallout: New Vegas” that sticks out the most to people, that western techno-cowboy adventure through the Mojave wasteland. How did it manage to do this, especially with the impressive record of games it had to share the light of comparison with? Notoriously, Obsidian Entertainment was only given 18 months to make the game. And yet many people preferred it to Bethesda’s “Fallout 3” which took more than four years to develop. Well a big part of the reason the game turned out so well was that Bethesda had already laid the groundwork for them. “Fallout: New Vegas” runs on the same engine as “Fallout: 3,” something clear to anyone who has played both games, and used many of the assets from “Fallout 3” as a basework to build the rest of the game around. Many of the mechanics and gameplay systems also carry over from “Fallout 3,” with added improvements and refinement of core features. All this allowed Obsidian to instead focus on the story, characters, setting, factions, locations, and other such things that players tend to care about more. In addition, Obsidian used many ideas from Interplay Studios, the now defunct company behind the original two “Fallout” games, and their cancelled plans for a third game in the series codenamed “Van Buren.” Interplay studios are some of the most unparalleled masters of storytelling in video games, with the first two “Fallout” games being powerhouses of early video game stories with some of the most enduring and solid narrative in games to date. “New Vegas” also takes advantage of this, set in the American West with much of the setting and story carrying over from the first two games, allowing it to settle in a cushy launching pad from which to jump off of. In essence, Obsidian used the best of two other companies combined with their own brilliance, refined and polished it all to a mirror shine, mixed it all together and created one of the most wholly enrapturing video game experiences one could ever have.
From the outset, “New Vegas” nails its pacing. This is one of the strongest aspects it has in regards to its story. The intro gives hints to a larger conflict in the Mojave wasteland, of the battle over the energy rich Hoover Dam between New California Republic (NCR), a fledgling post-nuclear democratic nation, and Caesar’s Legion, a conquering force of 88 assimilated tribes modeled after the Roman Empire; before honing into a focus on you. You are a courier, dubbed "courier six," sent to deliver a mysterious package to the city of New Vegas before you are intercepted by a man named Benny who steals the package, shoots you, and leaves you for dead. The game then starts with the player waking up in the town of Goodsprings, the local doctor having healed the cranial gunshot wound. You make your character, decide their stats, skills, and are then given a “psychological evaluation” by the doctor, answering a series of questions pertaining to your characters psyche and morality. Immediately, this helps get the player invested in their character. Deciding stats and allocating skills helps you get a picture for your character, what you want them to be like, and where you picture your character ending up, be it a master marksman or a respected chef. None of that is unique to New Vegas, but the psychological evaluation is. It helps to start getting the player thinking about the personality of their character, analyzing their likes, dislikes, moral compass, values, etc. Stats and skills pertain equally as to how one pictures their character just as to how one hopes to mold their playstyle. This psychological evaluation starts getting players thinking about how they want to mold the personality of their character. It helps players get invested in the character they’re creating, and subsequently helps them become more invested in the world they’re about to enter.
The player exits the doctor’s house and begins looks around Goodsprings, a humble little western town with a tight knit population and a local saloon the player is pointed towards. You do some quests around Goodsprings for a while, helping clear out a gecko infestation, fix the radio, play a couple rounds of cards. You can also ask around to find out more about the Mojave as a whole, getting bits and pieces about the NCR and Legion. Eventually you get looped into a conflict between the town and a gang of escaped convicts, which leads to a good old fashioned frontier town shootout no matter which side you choose. From there the player follows a trail of clues in pursuit of Benny, being led from location to location each with its own quests, characters, and larger purpose. In Primm you learn more about the job you took, at Mojave Outpost you learn about the caravans and life in the Mojave; in Nipton you are given a dire first look at the Legion, as you find the town burnt to the ground and its residents strung up on crosses. The game also does a great job of corralling the player along a certain path without locking them too it. Should a player leaving Goodsprings instead opt to go north they will be met by cazadors, giant killer flies that prove a problem even late game. Later once you get to the town of Novac and Helios One the players path is impeded by a deathclaw infestation at quarry junction to the north, instead leading the player on a path that takes them around to Boulder City where the player learns more about the first battle for Hoover Dam. None of this is set in stone however, it is perfectly possible to sneak through patrols of deathclaws on the road through quarry junction and make a beeline for New Vegas, or to circumnavigate the Cazador’s detection radius to reach Red Rock Canyon and meet the Great Khans. It gives the player a set path they can stick to without forcing anything upon them, and often following the set path is the best option because of the careful placement of story pieces the player stumbles upon that helps slowly build a larger narrative.
Once the player reaches New Vegas the story finally blooms, opening up to all the threads that had been hinted at prior as you find yourself as a major player in the conflicts to come in the Mojave wasteland. The game also does a great job with its implementation of the factions system, whereby each of the factions in the game regards the player differently depending on their actions. It allows for a more reactive world where the player truly feels that they are a part of it, as well as allowing for more replayability when it comes to subsequent runs with different faction alignments. Each of the factions are interesting with compelling characters and different rewards and quests for the player to indulge in, and all of them connect to one another as well as the world as a whole. It makes for a very intertwined open world that feels adaptive to the players actions, where nothing exists in isolation. The game also makes many different themes and genres work together, with the whole post-"nuclear cowboy affair mixed with the gambling and drinking of the strip and the political struggle centering the Hoover Dam. And complimenting the roleplaying elements the dialogue system is one of the best ever done, offering ample opportunity to respond as you see fit for your character. On top of that, the game uses speech checks for all of your stats, allowing you to give special responses to characters if you have high enough in a given skill, yielding different responses, quest paths, and outcomes that help the player further identify with the character their building, making it feel like your character is more attuned to what you intended for them.
“New Vegas” also boasts one of the most impressive DLC lineups of any game ever, if not the outright best. “Dead Money,” the first and arguably the weakest of the bunch, while having some rather annoying mechanics, centers around a fine group of characters that you slowly learn more about in a rich, dense atmosphere unique to it. “Honest Hearts” took the player to the Zion Canyon in Utah where the player gets to learn more about the Legion in both its past and present conquests. But the final two, “Old World Blues” and “Lonesome Road” are two of the best in gaming history. “Old World Blues” is a comedic, more “wild wasteland” approach to the game, but pervaded by an actual and really well written story that puts all the comedic nonsense into a comprehensive weave with the stories of the Mojave. “Lonesome Road” was notable in being the final DLC, as it had been hinted at since the base game, with progressively more clues building up to it in each DLC. Ulysses, the principal antagonist of the story, is one of my favorite “Fallout” characters and provides some of the most well rounded context and history as to the stories and conflicts of the Mojave.
“New Vegas” is one of the most well rounded, expertly crafted games of the modern era and something I strongly encourage everyone to experience at some point. Sure, not everyone will like it, but the same can be said of any game. In the end, games are a purely subjective medium, no matter how much I rant about what's objectively good or bad. “New Vegas” manages to draw genius from a great number of sources and put them together into a bundle that leaves little to be desired other than more.
Final Score: 10/10, I almost feel guilty putting in a final score since pretty much the whole point of this review is to blab about how good "New Vegas" is and how you should play it right now. But it really is that good, and it may lead you into growing an appreciation for the series as a whole, for what is one of my favorite game series of all time.