Wot I Think – Fallout: New Vegas

Why won't VATS let us shoot guys in the nipples? I don't understand.

Obsidian’s pseudo-sequel to Bethesda’s Fallout 3 hits the UK tomorrow, arriving amid a raft of positive reviews. But I see you there, perched atop that blasted rock, canteen in hand, waiting for the official RPS review. That wait is over. Here’s Wot I Think of New Vegas.

There’s a distant sound that can be heard throughout your time with New Vegas. Quieter than the cheery 1930s pop hits that warble from your radio, quieter even than the chirps of night-time insects, or the long gasps of wind blowing across the wasteland. It is the sound of Obsidian phoning this game in. I’m talking long distance, reversed charges, not-giving-a-fuck.

Now, if it’s purely size you care about, New Vegas has you covered. From the moment your character (a professional courier who gets attacked and left for dead in the intro movie) wakes up in a backwater town, you’re introduced to a sprawling wasteland even bigger than that of Fallout 3. There are dozens of settlements to find. There are (shh!) secrets to stumble across. There are four and a half shitloads of different weapons. There is a heaving mass of character perks, just waiting to be unlocked as you progress through the game’s wide array of quests.

But something Bethesda were very aware of when they turned Fallout into a first-person game is that the wasteland is potentially quite a boring setting for the player to be set free in. I mean, you think wasteland, you think deserts, charred ruins and grumpy survivors wearing faded, drab clothes.

So, Bethesda went to great lengths to infuse their D.C. wasteland with colour. It was populated by kooky, occasionally even cartoonish characters- it’s no accident that super mutants and the Brotherhood of Steel featured so prominently. Then you had the independant towns, which were all built in or around visually striking setpieces, and Bethesda even built a labyrinth out of the subway system. Whatever direction you walked in Fallout 3, you felt confident you’d find something interesting.

Whatever direction you walk in New Vegas, you might find something interesting, but it’s much more likely you’ll find something pretty uninteresting, like an empty shack or an NCR army outpost where you’ll hear two different potato-faced soldiers voiced by two different actors say the same line of dialogue about the Mojave being hot. There’s also a slim chance you’ll find nothing at all but a few irradiated creatures, since the game has entire acres of barren scrub and desert that you absolutely would not see in Fallout 3. In my whole time with New Vegas, I found nothing as architecturally entertaining as Megaton, and nothing as eerie or inventive as Little Lamplight. Hiking long distances felt like a chore.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that a more bleak and empty and therefore a more “realistic” vision of the wasteland would suit you just fine. Trouble is, it’s more than that. It can be hard to tell the difference between a lack of content and an authentically barren wasteland, but sometimes New Vegas is so impressively bold in its laziness that the distinction is clear.

Look, here’s a shot of the incredible NCR sharecropper farms, the “pride” of the state! One of the guards working here told me that they have to keep the place well-defended, just so every wastelander walking past doesn’t come in and stuff themselves. This isn’t actually a joke. It’s just a disconnect between the scriptwriter and the whoever designs the actual areas.

And here’s a bustling casino floor in crazy New Vegas!

I took those screenshots from quite far back to get a sense of space, but they’re not staged. Almost all of New Vegas simply has a quiet minimalism to it, which is probably for the best since there’s a pretty awful bug with Windows 64 bit that dropkicks your framerate if you’re standing close to several people at the same time.

More frustrating are the absences where you know there’s meant to be an actual feature, but it was evidently forgotten or abandoned somewhere along the brief road to getting this game on the shelves. I had a long conversation with a bartender about the etiquette for hiring one of her prostitutes, before discovering after three increasingly confused laps of the bar that there were no prostitutes in the building. Later, I encountered a man tied to a pole, begging to be cut down, but there was no way to do so. And in one awesomely surreal instance, I had a chat with a character about their impressive snowglobe collection when there wasn’t a snowglobe in sight.

This isn’t another Vampire: Bloodlines, where an ambitious game’s been left unfinished, because there is no ambition here. Imagine for a second that the above problems didn’t come about because of a lack of time, but because of carelessness, and apply that carelessness to the entire game- most importantly, to the quest design and the dialogue. Now you’re getting close to imagining New Vegas.

God, the dialogue in this game. I think there were several points where I was so bored my brain began rotating in my head like food in a microwave. Whatever voice acting agency or methadone rehabilitation clinic Bethesda used to voice the populace of Oblivion and Fallout 3 is back, and while I didn’t particularly like the writing in Fallout 3 either, the characters in that game were often interesting or disturbed enough that you were curious about what they had to say.

With an unforgivably small number of exceptions (and one character who does actually approach the cast of Bloodlines in his likeability), the characters in New Vegas are all tedious constructs, voiced by people who sound like they’re boring in real life, wandering around in the Oblivion engine, which as we all know is about as charismatic as a slow-motion seizure. The low point for me was probably these guys:

Caesar’s Legion are New Vegas’ big addition to the Fallout lore. They’re a huge, warlike tribe that attempt to embody the characteristics of a Roman legion, meaning leather tunics, little skirts and ferocious disciple- drugs, and as far as I can tell, jokes, are banned. There is just nothing interesting about them, except for the fact that they all pronounce Caesar “Kai-zar”, a mystery I never got to the bottom of.

New Vegas’ saving grace is really just the framework it fails to employ particularly well. While I won’t be returning to New Vegas after this review, I did have a fair amount of fun doing all the old Fallouty things- exploring the wasteland, looting bodies, solving problems with my skills instead of violence and, when I didn’t have the skills, blowing apart head after tender head with my favourite shotgun.

It’s just that this is absolutely not the classic that Fallout 1 and 2 unquestionably were, and it’s also not the bold, bright reinvention that Fallout 3 was. It’s just… here, offering more Fallout. Do you want some more Fallout? If so, New Vegas can provide, so long as you don’t mind your every hour with it being laced with some small amount of disappointment. That is, unless you haven’t played a Fallout game before, but in that case you’re better off with the Game of the Year edition of Fallout 3.

I want to finish by talking about the new Hardcore mode, because that’s what lured me into doing this Wot I Think in the first place. Hardcore mode means playing a version of New Vegas where you have to eat, drink and sleep, where ammo takes up weight allowance in your inventory, and where crippled limbs can only be healed by a doctor or with a one-shot Doctor’s Bag item.

In execution, Hardcore mode isn’t hardcore. At all. Playing as a big ol’ science nerd with no survival skill, no barter skill, average endurance and meagre strength, I breezed through all of the obstacles of Hardcore mode without having to think about them.

Just about every building in the game has a working sink somewhere, so water isn’t an issue, and the piñata-like presence of food in the bins and cupboards of New Vegas’ “wasteland” is bolstered by the fruit you find growing naturally everywhere you go. The most you ever end up thinking about Hardcore mode is when some landmine or mutant with a club breaks your leg out in the middle of nowhere, and there’s nothing for it but to fast travel back to a town and go limping the rest of the way to a doctor.

The way it sounded in previews, Hardcore mode was going to provide New Vegas with an additional, survivalist dimension. Instead, it’s just a handful of weak extra rules that have little impact on the rest of the game. Hardcore mode is, at least, ripe for a modder to come along and fix up, which I suppose describes a lot of New Vegas.

What a bummer I am. Look, let me make it all better- here’s a post onSavyGamer about how you can buy Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3: Game Of The Year Edition for £30. At that price, I’d say this game is probably worth it.

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