We live in a strange world where some of the premier minds behind a franchise have no say over its direction. When you can buy and sell the rights to a franchise, the name becomes worth more than the product itself. The right name can move far more units than any technical innovation, no matter who owns it.
Fallout is a series that has fallen into this scenario. Fallout 3 was, some have said, a very un-Fallout game. Those people will be glad to hear, then, that New Vegas is very much the opposite.
New Vegas is built off the Fallout 3 technology, so don’t expect any engine related issues you may have had to be rectified. The people are still plastic mannequins with no emotion, for instance, but with the exception of the very bare bones of the game, New Vegas is greatly improved on every front that matters.
The changes made by Obsidian open doors that Bethesda initially left closed, broadening the roleplay aspect of the game. The stats you choose have greater use than previously, for instance, factoring into combat or other decisions. Certain quests can be made easier if you are a smooth talker for example, or perhaps skipped altogether if you are willing to get a little flirtatious with the right person. Or perhaps you can find a way through that locked door that doesn’t require killing every super mutant around for the key. Pick the lock? Maybe. Maybe you’d prefer to use your demolition skill and cobble together a serviceable detonator for that abandoned explosive stick to the frame in the pre-War days.
These changes are backed up by a further expansion of the perks system, offering even more bonuses, complete with some negatives to balance them out. Fallout 3 had a good choice but, like with the armour and weapon selections, it was very clear what skills the designers would have preferred you to take. New Vegas does away with that, every skill and perk becoming useful depending on your play style. For the likes of you who enjoy mixing up their character builds, the options presented by Obsidian in this outing certainly do that.
The mechanics, then, are a nod towards the older games, and the setting completes this gesture with a wry grin and a cheeky wink. Fallout 3 had a competent story – and that’s being generous – but compared to New Vegas it looks like fan fiction. The Mojave Wasteland, the vast desert that serves as the backdrop for the game, contains callbacks to the previous games that go beyond a simple name check.
Fallout 3 had factions called The Enclave or The Brotherhood of Steel, it had super mutants and underground vaults, but they never seemed quite in keeping with the tone of their predecessors as defined in the previous games. The treatment of the Brotherhood is a good example here. Bear in mind that my knowledge of the first two games is largely gained indirectly – other players and wikis and the like, though I have played a good 90% of the first game – but even I was aware that Fallout 3 had gone wrong with their Brotherhood of Steel.
For those who had entered the series on Fallout 3, it is important to point out that the benevolent Brotherhood of that game are not in keeping with their previous portrayals. This is not to say that it is wrong for them to act this way, but it did feel forced, as though Bethesda felt they needed a goodie goodie force of white knights in the capital wasteland. New Vegas keeps them tied to the same Brotherhood of the old games, a technocentric organisation that is both indifferent and a little hostile to outsiders. They’re not evil, but they’re not exactly good either. They’re grey, and it is this realisation that really hammers home New Vegas’ world.
Very little is black and white in the world of New Vegas. There are a few obviously good or blatantly evil choices, but for the most part every option has a negative or two to balance out its positives. It’s not a world of angels and demons, it’s a world of people trying to survive, and sometimes good people make bad choices. Case in point: you start the game by taking a bullet in the head from a guy in a pretty sweet suit. He’s flanked by a cadre of bodyguards from a local tribe called the Great Khans. They’re mercenaries for hire, and live in a similar fashion to their ancient namesakes. You would be forgiven, then, for collating their part in your near-death with their barbarian lifestyle and assuming they’re a group of baddies. But then you can, if you so choose, go to their camp. They’re not the friendliest of people, sure, but they’re not openly hostile. And while there’s not a great variety of character models, there is a variety in characters.
What this boils down to, really, is that New Vegas feels like it works as a slice of the post-apocalypse. There is a degree of interaction with the world beyond the borders of the game that lends a little more credence to the setting, and the call backs to previous games – both in mechanics and in story – that makes you feel as though you are part of a coherent history. Fallout 3, for everything it did right in my eyes, felt very much like an enclosed bubble of time, a self-perpetuating time loop.
Oddly, it took New Vegas and it’s easily noticeable regard for the past games to provide legitimacy to Fallout 3. It creates a stark contrast of societies with the New California Republic and the ruins of DC, detailing how a country as vast as the United States would rebuild at varying speeds in differing localities. The NCR is, for the most part, a government with all the trappings, from the bureaucracy to the military. It is 19th century America again, nominal control and decentralised authority. DC is still tribal, with no overarching authority truly present, the Enclave preferring propaganda to perception.
Before New Vegas, Fallout 3’s connection to its predecessors was ill-defined. Every claim of it being canonical was undermined by it just not feeling right, the identifiable points of connection being present but malformed, and the game suffered for this. New Vegas is a good example of not fixing what isn’t broken, and there was certainly nothing broken with the West Coast setting.
Ultimately, if you got on well with Fallout 3, New Vegas will be something you can get your teeth into. What changes there are to the mechanics are easy enough to pick up, and it’s similar enough that the learning curve is largely minimal. Old school Fallout veterans, however, do not be discouraged if Fallout 3 happened to be your berserk button, give New Vegas a chance. Obsidian may not be the best when it comes to tidy coding – and New Vegas has its share of odd bugs, though none that have broken the game in my experience – but they know how to build a world and a story.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the game Fallout 3 should have been.