Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fallout: New Vegas

Post-Launch Review
Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment / Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: October 19th 2010

New Vegas is related to Fallout 3, but isn't a direct sequel or prequel, nor is it an expansion pack — it's a full game; a near-contemporaneous and independent look (four years later) at another part of the same world at the same time. Gameplay is just about identical: first-person shooter/roleplaying hybrid with a deep customization system.
It's the year 2281, 204 years after the Great War of 2077, during which the entire world was devastated by nuclear weaponry. Las Vegas managed not to be directly hit by a nuclear strike, so most of its buildings and infrastructure remain intact, and its population unmutated. You are a courier sent to deliver a package, intercepted and shot in the head by a casino owner, and revived by a robot and a kind doctor. In your attempt to recover the package the courier quickly gets caught up in the power struggle between three major factions and many smaller tribes competing for control of the Hoover Dam and its associated power generation and uncontaminated water.

At Launch
Fallout New Vegas received positive review scores, averaging around 84% across all platforms. Reviewers loved the expansion and improvement of Fallout 3's gameplay and mechanics, as well as the very large, very diverse open world. The game's huge number of glitches and bugs was heavily criticized, as was the relatively poor facial animation. Many users reported frequent crashes and game-breaking bugs that made it impossible to turn in quests or progress in the game, as well as many more minor graphical issues. Overall, though, most reviewers agreed that the game's good points far outweighed the bad.
The Courier's Stash item pack was awarded to players who had pre-ordered the game.
Post-Launch? See what I did there?
Post Launch
Bethesda and Obsidian quickly released a major patch only a week after launch, fixing over 200 quest and scripting issues. Subsequent patches were released in December 2010 as well as February, April, and July 2011.
Four major $10 DLC packs were released, each featuring a new self-contained story arc as well as an increased level cap and new items: Dead Money, Honest Hearts, Old World Blues, and Lonesome Road. The Courier's Stash preorder bonus was made available to all players for $2, and a new item pack — the Gun Runner's Arsenal — was released for $4.
A Game of the Year edition featuring all DLC packs has not been announced, but is widely expected.

The Good
Fallout 3, but Better
Fallout 3's mechanics worked out very well. New Vegas refines and expands upon the same mechanics, meaning if you liked how Fallout 3 played, you'll like how New Vegas plays even better.
One improvement was a decreased emphasis on the tie between gun skills and accuracy — right from the get-go, long-range scoped rifles that you expect to be accurate really ARE accurate.
Notably, New Vegas contains a Hardcore difficulty, in which ammo has weight, medical items heal over time instead of instantly and cannot fix crippled limbs, and the player has to account for food, drink, regular sleep cycles in order to survive. I didn't bother with this difficulty — it's scarily realistic for me. I'll stick with normal, thank you very much (although I do have a friend who always plays the hard difficulties, and he tells me that Hardcore sounds a lot worse than it is).

There are a ton of different factions in New Vegas. There are three major ones — the New California Republic, Caesar's Legion, and Mr. House — who are all attempting to control Hoover Dam and the Mojave. There are also a ton of minor factions, ranging from bandits to gangs to simple townsfolk. Each of the factions has enough development and backstory to make them feel distinct, which is nice. Also, helping one faction also has a negative effect on your standing with another — for example, helping the Powder Gangers (a group of escaped convicts) will negatively impact your reputation with the neighbouring towns that the Gangers raid.
My favourite faction was a relatively minor one called the Kings. When I first met them I thought they looked like suspicious greasers, but their true origins soon became apparent. When they came to Vegas they found an abandoned Elvis impersonation school. The surviving records named him only as “the King”. The gang thought that this King was the epitome of cool, and modelled their appearance and philosophy after him. So it turns out they're actually just a bunch of decent guys who think Elvis is a pretty cool dude.

One thing that struck me right from the beginning which I really appreciate is the greater presence of colour in the world. Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland is pretty gray and bleak. The Mojave Wasteland, while still being sparsely populated, is warmly coloured with the orange and sandy tones of rock and dust, the blue of the clear sky, and dots of green cacti.

DLC Missions
Each of the four DLC packs is expansive and introduces a substantial amount of new content. Here are a few brief, spoiler-free points on each one:
Dead Money's Sierra Madre Casino
Dead Money: some very cool new game mechanics that only affect this mission. Creepy setting. Kind of monotonous overall, but good.
The Utah landscape
Honest Hearts: set in Utah, we get some craggy landscape that's a lot more vertical and rugged. A few moderately stereotypical characters but nothing too over-the-top.
Old World Blues' homicidal toaster. If this is too small, click here.
Old World Blues: in my opinion the best of the bunch. Darkly hilarious, hints of Portal inspiration, a lot of cool new toys to play with, and a couple of neat little twists.
The shattered landscape of the Divide.
Lonesome Road: much more linear than the others — pretty much just go from A to B — but oppressively lonesome and more challenging than most of the game content. Some neat revelations and philosophy involved, plus many very large explosions.
The two weapon packs are less involved — Courier's Stash just gives you a bit of extra gear when you start the game, so there's nothing interesting there. The Gun Runner's Arsenal adds a lot more through the game's merchants, but more significantly, it adds some crafting recipes, achievements, and new challenges, which are a more welcome addition than just a couple of guns.

Unlike Fallout 3, the Steam version of New Vegas has Steamworks integration, meaning achievements and cloud saving. It's a little thing, but it's nice to have.

The Bad
Buggy, Still
Just like Fallout 3, New Vegas is awfully buggy. There were two major issues for me. The first was a crash bug which would happen at random times for no apparent reason. It could be in the middle of combat, it could be when moving to a new area, whatever. It didn't seem consistent in any way. The second was a bit weirder, and I only noticed it in the Lonesome Road DLC — when in VATS targeting, my character would frequently refuse to fire, or wait a good ten seconds to do so, all the while being shot up by enemies. Frustrating.
It's easy to say that with such a big game it's inevitable that some bugs will slip through. But the thing is, not only are other similarly-sized games free of these major game-breaking issues, the game has received multiple major bugfix patches over a full year, and the worst bugs are still there. Frankly it's inexcusable and the only real complaint I have with the game.

The Verdict
Recommendation: play it.
If you liked Fallout 3, I can guarantee you'll like New Vegas. If you didn't like Fallout 3, it might still be worth a shot for the improvements and completely new setting to explore. It solved (almost) every problem I had with Fallout 3. You might want to wait for a sale or a Game of the Year though — the game is only $20 on Steam, but the four DLC packs are $10 each, which means for all the content you're paying $60, or the same price as a brand-new (and likely less buggy) game. If you can put up with random crashes, you'll have a great time.

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