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The Pale Courier with a Fistful of Bottle Caps: Fallout 3 Redone Right with a Vegas Flavor
on October 19, 2010
To most gamers, like myself, the Fallout franchise remained completely off the radar until Fallout 3 in 2008 despite previous hype. Even with the strong feeling that Bethesda Game Studios just copy/pasted the gaming template from Oblivion onto Fallout 3 and just made everything look crapier, Fallout 3 still captivated many new fans to the franchise ultimately leading to the strong number of pre-orders and subsequent sales of Fallout: New Vegas a few weeks ago.
After obtaining the game on release night and putting in almost 70 hours since then (it's November 11th as I type this, so I've had it for only a few weeks, you do the math), I can safely say I will easily put in triple the amount of hours before I'm done. To compare, I put in over 200 hours to get 100% completion on Fallout 3. Fallout: New Vegas is a great game that I will continue to enjoy till I get 100% completion... but the game is not without its horrible faults.
Let us begin!
For those of you new to the Fallout franchise, the game's setting takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States where the government has fallen and nothing but lawlessness and tribal feudalism rules in the nuclear fallout (hence the name). Fallout: New Vegas (Hereafter to be referred to as "New Vegas") has the player assume the role of a courier that has been ambushed by mobsters and tribal gang members, is left for dead, brought back to health by a sympathetic town doctor, and sets off on a journey to track down your attackers. As you progress, you realize that your trivial venture of revenge is marginal compared to the grander scheme of things at work and that you will play a pivotal role in its conclusion.
Among the vast Mojave wasteland are several main factions vying for power; the two primary powers being the New California Republic (NCR), dedicated to bringing back the world of democracy and individual liberty, and Ceasar's Legion, dedicated to the principles of "Pax Romana," or the assimilation of all things to the central national identity of Rome... at all costs. However, despite the seemingly obvious lines drawn between the forces of good and bad, ultimately siding with either faction is not as easy a decision as it sounds for either side has their clearly distinguished pros and cons and contain hidden sides permeated by greed and ambition. For instance, while the Legion may be extremely draconian akin to the same level of brutality as the actual Romans were, they completely wipe out all disease, purify crops, and stabilize crime while the NCR does not.
This is only the tip of the iceberg pertaining to the overall plot and background, but it's obvious that the dichotomy of good versus evil is not nearly as black and white as other games such as the Light and Dark Side portrayals in Knights of the Old Republic.
To say that New Vegas' game play and environments were inspired by Fallout 3 would be a gross understatement. The controls are identical to the point where I started playing as if I had just popped in another expansion pack to Fallout 3. The interface and even the main menu, personified by a wrist-mounted Personal Information Peripheral or "Pip-Boy," is also identical minus a few minor adjustments such as the adding of attachments to weapons or the utilization of special ammo.
Players can equip special ammo such as incendiary rounds or hollow points for added effects on targets and can even install special weapons parts such as scopes and barrel rifling. This allows more customization, not to mention makes New Vegas feel much more like a true scavenging experience by allowing the player to scavenge for parts.
Similar to Fallout 3 (you'll hear this a lot), the player can gain experience points of XP to move from level to level and attain perks that enhance your character. However, unlike Fallout 3 where perks are awarded every level, New Vegas grants them every other level or so. To me this was especially irritating as maxing our your character in Fallout 3 was one of the biggest highlights since you can go from absolute weakling to "I'm the Juggernaut!" in under 30 levels flat with little thought to planning your character. In New Vegas, with only 15 perks to attain throughout leveling, you REALLY have to plan ahead. By the way, experience awarded per action or kill is the same in the Very Easy difficulty as it is in the Very Hard... wish I would have known THAT about seven hours in!
Now, at this point I must state how you can gain perks through in-game "challenges" such as killing 75 `abomination' enemies such as Death Claws (easier said than done). This doesn't really make up for the fact since you'd need a player's guide to even figure out how to get what rather than spending 10 hours shooting random enemies and downing 25 buffout pills in a day to "see what happens."
Another nice addition is the inclusion of followers. Granted you could do this with a few characters in Fallout 3, but not to the extent and control as New Vegas... but not without a price (see bulletined glitch section below).
The newest big addition to the game play from Fallout 3 was the introduction of "Hardcore mode," where you have to stay hydrated, fed, and well rested less you become another statistic in the Mojave Wasteland. I thought this would be a fun challenge and I wanted the 100 point gamer score achievement (Bleep-bloop!) but, after trying it for a few hours, I said the proverbial "forget this" and stayed in Very Easy for the remainder of my gaming experience. Since when does drinking a soda make you more thirsty?! Granted it makes you need more water in the long run, but not in the immediate aftermath of enjoying a nice, chilled, irradiated Nuka-Cola! I just kept yelling out "BS" and stopped playing in Hardcore mode, which I probably will not pick up less my inner S&M is reawakened by solving the Lament Configuration
Overall I enjoyed the game play and still log in waaay too many hours when I should be either working out or enjoying time with my lady by inviting her over for "cake." However, all my praise cannot be complimented without addressing the looming miasma that is the stability of the game mechanics, or lack thereof.
