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Review: Fallout New Vegas

The Fallout series reminds us that "War never changes," which is essentially a shorter way of saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The saying can be easily applied to Fallout: New Vegas, which looks and plays almost identically to Fallout 3. Changes include an all new Wasteland located in the Mojave desert, populated with fresh characters and creatures. There are also some additions to the skills, perks, and weapons selection, although the majority is carried over directly from Fallout 3. So, if you had major problems with what the previous game had to offer, there's not much New Vegas has to offer that will change your opinion. However, if you're looking for a strong follow-up, then it's time to hit the strip, but be prepared to face some serious technical problems.

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Although much of the gameplay is transferred from Fallout 3, New Vegas manages to stand out with its location and story. The game takes players back to the West Coast (Fallout 3 took place in the Washington DC area, now the Capitol Wastelands) in the Mojave Wasteland (Nevada and Colorado). Its location saved it from the heavy nuclear bombing that the coastal cities saw, so many of many of the major monuments remain mostly intact and in relatively good working condition. The main character is also very different compared to previous games. Working as a Courier, the main character is shot in the face, left for dead, and buried alive. However, through some miracle the Courier is dug up and revived. From there, the player is free to explore the surrounding area to find out why he was almost killed and perhaps exact a little revenge.

There are several different groups at play, including some that are recognizable by longtime Fallout fans. The three prominent players are the NCR (New California Republic), a wealthy militaristic group that has the strongest semblance to a functional government the Fallout world has to offer; complete with a president, corruption and red tape. It's interested in annexing strategic parts of the Mojave Wasteland, and above all else, maintain its hold over the Hoover Dam. On the other side of the conflict is Caesar's Legion, a group of ruthless slavers with ideology modeled loosely after ancient Roman society. The Legion wants the dam too, and has been steadily amassing its power to push the NCR from the region. Caught between the two factions is the city of New Vegas, which managed to remain autonomous from the NCR under the despotic direction of the enigmatic Mr. House, but his ultimate goal is to set up a completely independent city state. It's up to the player to decide which faction, if any, to back. The future of the Mojave rests on those decisions.

Let's take this time to say that only in the Fallout world can modern soldiers plausibly clash against Roman Centurions using retro 1950s style sci-fi weapons, without the aid of any time travel. New Vegas certainly doesn't lack in creativity, which is further demonstrated by the dozens of quests found across the immense region, each with multiple solutions. The huge sprawling landscape take hours upon hours for players to explore, all while contending with dangers around every corner. Most prominently the hostile wildlife, chem addicted raiders called Fiends, and supermutants. There are also quite a few surprises to discover.

We especially loved uncovering some of the stories behind the different Mojave vaults, and some of the different moral decisions we were presented. At the same time, we missed a lack of humor and strangeness we saw in Fallout 3. Despite its style and setting, New Vegas takes itself pretty seriously. There's a perk called Wild Wasteland that unlocks the silliest things post-apocalyptic America has to offer, but much of that content can be either extremely esoteric or very easy to miss. For example, a movie reference line is played over the radio during a specific scene, which assumes you have the radio on to experience it. Otherwise, it looks like the weirdness icon is showing for no reason. Additionally, the new snow globes items, which take the place of the Fallout 3 bobbleheads, are substantially less useful because all they don't modify stats. They're simply traded in for lots of money, which might not mean much to a player who has plenty. Snowglobes are also extremely difficult to spot due to their size.

The game keeps track of how well the major factions and towns like the player. If players keep up a good relationship, then those factions are likely to offer rewards and won't attack if they spot you on the road. Bad relationships can lead to serious obstacles. Players can try work their way around hostile factions by disguising themselves using uniforms taken from fallen enemies. However, major characters and dogs aren't fooled by disguises, and it can sometimes lead to accidental fights. For example, if the NCR spots you wearing a Legion uniform, they will mistake you for the enemy and open fire. Other gameplay improvements include the ability to have two companions follow you along for the adventure, although the system is limited to one humanoid and one mechanical. As an added bonus, most of the humanoid companions have personal side missions, which they're only willing to share if they trust you, making your in-game decisions even more important. On the flip side, having the right person by your side can make certain situations easier, while the wrong person will almost certainly cause a gunfight.

At first glance, the game has everything it needs: a fantastic open world with a multilayered story where the players free to determine how they fit into the grand scheme of things. However, as one might expect from a game with this content, New Vegas is plagued by some very serious bugs - and we're not just talking about the giant mutant variety. We experienced frequent game crashes in the course of playing, which made hitting the quicksave button every few minutes an absolute necessity. Furthermore, there were severe performance drops at different points of the game, and it didn't seem to matter if we was high action, or if we were indoors or out. Companions that vanish after being dismissed to a common meeting place, sometimes they don't follow you on quick travel, and some locations don't show up as discovered despite walking into the area and talking to the characters. Less game breaking problems include creatures that seem to walk on their heads, companions that suddenly start unprovoked attacks against neutral characters, and a few minor missions that don't show up in the quest journal or Pip-Boy notes. In one instance, we were given a hotel room to keep to thank us for all the favors, but taking any of the items from the room counted as stealing.

Other annoyances include wandering characters that are so hard to find that running into them depends largely on luck, and story arcs that suddenly conflict with each other. In our case, we decided to take care of the New Vegas strip's three crime families to serve our own agenda, but later decided to do a few favors for Mr. House. Eventually, our objectives aligned, causing a mission normally assigned by Mr. House to autocomplete. This suddenly put us on bad terms with both the NCR and Legion. At one point, a soldier came walking straight into the NCR embassy to pick a fight, and we lost both factional standing and karma for defending ourselves. The game also states that the NCR would no longer accept favors from us because of our relationship with Mr. House, which comes off as odd since NCR troops were still perfectly willing to use our character to solve different situations. In one mission, Mr. House even praises the strong bond of trust we have with the NCR, since it makes it easier to further his own goals.

New Vegas' graphics still hold up nicely, despite being almost identical to Fallout 3 from two years ago. The Mojave is mostly miles of sprawling desert, but that also makes areas like Red Rock Canyon all the more striking. Creatures are a mix of old and new, and some of the spectacular new guns include a rifle that shoots grenades and a special energy weapon that disintegrates matter. Players can also pick up weapon repair kits so they can fix their guns without having to spend another, which is incredibly useful for the early parts of the game. The new ammo crafting tables are a lot less useful. We initially thought it would be fun, since guns can now be loaded with specialized bullets, but recipes usually require four or more ingredients that aren't easy to find. There's also no way to check the recipe list except at these crafting tables. Not to mention, ammunition is plentiful in the Wasteland, and players can get by just fine using nothing but regular bullets.

If you enjoy the action of a role-playing fused with first-person shooting (and a good bit of V.A.T.S. aiming), then New Vegas is a great destination, but be prepared for a gamble. We found the game to be very unstable, but the content was good enough to pull us back into playing. Since the stability issues and game bugs are so infuriating, we're recommending that adventurers wait until more of them are fixed before deciding to step foot on the New Vegas strip. Otherwise, this is an experience that we easily found ourselves lost in for days on end.

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