So, a year and a bit ago, Quinns wrote a review of the game for RPS. He really didn't like the game much. It was very controversial. Based on that, and general hearsay about terrible bugs, I put off buying the game until a Goaty edition was available. During the Steam sale, the game + all the DLC came up to about £10, so my girlfriend bought it for me, because she's brill. I finally got round to trying it last week.
So far, I've seen *an* ending, but only scratched the surface in terms of content. I ended the game at a mere level 17, having not touched any of the faction quests or the DLC packs, and I've already jumped back into the Mojave for another try, rolling back to a save I made at Lv13, before I tried (and succeeded) in wrenching the game off the rails.
So, my first and foremost thought on the game is: This is the real Fallout 3. The story continues on directly from where Fallout 2 left off - unsurprising, given that a lot of the original writers and designers are back on board. It's drier and dustier in a lot of ways, but that's very much intentional. While Fallout 3 was a theme park dressed up as a post-apocalyptic adventure, it could easily pass for a prototype Skyrim if you replaced 'Vertibirds' with 'Dragons'. New Vegas drops you - confused, wounded and vengeful - into the middle of a complex three-way power struggle over an independent state, while a dozen or so minor factions try to carve out their niches in the chaos.
The setting in general feels so much more convincing than it's predecessor. Yes, there are huge empty spaces of nothing - rolling sand dunes punctuated with occasional giant scorpions and (if you're lucky) a bleached corpse dragged under a rock. That's because it's a desert. You're not constantly patted on the head with loot and rare encounters over every hill - you'll often find an abandoned house and discover that it's already been picked clean by someone. You can tell that people have passed through, even - empty cans lie around a campfire, and boxes indoors lay upturned. It makes finding something still unopened all that more special.
While the desert feels bleaker and more hostile, the settlements feel much larger and more convincing, though. While the number of people on the streets is limited due to the engine being fairly old and creaky, you've got multiple large farmsteads and fields surrounding each major town, providing a clear food-source, and people genuinely seem to struggle to maintain clean water supplies, wheras in Fallout 3, the only guy who seemed to care was the perpetually thirsty old guy outside of Megaton. They put a lot more thought into world-building here, and while it all adheres to B-movie logic, there's nothing as implausible as Little Lamplight.
Yes, it's a lot less vivid and cartoonish. Characters talk more, have more depth and thoughts to share on pretty much everyone and everything in the region. They're also more expendable - outside of two unique NPCs (who are immortal for actual plot reasons, which is clever), EVERYONE can die and you'll still be able to reach a proper end to the story. You can literally murder every single named NPC in Nevada and the game will keep on trucking. You can ally with or betray any faction, and generally do things to the beat of your own drum. There's a bare minimum of two solutions to almost everything (and it seldom feels like a binary good/evil decision - Karma is an invisible stat in this game, anyway) - it's this which allowed me to skip most of the story and launch straight into the endgame on a whim.
In short, it feels a lot more like an old-school RPG. It feels a lot more like Fallout. Mod-wise, all I ran for my first playthrough was a couple of fan-patches which fix things like navigation meshes and floating items, and the Project Nevada pack, which tweaks the gameplay (effortlessly and seamlessly - the entire design doc for it is basically 'this shouldn't feel like a mod') to be a little more like STALKER, making gunplay more interesting and less VATS-dependent. Oh, and a little tweak to make the DLC stuff not trigger until you wander into the appropriate area at the right level.
So, yeah - this is one of the better RPGs I've played in ages, and dragged me away from Skyrim pretty effortlessly. I've still only scratched the surface, and probably have another 30-40 hours worth of wandering and questing to do before I even start looking at content mods, too. So, now the dust has settled, what are your thoughts on New Vegas?