Over one hundred hours of game play. A lofty goal for any developer, even within the traditionally lengthy RPG market. And an even more difficult goal when trying to keep said one hundred hours interesting and fresh for the player the whole time they’re playing. After all, who’s going to bother to put down that sort of time into a dull, derivative title? It is because of this that I am always impressed whenever I realize I have hit this threshold with a game, as generally speaking I can finish even the most tedious of RPGs in under 50 hours. It takes a special something to keep me interested in a game for so long, an x-factor that I can only describe as an addicting sense of joy, and whenever this happens I find myself wanting to share this feeling with everyone I know. As such, I hope that you will allow me to indulge in describing one such game to you, a game that I have purchased twice, once for me and once for a friend, because I have and still am enjoying it to this day. Let me tell you about Fallout: New Vegas.
It’s strange really, as I was never all that big a fan of Oblivion or Fallout 3, even though they shared the same basic mechanics as New Vegas. Heck, it’s practically the same setup as Fallout 3, with the games sharing the same basic world, weapons, and game play elements. And while I don’t want to say that I did not enjoy these other games (I did, having put at least twenty hours of game play into each title), somehow New Vegas is on a different plane for me. Maybe it is because I played the other two games on consoles whereas I played New Vegas on the PC, or maybe it’s because I like the overall feel of the New Vegas world better than I enjoyed the desolation that was D.C. in Fallout 3, but for whatever reason New Vegas seems much more enjoyable than its predecessor.
Speaking of the setting, I have to say that I really enjoyed the way the game portrayed New Vegas as a wasteland with pockets of human settlement, with New Vegas proper being the largest surviving area. This sets up a fun dynamic, as you can choose whether you want to jump from populated pocket to pocket, making friends and enemies and gathering supplies as you do so, or explore the wasteland searching for landmarks, rare gear, and experience. One of the main things that has kept the game fresh for me even after all of these hours is this exploration factor, as by just wandering off the beaten path and exploring areas I have already visited in greater depth I have discovered new layers of content I didn’t even know existed during my previous play throughs. Just the other day I discovered an area called The Thorn, an underground arena hidden right in the middle of a small settlement, which I had completely missed despite walking right past it before! If you own this game and have beaten the main story but never bothered to just go out and explore (like I did at first), take a minute and give it a shot. I have had more fun discovering new areas, enemies, and weapons through exploration than I had beating the game proper, and I had a heck of a lot of fun doing that.
Which is not to say the game proper is sparse or anything. Far from it! In fact I’ve probably put at least sixty hours into the main game alone, getting each of the multiple endings depending on which faction you decide to side with in the end. The story is actually rather elegant in its build up. You start the game having been shot in the head by a man you don’t know for a seemingly worthless package. Fortunately for you it takes more than a bullet to the skull to keep you down, and after a brief recovery you set out on your quest to find the man you wronged you. This simple direction takes on a life all its own as you realize the true value of the package you were carrying and the role it can play in the distribution of power in New Vegas. And as you encounter the different factions you quickly find yourself forced to pick sides, attempting to choose who should be the rightful ruler of New Vegas. Will you side with the New California Republic, the main stabilizing force in the area but who are full of corruption and incompetence? Or perhaps you will pick Caesar’s Legion, a strong military force that has brought together the warring tribes of the wasteland, but that looks down on women and ghouls and actively engages in slavery? Or maybe you will try to take it all for yourself, taking control of New Vegas and driving out the other factions? Whatever you decide, you can be sure that there will be plenty of action and intrigue, with you at the forefront of the conflict. Just make sure not to piss off people who’s favor you might need down the road, lest you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
But that’s what’s so beautiful about this game: the freedom you have throughout it. While there may be different paths and instructions available to you from the word go, at the end of the day you decide what it is you want to do. You can walk into Caesar’s camp after completing a mission for that faction, walk into Caesar’s tent, pull out your anti-materiel rifle and blow Caesar’s head off without warning, proceed to demolish his entire camp with a sniper rifle, and then sneak out to join up with another faction. There is nothing stopping you from doing anything you want other than your own skill and daring, and of course the strength of your character. Don’t get me wrong, the game will try to prevent you from doing stupid things, but there are no invisible walls blocking your path or invincible NPCs (other than the children, but that’s another story) that resist your best efforts to blow them away. No, if the game doesn’t want you to go somewhere it will fill that area with high level enemies, like Deathclaws and Cazadors, which will tear you to pieces if they find you. If the game doesn’t want you to murder certain NPCs it will make them high level and surround them with other high level characters to dissuade you. But this just makes it all the more satisfying when you overcome these obstacles, sneaking past the enemies of cutting a swathe through them through careful planning. And even if you can’t pull it off just yet, it is nice to know that you can come back in a few levels and try again and again until you finally manage to pull it off.
That’s right, this game might have all of the action elements of a shooter and the exploration of a sandbox game, but at its heart it is a RPG with an incredible amount of depth and customization at your disposal. The system takes a bit of a different tack than your standard RPG though, in which every level your character’s core stats, like strength and endurance, rise, meaning that by the end of the game your character can bench-press buses and take lightning bolts to the face without flinching. No, here your core stats are determined at the very beginning of the game and stay that way until the end, sans for modifying it through equipment, implants, or perks. Instead every level you gain skill points that you can distribute to a laundry list of skills, such as sneaking, lock picking, and speech. And while they may not make your character incredibly strong, they open up new options and possibilities depending upon how you build you character. For instance, a character with a high sneak skill has a better chance of sneaking past a group of guards, whereas a character with a high lock pick skill might be able to break in through a side entrance and circumvent them altogether. And by combining these skills you can do even more impressive things, like using your sneak and gun skills in order to get free critical hits on your enemies. I highly encourage experimenting with a wide variety of skills to discover which ones suit your play style best and then build your character around your strengths.
