Obsidian's taking Fallout to the wild, untamed (or “tamed but then subsequently re-untamed thanks to a nuclear holocaust,” if we're being technical about it) west, so we're doing the same with our preview. Well, kind of. In the spirit of classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” we're breaking down Fallout: New Vegas' opening hour – which we had the privilege of taking for a test run during QuakeCon – into thematically appropriate, self-explanatory categories.
Before we dive into the meat of things, though, let's set the scene. You're... a person. We can say that with a fair deal of certainty. You come to in a doctor's office, which – thanks to wasteland sanitation standards – is about as sterile as your average convenience store toilet, but you've got bigger things to worry about. Apparently, you nearly bit the big one at the hands of some pretty shady customers, but you don't know why. The doc, thankfully, patched up that pesky organ leak that tends to come as the result of bullet wounds, but unfortunately, he can't fill the gaping hole in your memory. He does know this, however: the bastards who did their darnedest to turn you into Swiss cheese were headed toward New Vegas. Well, there are certainly worse places to go for a vengeance-fueled vacation, eh?
Read the rest after the break!
1. Wild, Wild West – Fallout: New Vegas absolutely nails its rootin', tootin' western aesthetic. Our first real quest saw us stroll through saloon doors to round up a tiny settlement's biggest badasses, after which we had ourselves an old-fashioned western stand-off with some local bandits. Said standing, of course, didn't last too long, but we certainly offed our fair share of village-harassing bandits in the subsequent shootout. The dusty, tumbleweed-ridden landscape and termite-infested shacks were the perfect compliment to our not-exactly-a-duel at high noon. All it needed was a whistle and acoustic guitar-centric soundtrack and it would have been perfect.
2. Brand New Enemies, Same Old Fallout Flavor – Fallout 3's opening hours were a perfect mix of tense, frightening, and frequently fatal, but we're fairly sure we wiped out enough rad roaches and rad scorpions to put Raid Bugspray out of business. Fortunately, New Vegas is mixing things up a bit more. Among the new enemies we encountered were giant, desert-dwelling lizards and – we nearly did a Scooby-Doo “zoinks!”-style leap into a nearby developer's arms when we saw these guys – Young Deathclaws. As a result, the game feels like it ramps up in scale more quickly than Fallout 3, with a sense of progression that's a bit less glacial than the leap from “pest control guy” to “slightly better pest control guy.”
3. Keep Your Friends Close... – Fallout: New Vegas – like Fallout 3 – is a powder keg of warring factions just looking for a lit match. However, unlike Fallout 3, New Vegas' factions respond to your actions, and you can easily rub people the wrong way if you're not careful. Among other things, a good or bad reputation in a certain area might affect available quests, characters you can meet, whether or not people will give you items, and store prices. There's also the option to strip your fallen foes and disguise yourself in order to blend in with a faction -- even if its members spend the majority of their days fantasizing about creative ways to murder you. Of course, enemies of said faction will open fire on you until you change into something a bit more comfortable, which, in this case, means less bullet-spongy.
4. Shades of Gray – In Fallout 3, you were either climbing the ladder to heaven – at which point you'd look at Jesus' throne and thank Him for keeping it warm for you – or you were the devil incarnate. Good or evil. Black or white. New Vegas, though, includes just about every shade of gray imaginable. This time around, Karma is tied directly to the reputation system, so you can be a number of things to a number of people. If you've ever played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, you know that this is where developer Obsidian thrives. The game's influence system and subversion of archaic “light side versus dark side” notions put portions of the game head-and-shoulders above BioWare's sci-fi masterwork, and we've got our extra irradiated mutant fingers crossed that New Vegas will pull off a similar hat trick.
5. No Tutorial, No Problem – Aside from finally fulfilling our dream of being Liam Neeson's son, we have to admit that Fallout 3's Vault-bound opening was a bit of a chore. You even had to go to school, for crying out loud! However, in New Vegas, you can roll your character and then roll right out the door if you really want. This time, the tutorial's completely optional, and if you already know the Wasteland like the back of your non-irradiated hand that's not spontaneously growing new fingers right now, then you can leave the starting area in a matter of minutes. This, combined with the quicker enemy progression, means more fun with less hassle. Or at least, that's the hope.
1. Melee! – Don't get us wrong: New Vegas didn't just duct tape Fallout 3's weak melee system to itself and call it a day, but it also could have done a whole lot more. For some perplexing reason, melee weapons still can't target individual body parts in VATS, and even though there are an almost absurd amount of them lying around – including new favorites like a pair of boxing gloves and a golf club that's just begging for a decapitation-based golf minigame mod – they still feel weightless and, outside of their VATS-powered special moves, lack satisfying impact. We'll stick to our guns, thank you very much.
2. Glitch in The System – So there we were, our eyes darting around town in a feverish effort to track down the rest of our bandit-fighters-to-be. Farmhouse. Corn stalk. Tumbleweed. Dog. Tree. Cow's ass protruding from the side of a building. Another farmh-- Wait, what? But sure enough, our eyes did not deceive us. A local cow had somehow managed to fuse with a nearby house, creating some sort of monstrous hybrid that – if perfected – threatened to permanently put milk men the world over out of business. Practical applications aside, however, the cow glitch harkened back to a common theme in Obsidian-developed games: bugs. And lots of them. Granted, this was a preview build, so there's still time polish the game until it shines. But also keep in mind that New Vegas is mind-bogglingly huge, and its October release date's not that far off. In the past, Obsidian struggled with mountains of bugs in linear, fairly constrained games. Thus, one is forced to wonder: given its track record, has it bitten off more than it can chew with Fallout?
3. Fallout + 3D = Pain – Fallout's immersive, and 3D's supposedly immersive. It's a match made in heaven, right? Not so much. Such is the paradoxical nature of 3D: if you're head-over-heels immersed, you'll want to play longer. But if you decide to play longer, your eyes will rebel and try to establish new settlements in the back of your head. The end result: pain. So much pain. So long, immersion. It was nice while it lasted, right up until the part where it felt like you were stabbing us. On top of that, Fallout's not the type of game you pick up and play in short bursts. Unfortunately, after pulling up the Pip Boy gave us a nauseating case of double vision, a short burst was all we could handle. And it wasn't just us; multiple friends of ours reported a similar feeling -- in-between mouth-fulls of Motrin.
1. Blunt Edge Graphics – Even without 3D enabled, there's a decent chance Fallout: New Vegas will make your eyes hurt. Sadly, the Gamebryo engine that's powered Bethesda's big-name RPGs ever since Oblivion has not aged well. It's a pre-apocalyptic relic, and at this point, the emperor of the post-apocalyptic genre needs some new clothes. Fact is, the engine's grainy, muddy, and produces some of the most hideous human characters this side of Uncanny Valley, USA. Fortunately, if RAGE is any indication, Fallout 4's gonna be so beautiful that it'll reduce the entire population of earth to tears, get its own wing in the Louvre, and finally convince Roger Ebert that games can be art. Well, ok, maybe not that last one.
2. What It's Going to Do to Our Social Lives – Fallout: New Vegas is more Fallout 3, but – from the look of things – possibly better. Obsidian's got some of the most creative writers in the gaming business, and Fallout's “hundreds of tiny stories” structure means that if Obsidian can imagine it, the developer can probably find a place for it in the game. Glitches and cracked coat of paint aside, New Vegas has all the pieces needed to be one of the best games of the year. All that remains to be seen is whether or not it can put them all together.