Crossing the Steams 12.22.12: Fallout New Vegas
Welcome to another edition of Crossing the Steams. This week I plan to discuss Fallout New Vegas, some of the good things, and bad things about it. I think it’s overall a solid enough game, but the improvements made over Fallout 3 feel half-baked in spots. There are a few rather specific instances where they went a bit overboard in this game. Regardless of some misplaced ambition, New Vegas is still worth a look at, but just know what you’re getting into.
Fallout New Vegas takes the Fallout 3 gameplay and plunks it down into the Nevada setting, complete with the titular New Vegas city, as well as a whole host of new places to explore, quests to undertake, mutated animals to kill and so on. I’d say about 75% (if not more, really) of this game feels familiar, especially given how much time I spent playing Fallout 3. Some people do have issues with the Bethesda-type of Fallout experience, but I never really did. VATS (which returns in this game) feels as solid as ever, giving you a visceral feeling when you manage to hit something and cause it to explode.
New Vegas’s story starts you off in a cemetery in a half-dug grave as someone shoots you in the head. A robot comes by, sees you, digs you up and you wake up in a Doctor’s house, as you try and find out what happened and who you are. Right off the bat, the story encounters some problems. While Fallout 2 didn’t have you as a vault dweller (but close enough), Fallout 1 and 3 certainly did and it made your character building activities seem more sincere. Even in Fallout 2, the character was a descendant of the player character from Fallout 1, so there was a nice sense of continuity there as well as letting you roleplay a little bit more. The reason Fallout 3’s story actually worked so well is because of the first half hour to an hour you spend in Vault 101, knowing your dad, and forming a relationship with other characters. Later when your dad leaves, the quest to go find him is made that much more emotionally resonant. New Vegas just dumps you in a town and you’re told to go find the Platinum Chip that you were supposed to deliver. There is no character building before this, and you have no idea who your character is, prior to waking up in the Doctor’s house. This is poor story-telling, at least from a narrative perspective. It doesn’t allow you to become invested in your character because he’s a blank slate and you don’t emotionally connect with him/her. Ultimately the Courier’s quest is meaningless because there’s no vested interest in actually seeing it through to the end.
The easiest way (at least to me) to fix this glaring problem would be to start the game a bit earlier. Possibly start in California (or wherever the Courier comes from, it’s not explained) and do a few quests in that area first. You won’t be able to come back to it once you take on the Platinum Chip quest, but it would at least give you some background information on who the Courier actually is. Making the Courier NOT another Vault-Dweller is fine, but like I said, with no background information at all, who he/she is ultimately isn’t important.
The format and structure of New Vegas follows Fallout 3 by quite a lot. You’ll come across new areas and find people in them, sometimes hostile, sometimes not. Usually you’ll be given a quest or two, to fix a problem in the area, or else go to another area and do a task there. It’s all kind of the bread and butter for the series and it works out fine. The big addition in New Vegas is the reputation system, with some factions having feelings about you/your actions. This is actually a system that is a throwback to Fallout 1 and 2, but it feels less important in this game. There are 10 factions in the game, 7 (or 8) are “good” and 2 are “evil” (in generalized terms). This leads to some imbalance in the game when it comes companions though, with two of the companions hating the Caeser’s Legion outright, and will be extremely difficult to have them as well as trying to do Legion reputation quests. There is also no stridently Caeser’s Legion-related companion, but most of the other companions do fit into the other reputation classes. This gives you no real incentive to side with the Legion in the game, since most of the people you encounter are pretty anti-Legion. The Legion themselves come across as just moustache-twirling football-armor wearing buffoons, so it’s not that important, but it gives you no reason to ever side with them.
There are two other big additions that New Vegas makes, one is good and one is…less good. The good one deals with companions and your interactions with them. The companions are all decently well-written and have good personalities within them. They also kind of break the game in fun ways since they can’t die, and can decimate enemies before they even touch you. Some are better than others (particularly Veronica), but they took a half-done system from Fallout 3 and improved it, making it better.
What Obsidian didn’t make better though, was the ammo/weapon, and crafting systems. To say they are a mess is an understatement. There are entirely too many weapons and ammo to deal with in the game. In Fallout 3 there are 19 ammo types, total. And a lot of the ammo types fit into multiple types of guns. The Fallout 3 “Microfusion Cell” can power 8 different (with all the DLC) guns. The “Energy Cell” can power 6 guns, and so on. Fallout New Vegas eschews this simple system by having one that is overly complex and burdensome. In New Vegas there are 29 different ammo types, 10 more than in Fallout 3. Some of them are for one-off weapons, like Nails for a Nail Gun, but a lot are for multiple weapons again. In Fallout 3 there was just a 12 gauge shotgun shell for *all* the shotguns you encounter. In New Vegas there are 12 gauge shells but also 20 gauge shells for different shotguns. Same goes for handgun ammo, in Fallout 3 there was just 10mm rounds, but in New Vegas there are 9mm and 10mm rounds, with guns only being able to use specific ammo. Add to this that most of the ammo has (at least) 3 different variations when you come across it. Take the 12 gauge shotgun shell, it has 5 different types: Standard, Bean Bag, Coin Shot, Magnum and Slug rounds. If you count in the DLC for the game, it adds 5 more: 4/0 buck, 4/0 buck mag, Dragon’s Breath, Flechette and Pulse Slug. Most of the ammo has all these ammo types (or variations of them) and it becomes insane trying to keep track of even your ammo, let alone the rest of your inventory.
