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Posted on Nov 24, 2010 in Electronic Games

Fallout: New Vegas – PC Game Review

By Avery Abernethy

Fallout: New Vegas. PC Game. Developer, Bethesda Game Studios. Publisher, Bethesda Softworks. $49.99.

Passed Inspection: Game Balance, Interesting Game World, Combat System, General “Fun.”

Failed Basic: Companion AI, minor bugs, inability to mod console versions.

Fallout. The name brings chills of gaming goodness down the spine of any RPG loving PC gamer.  I played Wasteland, the spiritual father of Fallout in 1988.  I still have my original boxed sets of Fallout and Fallout 2.  I played the out-of-the-box Fallout 3.  I also played some several heavily modded (and much more enjoyable) games of Fallout 3Fallout: New Vegas is the newest release in the Fallout series.

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The Basics

Fallout: New Vegas is a single person role-playing game.   The game world is a post-nuclear war Nevada with a 1950s slant.  The Mojave Desert wilderness, small towns, military bases and New Vegas are highlights of the world.  Your character is a courier who awakens after being shot in the head.   Initial character motivation is identifying and tracking down the shooter. 

You build your initial character, allocate a limited number of skill points, and start exploring the world. Although there is a main quest, the world is open-ended.  The opposition includes raiders, mutated wildlife, zombies, robots and organized human factions.  Plenty of weapons are available.  Melee weapons run from the common knife to the unconventional golf club.  Firearms include handguns, shotguns, rifles, and light automatic weapons and beyond. New Vegas makes four changes to the combat system. 

Characters can now sight down the barrel of an iron sights gun which makes combat more realistic.  Players can reload their own ammunition.  Players can freeze time and target their shots using the VATS system.  This works in an identical manner to Fallout 3.  Players can also shoot in real time by choice, or because they have run out of the action points needed to use VATS.  Once the action points have been replenished by the passage of time, VATS can again be used to call shots.  This combination of pause and plan is a lot of fun for my play style.

The Enemy of my Enemy is Still My Enemy

There are many factions fighting over the water, resources and people of the Mojave.  The New California Republic (NCR) is an over-extended, highly bureaucratic army that has suffered many recent setbacks in Nevada. The NCR’s main opponent is Caesar’s Legion.  The Legion is one of the best evil forces ever seen in gaming.  Many of the Legion’s strategy and tactics are lifted directly from the history of Ancient Rome.  The Legion practices divide and conquer tactics on their enemies.  This is something seen over and over in side-quests.  Legion emissaries will get to the leadership of minor factions, bribe them or promise riches, then ruthlessly destroy their opponent and conquer them. 

Any gamer familiar with the history of Ancient Rome will enjoy the work of the game designers. The city of New Vegas is controlled by the shadowy “Mr. House” and his army of robot enforcers.  Mr. House’s troops could probably be overrun by either the NCR or Caesar’s Legion if they were not fighting a major war.  But Mr. House lacks the military might to control any territory outside of the New Vegas Strip.  There are many other criminal and legitimate factions within New Vegas fighting Mr. House for control.  Mr. House is loosely patterned after the shadowy Howard Hughes – a legendary figure in the history of Las Vegas.  Other factions, including several from previous games, play a lesser role.

Players develop a reputation with each faction based on their actions.  Take actions favorable to a faction and your faction reputation improves.  Take negative actions (or attack the faction) and you will be shot on sight by faction members.  Better yet, if you have the wrong uniform on even your friends may fail to recognize you and open fire.   What “not to wear” can get you killed if you wear Legion armor around an NCR post.

Would You Jump Off a Cliff If Your Friend Did?

There are many recruitable companions which can accompany your character through the Mojave.  The primary advantages of companions is carrying your heavy stuff and helping fight your enemies.  Unfortunately, companions act dumb.  They cannot jump over objects.  They sometimes have path finding problems.  They may be way, way behind you when you really need their help.  Companions take really stupid combat actions.  New Vegas is a tough RPG (especially in hardcore).  If your character rushes into combat without thinking (especially in hardcore mode or at high difficulty settings), they will probably quickly die.   But your stupid companions think nothing of charging enemies.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Hardcore mode radically changes the game experience.  Game play changes include the need to eat, sleep and most especially drink on a regular basis.  Forget to eat, sleep, or drink and your character’s statistics decline.  Put it off too long and your character dies.   Because this is a desert environment, failure to drink kills you quickest.   But eating, sleeping and drinking are the least of your hardcore mode problems. Your biggest problem in hardcore is healing items (stimpacks, food, or drinks) only slowly heal the character.  If a character is under attack and taking a lot of damage, healing items may not work fast enough to save you.  To heal a crippled limb a character must use a doctors bag, hydra (a created food), or see one of the handful of wasteland doctors.  Getting a leg smashed by a hidden mine becomes a life threatening situation in hardcore compared to a minor use of a stimpack for a non-hardcore character.