Anyone reading this that has played Fallout 3 will cringe when anyone mentions the word "glitches." Fallout 3 was EXTREMELY glitchty. The glitches ranged from poor walking animations to dialog lock-ups (especially when installing the Broken Steel expansion pack), to flat-out system freezes during loading screens that corrupt the auto-save data. New Vegas not only inherited these traits but it seems as though the glitch gene has mutated into something far more sinister like the Ebola virus meets a the worst computer virus known to man (aka Windows 95).
Where to start? There's so many glitches to cover, it's not even funny. How do I adequately explain all the BS I had to deal with in under a page? I know! Bullet format!
1: The rendered layers of the lock picking and computer hacking minigames often loaded wrong placing the background over the game itself, making playing them near impossible until your turned off the system and reloaded (hereafter to be referred to as "reboot policy" because you`re going to see it a LOT).
2: Followers, if they fall far enough behind, will get `stuck' in the environment and if you're not paying attention you will lose them. I had to retrace my steps several times and lose valuable time to find my followers. It was just annoying.
3: You can get stuck in the environment just as easy as your followers. Twice have I gotten irreparably stuck in the environment that I had to resort to reloading the auto-save file.
4: As you play for a while, you'll notice the loading to gets progressively, and ridiculously, LONG. I conferred with a lot of other players and this seems to plague most gamers regardless of what system they're running. Simply refer to the reboot policy and start over again... and again.
5: This may be me but several times the NPCs missed their ques and the quests didn't continue. For instance, I was trying to recruit a warring tribe to fight against Cesaer's Legion and couldn't because the second-in-command missed his mark but, since I saved LONG after figuring out how to get the no-Khan-left-behind game engine to see the gaming trigger dancing right in front of them, I missed my opportunity and had to resort to something else to complete the quest.
6: Is it just me or does the automated aiming system (VATS) unable to shoot over rocks even though you're clearly aiming above the rocks?
7: Repeating dialog. Sometimes those pesky card-carrying union NPCs get so nervous about being "disenfranchised" by their local order of Teamsters that they didn't notice that they're repeating their lines in critical dialog over and over and over. Reboot policy.
8: Auto-save freeze. This is probably a 1/10,1000 thing but I've had it happen three times when the game froze during auto-save and corrupted the saved data. To avoid any complications I had to rely on the Chicago-style of saving (early and often) less I lose up to several hours of game play in a corrupt save data.
9: Faction reputation glitch. "Good, bad, or somewhere in between," you are judged by each faction by how you deal with them. However, I've heard two complaints about factions just randomly attacking the player for no reason at all. My little brother, for instance, was "idolized" by the New California Republic and stopped a high profile assassination attempt but, for some weird reason, still gets randomly attacked by NCR troopers at a critical point in Hoover Dam meaning he cannot progress in the game.
In short, New Vegas has more glitches than a Walmart.com kiosk that runs Windows 2000 while the website is optimized for Windows 7, utilizes a Pentium 2 processor, and has been running for foru years straight (District Manager Kristi! Please, for the love of GOD, get our systems upgraded!!). Many a night, like last night with the excessive loading times, I found myself cursing out loud to the screen and discovered that trying to beat Call of Duty: Black Ops on Veteran was less stressful (review coming soon!).
They are virtually unchanged from Fallout 3. The character graphics are still a solid mash of rendering akin to World of Warcraft. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the game itself is insanely vast, particularly the environments. One look around outside and one will see just how much effort was redirected from character and weapon designs to the actual environment. It is the 1960s Rat Pack era Mojave Desert with the mobster themes. All the same, the graphics are nothing truly to marvel at.
Music and Sound
Also virtually unchanged as the music is direct copy/paste with a few new additions such as the NCR music at Hoover Dam. This means you get treated to hearing the same wandering music and horn blasts as long as your system won't crash.
The biggest differences in the sound is the voice cast and licensed tracks. The voice cast is completely different so you don't hear Generic Voice Actors A, B, C, or D speaking for 60+ different characters... instead you have Generic Voice Actors E, F, G, and H speaking for 60+ different characters... and Mathew Perry of Friends.
I liked how Ron Perlman reprised his role as narrator, and Michael Dorn is ALWAYS a welcomed voice actor among video games (Loved him in Saints Row 2). It was interesting having Mathew Perry, an actor typically reserved for wussy roles, serving as a sinister and malicious gangster that tries to kill you... twice. Wayne Newton (aka Mr. Las Vegas) plays the perfect role as "Mr. New Vegas," a DJ that broadcasts Frank Sinatra among other Vegas favorites that seem more suited for Kill Bill than new Vegas. BTW: is it just me or do all three radio stations play the same thing?
Overall, the game play is virtually identical to that of Fallout 3, debatably placing New Vegas in the realm of a highly glorified expansion pack. This is not necessarily a bad thing if the game can stand up on its own, which New Vegas does despite its copy/paste appearance and extreme array of glitches. It's still super addicting as my number of logged hours prove. However, given the extent to which the game is made and the amount of hours needed to beat the game, replay value is actually lower than one would think. Most gamers, even hardcore ones like me, despise doing highly tedious tasks over, especially if they take a few hours. I only played through Fallout 3 twice and that was for achievements, a feat I believe I can recreate with New Vegas.
All in all though, despite its abundance in shortcomings, New Vegas does pull itself off as a great RPG in the Fallout arsenal.