Quick Review - Fallout New Vegas

When Bethesda released Fallout 3 in the fall of 2008, it was lauded as one of the greatest open-world role-playing games of the time. Now, two years later the juggernaut of a franchise has another addition to its repertoire with Fallout: New Vegas. It appears that Obsidian didn't feel the need to change much about the successful formula, as the similarities to its predecessor are so significant I often want to call it Fallout 3: New Vegas. Since the first game was so widely loved, that's certainly not a bad thing, but New Vegas does feel like a giant, awesome expansion.

The Fallout series takes place after a nuclear war and the U.S. is desecrated, a shell of its former glory. Humanity emerges from the tragedy as selfish and power-hungry as ever. Despite the bombardment of numerous nukes, the city of Vegas managed to survive the war mostly untouched. In the aftermath, a group of people formed touting the values of the old governmental system and called themselves the New California Republic, or NCR. Thanks to the Hoover Dam, the NCR and citizens of New Vegas have access to clean water and power, something most areas lack. At odds with the NCR is the Legion, a dictatorship lead by a man who renamed himself Caesar. Based on the Roman methodology of conquering other civilizations, the Legion absorbs nearby tribes and enslaves a portion of their population. The NCR and Caesar's Legion butt heads over control of the area, and tensions are high.

You're a courier in these troubled times with no defined background. Just a seemingly regular guy or gal, you're tasked with delivering a package to the New Vegas strip, but let's just say complications arise. Though the story provides pops of color and a few necessary minor twists to keep things interesting, it's predictable just the same. There are three possible endings to the main quest, and similar to Fallout 3 at launch, once you complete it you won't be able to continue your journey through the wastelands unless you re-load an old save. This is a bummer, especially since that was a major complaint with Fallout 3 and Bethesda later fixed it with downloadable content.

When you enter the Mojave Desert for the first time you'll notice that the landscape looks similar to the previous wastelands, but now there's actual vegetation around. While most of it is dried up, you can find and harvest fresh fruit, seeds, and herbs, which you can use to whip up concoctions like healing powder or stimpaks. Though the game is still really difficult when you're inexperienced, the main missions lead you along a relatively safe route to the New Vegas strip, where the story starts to get interesting.

At first I enjoyed the fact that each faction you can help seemed to have shades of grey instead of a black or white morality scale – the New California Republic is bloated and ineffective at protecting its people, but the tight ship the Legion runs with slave labor is off-putting. Then I realized you gain Karma for murdering Legion members and lose Karma for killing NCR troops, so the lines weren't so blurred after all. While it's a little disappointing and short, you won't (and shouldn't) be spending most of your time on the primary quest.

Apart from the key story, there's a plethora of side missions to play through and they're what makes the game truly shine. The great thing about the open world of New Vegas is just that – there are few limits to exploration. There's almost an overwhelming amount of places to find and every time you turn around someone will want your help. Just when you think you've explored every nook and cranny of an area, you'll realize that there are underground sewers to brave or some other previously undiscovered sector. Some quests are short and of the "go fetch" variety, while others are truly epic tales that overshadow the chief storyline. Deception, cannibalism, space travel and drug use are all themes found in off-the-straight-and-narrow places. Expect to spend approximately 100 hours (around the same as Fallout 3) if you want to see and complete every mission available in the game. Depending on how you treat people, their opinion of you will change. If you're kind to a small town of folks and help protect them from hostile groups, they'll idolize you, while the opposing group will hate you. These opinions are important as they'll determine how aggressive the different groups are toward you.

The wasteland can be a lonely place, but you don't have to wander alone. There are several companions that will join you on your quest and will have issues of their own they'll want you to help with. You can be accompanied by two different friends at a time, one of the robot or animal variety and one person (or former person). Each companion offers a special boost and their kills give you experience points, but they can also be more trouble than they're worth. I lost track of mine constantly, and there's no easy way to hunt them down. Even more irritating is their terrible A.I. Although you can easily hop a three-foot-tall fence, your buddies have to go the long way around until they find a direct opening. Still, despite their obvious flaws, it's nice having others around while you fix the world's many problems.

If your relatively silent pals don't comfort you enough, you can also tune into radio stations with Mr. New Vegas as the prime DJ, voiced by Wayne Newton. He's much less irritating than Three-Dog from Fallout 3, but the songs and stories still repeat often, meaning you won't want to be tuned in for the entirety of your playthrough.