Sounds & Views

The voice acting in New Vegas is excellent and is one of the most enjoyable game elements.  Game world characters are very different.  Multiple radio stations are in the Mojave which also enhance the game world.  Wayne Newton is an excellent New Vegas city DJ.  In contrast, Three-Dog the annoying Fallout 3 radio DJ deserved a 9mm through the skull.  The radio playlist and announcers are vastly improved in New Vegas which adds to the game experience.  Sounds and music is very important to me.  For a fixed playlist, New Vegas is the 2nd best radio sound-scape I have experienced in a game.  Only the Grand Theft Auto games provide a better radio experience, though I would have liked even more than what was included.

Play Balance is One Key

Both Fallout 1 and 2 have excellent play balance.  No character could be good at everything.  Tough trade-offs must be made when building your character and when dividing up points to your skills when gaining levels.  A superb sniper in the first two Fallouts who can shoot your eye out is unable to talk your head off, have lots of companion helpers, and be strong as an ox. The best thing about New Vegas is excellent play balance.  Skill books and other items permanently raising attributes are very rare, as opposed to its predecessor, Fallout 3.  Bobble heads are banished to the doll cabinet.  Perks are granted only every other level. The New Vegas locked door may really be impossible for your character to open now – and perhaps forever. 

Trade-offs (also known as role-playing)  are required.    In hardcore mode where healing occurs slowly and ammunition has weight, careful role playing is even more important.   If you are dissatisfied with the difficulty of the game, the overall experience can be made harder (or easier) with a few simple mouse clicks.  At least through mid-game, your character will have some strengths and many profound weaknesses. Imperfect characters with strengths and weaknesses operating in a challenging and fun game environment is the heart and soul of any good role playing game.  Only the best role playing games achieve this delicate balance.  New Vegas hits the role playing sweet spot. 

New Vegas, at least through mid-game, is an outstanding role-playing game that I would recommend to anyone interested in the genre. New Vegas Is Not A Kids Game. Parents should use caution and judgment before allowing their children to play New Vegas.  Some of the language is foul.  Many NPCs are in the military.  Salty, profane, and abusive language abounds.  The Legion practices torture, crucifixion, and decimation.  Illegal and mind altering drugs are everywhere.  There is slavery, sex for money, gambling, and pretty much every other human vice imaginable in the game.  This is a well-done adult game with adult content.   The content fits the game well.  In fact, this is the first well-done adult oriented RPG since Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

Summary

Fallout: New Vegas is a great, adult-oriented RPG.  Any adult interested in RPGs should like this game.  The overall quality of the game will make it appealing to casual RPG gamers.  The references to Fallout 1 and 2 will make it especially enjoyable to those who enjoyed those classics.  The interesting historical analogies to republics facing a war of attrition against a brutal dictatorship and similarities to aspects of Ancient Rome will be of special interest to gamers knowledgeable of military history. The reviewer used an Alienware PC using an Athlon 64 X2 4400+ dual core processor, 1G DDR memory, with a pair of Nividia Geforce 7800GT graphic cards.  The game software selected a “medium” graphics setting.

Overall Rating: 92%

About the Author

Avery Abernethy is Professor of Marketing at Auburn University.  He started playing Avalon Hill board games when he was 6.  He has played computer games since the 1970s and has played all of the games in the Fallout series.  He has published both AARs and game reviews.  Avery has read military history and visited many historical battlefields and ruins.  Visits to ancient Roman sites in Italy, touring a Minuteman 3 missile silo in South Dakota, and his experience

1 Comment

  1. fonv is probably one of the best games ive ever played. no 4 hour long shooter here.

    i played wasteland too but not in 88 earlier i think can that be right? as an artist i still think they had some of the most sublime graphics and sweet animations. this was computer gaming at the master story teller level. i still see the girl you met in needles who had the short black hair and mac 10 animation. gun jerking, jaw yapping. haha ah man what a trip. the dandies with the switch blades and scorpitron!!!

    those were the days.

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