But these skills are only half of the leveling system, as every other level you also gain perks that will give your character special attributes that can help you out. These can range from increasing your luck in battle to extra dialogue choices in some situations, or even boosting the key stats you chose in the beginning. You can also gain perks through playing the game, as killing enough of certain enemy types or accomplishing special events will automatically grant you additional perks. These perks, when added to your skills, ensure that every character you make is different from previous incarnations and has its own play style. And, honestly, the fact that your character gains skill and abilities as it levels up rather than just buff up makes sense as well, as becoming a bit more seasoned is not going to increase the damage your gun is going to do to an enemy. But becoming a bit more skilled at gun handling from experience and in turn being able to pull off more accurate shots and thus cause more damage does.
And this leads us to the third and final part of your character’s progression in this game: your equipment. You see, in this game if you want to do more damage to your enemies then just investing more time into grinding enemies isn’t going to cut it. In fact that extra grinding might cause your equipment to deteriorate, making you even less effective in combat! As such you have to balance gathering new weapons and armor with upkeep and ammunition; after all, the best gun in the world won’t help you if you run out of bullets. And this actually ties back into exploration, as by exploring the wasteland you can find some weapons that otherwise wouldn’t be available until late game, if at all. It is in balancing these three aspects of your character, skills, perks, and equipment that you make him/her into a fighting machine unlike any other. Heck, half the fun of starting a new play through lies in attempting a new character build to see how it plays in comparison to others. Whether you make a sniper or an explosives expert, a diplomat or an assassin, you can know that your character is your own and that its every strength and weakness is a result of how you built it.
Moving on from the character building aspect, we come to the game’s aesthetic elements, and here, much like your character, the game has its own strengths and weaknesses. The game’s audio is definitely one of its strengths, with the many dialogue options for the different characters all being well voice acted and the ambient noise during battles and while exploring being highly distinctive. The game’s music is also top notch, with many memorable songs and themes capped off by your built in radio, which plays a combination of music and DJ broadcasts wherever you are. Add in some witty banter from your companions and you have a feast for the ears, which is nice a nice reprieve from the emptiness of the wasteland.
The graphics, on the other hand, are not as high quality, with the texturing of the world and recycled objects looking fairly drab in comparison to the top notch audio. Also the character models, while an improvement from their Oblivion counterparts, still seem stiff and lifeless, looking more like human shaped puppets than actual human beings. This is not to say that it is all bad, as several of the locations are still highly distinctive and memorable, and the main characters, while a bit off, are distinguishable from each other, which is nice. Also the various in game enemies are all rather interesting from a design perspective. From the Deathclaws to the Securitrons, all of the game enemies are well designed and memorable, to the point where fighting humans actually starts to seem kind of dull after a while! The game’s graphics are also nicely touched up by the game’s retro aesthetic, as the ’50s fallout style is very intriguing and has a unique combination of futuristic and old school design elements that play nicely off each other. As such I rather enjoyed the visual elements as well, though I’ll admit that they’re nothing ground breaking.
Speaking of breaking, those of you in the know probably remember how buggy this game was when it was first released, with several of the quests not working properly and strange things happening at unexpected intervals (my worst experience was when I finally finished a quest, saved my game and quit, only to find out that completing the quest had somehow corrupted my save file!). This is a valid concern when considering whether or not to pick up this game, but you have to keep in mind how long it’s been out now. Most of these bugs have been worked out over time, with the current version running smoothly with minimal to no bugs whatsoever. Add to this the fact that the game is now less than twenty bucks new (I actually bought a copy for a friend at Best Buy for ten bucks a few weeks ago), and there is really no reason not to pick this title up. If you like shooting games, RPGs, sandbox games, or post apocalyptic settings then I cannot recommend this game strongly enough! Buy it, play it, love it.
And now, because I have nothing better to do with my time, how about I share a few Bargain Tips with you guys? It’ll be useful this time, I promise!
First off, when building your character, be careful when considering making one of your stats a dump stat. I know it can be tempting to not invest any points into luck, but keep in mind that your luck stat determines your critical hit ratio, which can turn the tide dramatically in some battles. A good critical can one shot an opponent that would normally take a dozen hits to go down. Instead you might consider charisma, as it only boosts your speech and barter skills, both of which can be boosted manually through the level up system.
Secondly, look everywhere! Exploring the starting town on my recent play through, I found a bunch of stuff I had never seen before, including a safe full of energy weapons and several stat boosting magazines. Exploring an area thoroughly can get you all sorts of cool stuff, and will, in turn, help you stay alive longer.
Thirdly, loot like a mother fracker. And I don’t just mean the useful stuff like ammo, guns and aid items either. Anything that can sell well, whether it be a fission battery or a cazador poison gland, should be gathered up to be sold/traded later. You can dump the extra weight on your companions to free up inventory space, meaning that when you finally find that amazing yet expensive weapon you’ll actually have the caps to afford it.
Finally, try to have two to three main guns depending on the type of enemy you’re facing. For instance, I have a modified varmint rifle and 9 mm pistol for weaker enemies, a .44 magnum and sniper rifle for tougher enemies, and an anti-materiel rifle and tesla cannon for really strong enemies. This is not to say you can’t have more weapons, but planning like this will help you conserve ammo and be more effective in the long run.
Well, that’s it for me! I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my current addiction, and I look forward to seeing you all next time. Until then, this is Bargain Gamer, logging off!