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First Impressions - Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

Release Date: October 19, 2010

Date of Play: October 19, 2010

When I first heard that Bethesda was making a sequel to Fallout 3 set in their take on Las Vegas, I was immensely excited. When I read that it was being developed by Obsidian, which happens to include some members of the team that made Fallout 1 and 2, I was even more excited. Fallout 3 was a tremendous game, surely one of my all-time favorites. I spent easily 100 hours in that world, and I was certain that a sequel could convince me to spend 100 more.

The more I read about the game, however, the more worried I became. It seemed as if Obsidian wasn’t bothering to raise the bar. It seemed as if New Vegas lacked ideas of its own, as if it were simply recreating Fallout 3 as-is in a new setting. This theory was not discouraging enough to prevent a purchase, and even if true I’m sure I’ll still squeeze plenty of fun out of it, but going in I have to hope that there’s something more here. As good as Fallout 3 was, it wasn’t perfect and two years have now passed since its release. I want something more than just Fallout 3 again.

Can New Vegas deliver or am I in for a serious sense of deja vu and a lot of the same problems back to haunt me?

  • Tip #1 for budding New Vegas players: Don’t try to pause the opening cutscene. Despite the abundance of modern titles which let you do this, New Vegas does not. I unintentionally skipped it and must now go back and sit through most of it again. Fantastic. 
  • Games tend to be more exciting when they open with a bang or significant event. Fallout 3, for instance, opened with your character’s birth, which definitely counts as memorable. New Vegas opens with a lot of explanatory narration. Not exciting. Useful information, perhaps, but a bit of a boring start.
  • Screen tearing during a pre-rendered cutscene? That’s not a good sign. 
  • War. War never changes. War also has little to do with the plot of this game. The line, while famous and perhaps necessary, seems a little shoehorned in this context. I don’t get the impression that the gang turf wars in New Vegas are quite the scale as the wars featured prominently in other Fallout games. Maybe I’m nitpicking. 
  • Regarding my earlier comment about the boring start, I must now admit that getting shot in the face counts as memorable. I stand corrected. They might have been better off putting this bit before the boring background though. 
  • Oh god, character creation. I might have to bend my normal rules and make this article about more than just the first hour, because I think I could spend that in character creation alone. That would make for a rather boring article.
  • It is still quite hard to make attractive looking people in New Vegas. 
  • I haven’t seen much of the game, but already I’m worried that it looks dated. Animation so far has been troublingly bad. And environmental detail seems sparse. Neither of these are surprising considering the game engine, but I had hoped for improvements. And don’t even get me started on the faces and character models. Yeesh. I’m still hoping it gets better once I’m in the open world.
  • I’d have to go back and check, and in the interest of full disclosure I’ll admit that I’m not going to, but I’m fairly sure they haven’t added a damn thing to this character creator. Disappointing.
  • I don’t think I have ever done this, but there’s a first time for everything. This character creator kind of sucks. I’m in the mood to get going. I’m going to use a preset face. Horrifying, I know, and I’m not totally happy with her looks, but I get the impression I could spend two hours working on her and still not be happy with her looks, so screw it.
  • Sigh. I had hoped they would come up with a more intuitive method of setting character statistics other than having to decide your entire future before even playing the game based on nothing but vague descriptions and meaningless stat points. Apparently not.
  • Now the doctor is telling me words and I’m having to select one of a number of choices as the first word that comes to my character’s mind. I guess it’s a sort of multiple choice word association thing. I hope this isn’t important, because I have not the slightest idea what most of these are supposed to mean.
  • Ah. The word association feeds a recommendation for which stats to place an emphasis on. You get to pick three to make higher than all the other categories. Apparently my responses confused it. It didn’t know what to do with me. Maybe that was because the questions were so cryptic as to be completely meaningless? Just a guess.
  • The game’s way of teaching you about all of the different armor and item statistics you have to pay attention to is to show you a giant window of text the very first time you open your Pip Boy and enter the menu and before you have any context whatsoever for any of the information. Not exactly elegant.
  • Walking out of the doctor’s office door and seeing the desert wasteland for the first time definitely doesn’t have the dramatic kick that Fallout 3’s exit from the vault did, but then again, you’ve probably seen the wasteland before if you’ve played Fallout 3 and this setup gets you out and exploring a hell of a lot faster. I judge this to be an acceptable tradeoff. The sections in the vault were interesting, and good setup, but a bit boring, and especially so if you were starting a second or third character. 
  • Yup. This looks EXACTLY like Fallout 3. Warts and all. 
  • The AI pathfinding is still laughably bad. So that hasn’t changed.
  • This dog’s animation is truly terrible. His running speed doesn’t match his movement and he seems to be awkwardly floating above the ground.
  • Surprise! Nothing has changed about the combat either. I’m noticing a trend here.
  • It’s sad to admit, but this engine looks really dated now. This is a game that looks every day of its two years old. It feels like nothing has improved beyond Fallout 3 even a step. It hasn’t gotten worse, but I’m getting the disturbing impression that Obsidian hasn’t fixed any of the problems in Fallout 3. It’s probably not going to stop me from playing a lot of New Vegas, because it is more Fallout after all, but it’s disappointing. Fallout 3 was a great game, but now it’s also a two-year-old game with a number of significant issues and this is a modern game with all of those same problems. It reeks of a lack of ambition. There’s a lot of things I expect from Bethesda, both bad and good, but a lack of ambition is not one of them.
  • Oh, terrific. I see they’ve brought back the tremendously tedious computer hacking minigame. Because I totally didn’t get enough of that the first time around. Blech.
  • It’s cute that they added an aim down the sights feature to this feel like a real shooter, but it’s more annoying that helpful. It’s dreadfully hard to aim with and there’s too much damn dice rolling going on in the background to determine whether my shot actually hits regardless of my aim to make such a feature worth bothering with. VATS is still the way to go. 
  • My initial moments in New Vegas make me feel like this is the Madden of expansive RPGs. This is something that iterates ever so slightly on what came before it and presents me with an experience that is familiar and that I will enjoy, but that will ultimately leave me with no distinct impression, that will ultimately leave no unique mark on the gaming landscape. 
  • As much as I love the expansive, open worlds that Bethesda games provide, after playing numerous titles from them with all the same problems (long loading times, horrible animation, tons of bugs) I’m becoming less forgiving. Call me crazy, but after this many years I want things to improve. I want Bethesda to learn from its past mistakes and deliver a better experience, which is something they seem either incapable of or unwilling to do. 

Conclusion: Fallout New Vegas is more Fallout 3. This is true in all of the best and worst ways that this can be. While Fallout 3 was a terrific game that I spent 100 hours in and have no problems revisiting in a new setting, it is disappointing that, two years after the fact, Obsidian seems to have done nothing more nothing less than delivering exactly the same game with a new coat of paint. It will be enough for me to spend many more hours in the confines of its dusty Nevada wasteland, but the fact that the bar was not raised at all for this sequel is truly disappointing when Fallout 3 blew my expectations out of the water and delivered a memorable experience that will stay with me for a long time to come. I don’t get the sense that will be the case with New Vegas. I think this will be a game I play because I liked Fallout 3 and this is more of it. It has the vibe of an expansion pack. It’s treading water rather than setting records. While that doesn’t make it a bad game, it does make it a disappointing one.

Result: SUCCESS (due to lineage, not individual merit)

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