Digital Storytelling

Game Reviews – Fallout: New Vegas

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When Bethesda Softworks purchased the rights to the Fallout franchise from the now defunct Black Isles Studios, they began the very important process of bringing Fallout into the modern 3-D era. The original Fallout games are post-apocalyptic role-playing games (RPG) with an atompunk retrofuturistic setting that is heavily influenced by the post-war culture the 1950s United States. Fallout 3 (2008) was the first game Bethesda made, shortly followed thereafter by Fallout 4 (2015). Both of these games have been heavily acclaimed for their open-world design as well as the story and lore than is inherent is every Fallout game to date. However, there is one Fallout game that Bethesda has treated almost like the black sheep of the Fallout franchise. I’m of course talking about Fallout: New Vegas.

Fallout New Vegas Logo (PSD) | Official PSDs
The official logo for Fallout: New Vegas.

Fallout: New Vegas was released in 2010 as a spin-off of the Fallout series, however in many ways the game feels much more like a sequel to the original Fallout and Fallout 2 than Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 ever have. This is because New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, whereas Bethesda’s only major involvement was simply publishing it. Putting Obsidian in control of the game meant putting the story and lore back in control of many of the original creators of Fallout, many of whom worked for Obsidian at the time of this game’s development.

One of the things that is most impressive about New Vegas isn’t the gameplay or storytelling aspects (though they are great too), and is instead the length of time Obsidian had to develop it. At the time, Bethesda Softworks was busy working on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, so they approached Obsidian in order to make another Fallout game for them. After some negotiations, the two game developers decided the game would take place in Las Vegas, continuing the story on the West Coast as an extension of the original Fallout and Fallout 2 games. However, Bethesda only gave Obsidian eighteen months to make this game, meaning shortcuts had to be taken, resources reused, and timelines cut short. As a result, the game runs on Bethesda’s Gamebryo game engine, which was already outdated in 2010. This means the game features many glitches and bugs and really doesn’t look good graphics-wise when compared to other games released around the same time. New Vegas has a tendency to lag, and the graphics often look dull, gray, brown, and all around unflattering. I have to agree with these statements, because playing New Vegas after you’ve played games with much better graphics is hard on your eyes, simply because Fallout 4 shows Fallout games can have decent graphics. Despite graphics being the game’s weak point, this doesn’t stop New Vegas from being a favorite of the franchise.

I made a quick side by side comparison of the Construction Protectrons in  New Vegas and Fallout 4, for anyone interested.: Fallout
A side-by-side comparison of the graphics featured in Fallout 4 (left) and Fallout: New Vegas (right). Fallout 4 looks much clearer and clean-cut than New Vegas, however many fans have said they can look past New Vegas‘ bad graphics because of it’s replayability. Many even rank New Vegas above Fallout 4 in terms of story, plot, and game mechanics.

To me, Fallout: New Vegas has the best intro of any game in the Fallout franchise. From the start you are serenaded by Frank Sinatra‘s “Blue Moon” as the camera pans outwards from the New Vegas Strip. As the camera pans you are visually introduced to every major faction that resides in the surrounding Mojave Wasteland before the camera comes to a rest on several figures surrounding a freshly dug grave. Then the Ron Perelman introduces you to the game with the signature phrase, “War… war never changes.” From there you are given the basic history of the region leading up until that point. The Mojave Wasteland is seen as a haven, a prize for two powerful factions—The New California Republic (NCR) and Caesar’s Legion—while a third firmly holds the key to the New Vegas Strip—The Three Families, which is run by enigmatic Mr. House. The NCR and Caesar’s Legion have been locked in a constant battle for Hoover Dam—which is a vital source of power and civilization in an otherwise uncivilized land. All the while the New Vegas Strip remains open, as an urban and economic center, where people go for gambling, booze, sex, drugs, and an all around good time. But you don’t have anything to do with any of this. You are a courier working for the Mojave Express, but your most recent delivery job has gone south. You’ve been accosted by several thugs and an unnamed man in a checkered suit. You come to the cold realization that the freshly dug grave from before is yours, which the man in the checkered suit ascertains before putting two 9mm rounds through your skull.

