War. War never changes.” OK, actually, that’s not entirely true. If Fallout’s gravelly voiced narrator were really a stickler for accuracy, he’d probably amend his catchphrase to read: “War. War changes slightly.” Make no mistake: Fallout: New Vegas is not Fallout 4. And in that respect, its greatest strength is also its most crippling weakness. See, everything you loved about Fallout 3 is still present in New Vegas—and some of it’s better than it’s ever been. Unfortunately, tiny flaws that plagued Fallout 3 also stuck around for New Vegas, and they’ve festered to become ugly scars on an otherwise excellent experience.
Wasteland, long time no see! You're looking enormous, as always. How are the kids?
Which is not to say New Vegas doesn’t balk at a few of Fallout 3’s archaic “back in my day” notions. For one, the game’s opening doesn’t literally last a fourth of a lifetime. Instead, you can be frolicking through open, irradiated fields in mere minutes. Better still, the tutorial is entirely optional. Experienced Fallout players, you may now gaze up to the heavens and mouth a silent “thank you” to your deity of choice.
So, the opening is worlds better, but what about, you know, the world? Shockingly, that’s another place where New Vegas outshines Fallout 3. We absolutely fell in love with Fallout 3’s colossal, personality-packed Wasteland back in 2008, but New Vegas’s world boldly proclaims, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Right off the bat, it’s far more varied—featuring everything from ramshackle towns to Supermutant societies to the neon-lit excess of Vegas itself.
On top of that, the world is more fleshed out and cohesive, thanks to the introduction of an in-depth faction system. Of course, many factions are at each others’ throats, and naturally, your actions will place you smack-dab in the center of their life-or-death tug-of-war matches. This, too, is an area where New Vegas excels, as choices are no longer about what’s clearly “good” or “evil.” Obsidian’s brush has always painted in shades of gray, and the developer’s subtle strokes have only gotten better with time. As a result, you’ll be forced to make some deviously tough decisions.
VATS: turning heads into gore volcanoes since 2008.
If New Vegas normally sucks you into its game world, then Hardcore Mode swallows you whole and emits a thunderous belch. In a nutshell, it turns the game into a simulation. Suddenly, you actually need to eat, sleep, and visit the doctor. Also, stimpacks take time to drag you away from death’s door, so battles become less about who can sponge up the most bullets and more about planning and tactics.
By and large, Fallout: New Vegas is a fantastic experience, but a few ghosts from Fallout 3’s past haunt it something fierce. For one, the game’s buggier than a rotted tree stump, with enemies frequently fusing with the ground, VATS malfunctioning, and even the occasional game-halting crash. Speaking of enemies, the AI’s dumb as dirt, which is especially problematic when companion characters are involved. It’s a shame, too, because companions spend a lot more time in the spotlight, each with their own side quests that unlock bonus perks. Unfortunately, they’re also stupidly trigger happy, so if you’d rather not pick a fight with everything in a two-mile radius, you probably ought to fly solo.
Those flaws, however, aren’t enough to be game-breaking, and Obsidian has already released the first of a series of patches to address them. The bugs are blemishes on an otherwise standout game, and if you’re at all interested in open worlds or RPGs, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by skipping Fallout: New Vegas.