If I could only use one word to describe Fallout: New Vegas, it would be more. You name it, there’s more of it. Imagine 2008’s Fallout 3 with more weapons, more places to explore, and more creatures to contemplate, and you’ll have a sense of what to expect from New Vegas. It’s a lot more Fallout.
While New Vegas (Bethesda; PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated mature) isn’t a sequel to Fallout 3—it takes place in the same imagined world as all Fallout games but has a different setting, story, and characters—it feels like one. That’s because in terms of how the game looks and plays, New Vegas, to be released on Tuesday (October 19), is exactly like Fallout 3.
The game takes place during the year 2281 in southern Nevada, which escaped destruction by the nuclear weapons that devastated other places, like the Washington, D.C., area explored in Fallout 3. It starts with you, a courier, getting robbed of your delivery and shot in the head by a Rat Pack–era Frank Sinatra look-alike.
You survive the attack, though, so your first act is to customize your character, from your gender and facial features to your abilities and skill set. Your character improves during the game, according to your preferences, as you gain experience through completing quests.
You won’t get to Vegas right away. You’ll spend time wandering the Mojave Wasteland, tracking down the lowlife who robbed and shot you. When you reach Vegas and start to explore your surroundings, you’ll realize how much of the game there is left to play. Just as with Fallout 3, you won’t have any difficulty sinking 60 or more hours into this game.
Vegas plays its usual role—as a city of vice and excess where morals are loose and there are opportunities aplenty for anyone willing to throw the dice. You can play blackjack, roulette, and slots if you want, although that will prove to be about as much fun as you’d expect. Which is to say not much.
Obsidian Entertainment, which developed New Vegas for Bethesda Softworks, has experience creating role-playing games, and thankfully the problems that plagued the studio’s spy-themed Alpha Protocol aren’t an issue in New Vegas. That’s likely because Obsidian simply took Fallout 3, which was developed by Bethesda Game Studios, and built on it.
Movement, combat, conversations, and inventory are all exactly the same as they were in Fallout 3. Obsidian made a few specific changes to the more intricate aspects of the game that are worth noting. Eating food to recover hit points no longer has an immediate effect. Instead, health is recovered over time. And the automatic targeting system known as VATS can now be used with both ranged and melee attacks. Crafting abilities have been enhanced, so you’ll collect plants that can be combined to create healing powders and other chemicals, and you can reload ammunition and modify weapons. Supplementing skill books, which improve abilities like barter and science, are skill magazines, which grant you temporary bonuses.
The element of the game that Obsidian really intensified, though, is the degree to which you'll have to be a political creature.
Southern Nevada is being fought over by two factions who want control of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Both the New California Republic, described by one denizen as being nothing new, "just a bunch of people with power and money pushing everyone else around", and Caesar’s Legion, a vicious and motley collection of people that dress like Roman legionnaires, want control of the fresh water and the electricity the lake and dam can generate.
And there are dozens of clans, cults, and mobsters you’ll have to navigate too. Maintaining your reputation—good or bad—with all of them is important. You’ll need to take into account who you’re on good terms with and who you’ve pissed off.
The problem with more is that at some point it becomes too much, and New Vegas comes perilously close to this limit.
The inventory management, for one, has become troublesome because there are so many more items to keep track of. And the Xbox 360 version I played was plagued with long load times and graphical hiccups. Moving from the Mojave Wasteland into New Vegas, for example, or even between sections of the Strip, required a pause of minutes in some cases. And after I’d been playing for a few hours, the game would just freeze for a few seconds as I was walking through the desert.
In truth, most of the added gameplay features will be appealing only to hard-core RPG fans. Which may be why the game includes a Hardcore Mode. When playing with this setting activated, your character requires food, water, and rest on a regular basis. Ammunition has weight, so it factors into your inventory choices. Playing Hardcore means that you’ll have to carefully manage resources and be more strategic about moving from place to place. It’s not for everyone—it certainly isn’t for me—but there will be those who are up for the challenge.
New Vegas isn’t as breathtaking as Fallout 3, but as a follow-up it’s damned commendable. As a game that’s a careful iteration of a proven formula, Fallout: New Vegas is, if nothing else, very enjoyable.