Fallout 3 is and was one of my favorite games to come out in the past few years. Taking the open-world sandbox formula of the popular Elder Scrolls series and adapting it to fit an interesting and vibrant universe, Fallout 3 managed to streamline the somewhat clunky gameplay of the Elder Scrolls games and create a flawed, but deeply engrossing and highly addictive First Person Role Playing Game. So, when they announced a sequel, New Vegas, I was understandably pumped. Ready to start another 100+ hour epic journey, I shelled out full price and got my copy. How’s it hold up?
New Vegas was brought to us not by the Fallout 3/Elder Scrolls developers, Bethesda, but rather by Obsidian Entertainment, a company made up of numerous employees from Black Isle Studios, the company that made the first two Fallout games. Exciting news for many, especially since a lot of old-school Fallout fans called foul over numerous formula changes in Fallout 3. The game shows its history–the writing and world-building is top-notch, with varied locations, factions and characters to interact with, all of whom just “fit” the Fallout world, bringing it to life easily. The writing and plot is superior to Fallout 3 in every way. With more missions and a more complicated dialogue system and storyline, New Vegas should have been the game Fallout 3 was trying to be. Key word being should of.
Right off the bat I was immediately not blown away when, after making my character and stepping into the sun for the first time, the game chugged and whirred ominously before blinding me with a burst of sunlight and slowly revealing a desolate desert town. Entering a building, I was not impressed by the large quantities of items, set pieces, character models and props that had been taken wholesale from Fallout 3. Indeed, of the many many locations in this game, maybe a handful of them are actually “new” locations, in the sense that they don’t reuse templates from the previous game. The sense of familiarity pervaded every inch of the game.
New Vegas is quite clearly an expansion pack. Yes, it is a BIG expansion pack (easily on par with FO3 in terms of size) but it is still an expansion pack. Not only did it reuse 90% of the original game’s locations and models, it also brought over all of the original games bugs and glitches–and then proceeded to make its own.
This game is buggy as hell. One of the bigger complaints about FO3 was that it glitched out a lot–and it did–but these glitches very rarely made it difficult to progress or complete the game, and with only a few exceptions the quests and missions played out as they were scripted with no problems. Exploration was not hindered by jaggy environments that grasped your character like a hungry octopus and refused to let go, the game froze infrequently and never twice in the same place, and indeed all of the bugs were at least isolated to locations that you never really HAD to go to. It worked–it functioned.
New Vegas does not function. The frame rate chugs like a spastic child shaking a soda can, exploding into a frothy mess at the slightest push. Where it does not freeze, it chugs. Enemies constantly get caught on the environment, A.I. bugs out, NPCs randomly attack you, and on top of all that, there’s a very distinct “unfinished” feeling to most of the game. Many quests, upon completion, simply END, with almost no visible change in NPC dialogue or behavior. Indeed, had I not known that the game had the series’ trademark “epilogue” structure to its ending, I would feel even more cheated of impact and worth than I did in FO3, which at the very least had characters thank or curse me for my actions towards them.
Every aspect of this game seemed to have a %5o chance of failing, and the fun I had exploring the environment and interacting with characters was curtailed by this ominous dread of something going wrong and forcing me to restart. It gets especially bad towards the end, where it seemed the game just gave up completely, constantly dropping random encounters on my head, freezing when I attempted to fast travel, having characters glitch and bug out, and sending any companions I’d managed to recruit running headlong into the nearest landmine to end their tenure in my employ prematurely.
I made the mistake of playing on Hardcore mode, believing myself to be sufficiently “hardcore”. I like the concept of Hardcore mode a lot–it is, essentially, a packaged version of a mod released for the PC version of FO3 that gave your character hunger, sleep and dehydration meters that had to be regulated by eating food, drinking water, and sleeping. It also makes it a lot harder to heal yourself, as beds no longer magically restore your limbs and health, meaning you’d have to trek to a doctor’s office or carry a lot of stimpacks to keep yourself healthy. Additionally, at least in New Vegas, the enemies hit a lot harder, ammo has weight (which limits how much you can carry) and stat growth is greatly limited. In short, New Vegas is far and above more challenging than FO3, which would be great were it not for the constant glitching that I described above. Instead of making exploration a worthy challenge, the game simply became unbearably frustrating, with even basic encounters managing to tear me apart in new and interesting ways.
In retrospect, I think I would have enjoyed New Vegas far more if I hadn’t chosen Hardcore mode, and that depresses me to no end. Hardcore mode should have been an amazing, in-depth simulation of the harshness of Wasteland life, but “life” in this wasteland is a 2-D facade. The characters start to lose their depth and vibrancy when they continue to putter about, spouting the same few phrases and enduring no change or impact. The shallowness of FO3’s world remains here stronger than ever, exacerbated by the endless strings of glitches and bugs and made frustrating by the ludicrously strong enemies and the more limited means of stat growth and character development.
There is a patch that’s going to be released that is said to fix a lot of the glitches, but fuck that. I buy a game–a CONSOLE game no less–and I expect it to at least function when I put it in. The truth of the matter is, New Vegas is a 60-dollar expansion pack. It’s a very well-written, more detailed one, and that’s what makes it all the worse, because the potential for an amazing game is there. It just falls apart on the coding level. If you have Fallout 3, just replay it, maybe get the generally excellent DLC for it. If you haven’t, go buy the Game of the Year edition, which has all 5 prepackaged. It has its flaws, but at least it is playable. That’s more than I can say for New Vegas, and trust me, I really wish that wasn’t the case.