The crafting (alchemy) system is likewise a mess for pretty much the same reason. Fallout 3 had a basic but functional enough crafting system. You didn’t really need to use it, but it was in there. In New Vegas there are three crafting systems/items to use; a Reloading Bench (to convert or make new ammo), a Workbench (create technical-based items), and finally a Campfire (cook meat to create organic based stuff). It’s not an exact breakdown, but its close enough. Like the ammo system, there is way too much minutiae to keep track of and ultimately not worth it, at least on the default difficulty. You can still find plenty of ammo, Stimpacks, and Stealthboys as you roam around the wasteland, which ultimately makes the entire crafting system a bit of a failure.
Graphically, the game is pretty on-par with Fallout 3, only instead of grey rocks everywhere, its orange colored rocks. The game is a bit rough around the edges though with there being large parts of the desert that just feel empty and lifeless. Some characters are nicely detailed, and the companions themselves all have a good amount of differentiation between them. Some areas like REPCONN, Novac or even Primm have a lot of neat details in their towns. There is some repetition with some of the smaller towns, but that is generally ok. At least this game doesn’t have the nightmarish labyrinth known as the Subway system to contend with, which makes getting around a lot easier.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag in the game. The sound effects are pretty standard, especially coming from an earlier game. The music is kind of the weak part of this game. There are two radio stations in the game, but only one has an actual DJ talking (Wayne Newton as Mr. New Vegas). He tends to repeat a lot of the same bits of dialog, and you never actually get to meet him/the computer that has him). The other station just plays music. There are a few other less-powerful radio stations but they are limited in their range, so they don’t count. The voice acting though is the highlight, with New Vegas having a good assortment of voice acting going on. Aside from Wayne Newton, there is: Felicia Day, Michael Dorn, Matthew Perry, Rene Auberjonois, Zachary Levi, and more. Aside from Liam Neeson in Fallout 3, this game has better voice acting.
It’s a Fallout game, so there is a ton of innate replayability within the game. There are hundreds of quests for you to find and complete, an entire wasteland to explore, and a ton of different ways to approach the game. The game has about 50-60 hours’ worth of content in the first playthrough but you can then go through it again with a completely different focus. Or tackle the 4 DLC packs (of varying quality)
There is some issues of stability with this game. It installs fine, but is prone to crashing at random points. Fallout 3 crashed a bunch also, so you can’t hold it too much against this game. I did have one instance of an enemy spawning under the ground. When I would try and target him in VATS, the game would just crash to desktop immediately. That’s the only real, repeatable bug I encountered. Most of the other problems were just random crashes, or buggy graphics. It has gamepad support and Steam achievements to help keep you occupied.
While most of this column seems to have a negative feel to it, I do really enjoy Fallout New Vegas. Taken as a strict Fallout game, it hits most of the right notes, the quests are interesting and the companions are great. It’s only the expansion of some systems, ammo/weapons, and crafting that serves to bog the game down. Also, from a narrative standpoint the game fails the basic test of making you care at all about the main quest. Still, it is completely worth a purchase, especially during the Steam Sale happening this week.
Graphics — 8.5 There’s an orange haze that hangs around most of the outside areas. Aside from that the game looks decent enough and there is some great locations/character designs.
Gameplay — 8.5 Most of the additions in New Vegas don’t really pass the muster. The basic “shooting people in the head using VATS” though works, and is as fun as ever.
Sound — 9.0 There is less good music and DJ’ing going on, but the voice work is better. The sound effects are largely the same from Fallout 3.
Replayability — 10 You could play a Fallout game for 100 hours easy, and that’s just on the first go around. Add multiple playthroughs and a harder difficulty level and you can play this game for weeks.
Ease of Use/Installation — 7.5 It’s buggy in the same ways as Fallout 3 was. I had one instance of a repeatable bug. Good controller support, though.
Overall — 8.7 (exact) which I’ll round down to 8.5
Other Steam News
Well, there aren’t any new releases this week due to the WINTER STEAM SALE. The time where all of our wallets cry out in abject horror and sadness. I’ve already grabbed my two big games, Dishonored and Future Soldier so I’m pretty happy. Next week, as it’s the last column of the year, I thought I might take a look at the sequel to one of the first games I’ve done here. So with that in mind, I shall look at the disaster known as Max Payne 3.