From there you wake over a week later only to discover a strange cowboy robot saved your life and that you have the kind Doc Mitchell in the town of Goodsprings to thank for digging the bullets out of your skull. From there the story is yours to make. The game releases you out into an open world, introducing you to character creation, crafting, and factions. This is a game in which your decisions can have drastic consequences, meaning everything you do makes an impact in some way. Goodsprings acts as a tutorial area, yet the game doesn’t force you to complete anything there other than your own character creation. This doesn’t mean Goodsprings isn’t vital to your own RPG experience, since there is lore and quests that do connect it to the main storyline.

It’s at this point that I’d like to point out the remarkable choices Obsidian made for music in this game. From the moment you wake up in Doc Mitchell’s house you are greeted by a somber yet catchy tune that only sets the atmosphere for the rest of the game. Much of the music featured in this game is in fact reused, from Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout 3. Yet there are a variety of new tracks as well that set the ambience for the wider wasteland. The way the music is used sets the tone for the game, giving the player a sense of unease or stillness in an desolate landscape. However, you also have the radio, as a source of news and entertainment. New Vegas embraces the atompunk retrofuturistic setting, as well as its setting in the post-apocalyptic city of Las Vegas by featuring artists like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Marty Robbins, Nat King Cole, and Peggy Lee. As you walk around the music and ambience give you the feeling you are in a post-apocalyptic nuclear-themed western or crime noir thriller. It’s hard to put into words, but the music makes you feel all these things by making these themes come together in a single coherent mesh. There is also the fact that New Vegas uses certain types of music in appropriate situations. For instance, there is an abandoned vault filled with plant creatures that have reanimated the corpses of dead scientists and wait in the shadows to ambush you. Despite there being no one alive in the vault to talk to you, the music that plays in this vault is suitably unnerving by whispering in your ear in what sounds like Russian, while also adding footsteps and the sound of creaking as you go. Even though I know this music plays whenever I go in this vault, I still find myself scared when enemies jump out at me because the creepiness factor is increased tenfold. There are also musical chords programed to only play during jumpscares, which make the process even more terrifying once you turn around and find a monster staring at you. Overall, I believe the music is one of New Vegas’ selling points, for both it’s themes and ambience.

Now let’s get a little more into gameplay. New Vegas has often been described as an RPG with shooter elements, and that would be very true. It is possible to play this game like a classic RPG, just as it is possible to play it like a first-person shooter. The game features the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS), which assists the player in targeting enemies. This feature is useful, because time virtually stops once VATS is activated, meaning you can plan your attack by choosing which part of an enemy’s body to focus on. Or you can simply choose not to use VATS at all. There is nothing in the game the makes you use VATS, so it’s simply up to the player’s preference. You also have crafting mechanics that allow you to make useful food items, chems (drugs), as well as weapons and armor modifications. It’s important to note that your weapons and armors’ condition will deteriorate over time, so take time to maintain it or you will die as a result of poor upkeep. Many of these factors are determined by skill points and perks that you can choose as you level up. However, Obsidian did fix a glitch from Fallout 3 that essentially let you max out everything by level 20. That is no longer present, so the player must be mindful and prioritize what perks and skills they want as they level up for best results. These are all gameplay aspects that make this game amazing to me, since I don’t know of any one RPG/shooter game that lets you take so much control over your character and their development.

Another feature I enjoy is New Vegas’ subtle boundaries. Upon first setting out, the route to New Vegas may look easy: simply travel north and east until you reach the Strip. Like many thing in this game, it’s not that simple. You see, the area north of Goodsprings is filled with enemies that can still toss you around like a rag doll even at max level. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to take that route. It’s not, because I’ve done it many times. However, the game is soft-locked to encourage new players to explore and learn about the surrounding area. And there is a lot of explore.

New Vegas features over 100 named locations, most of which are involved in a quest of some kind. Many times these quests have multiple ways of completing them, with rewards depending of whichever faction you are choosing to help. Some factions have little meaning, like the Powder Gangers—a group of escaped NCR convicts—or the various towns, such as Goodsprings and Novac. These smaller factions are nice to have on your side because they offer rewards of their own, but they can also simply be left alone if the player chooses. The factions that are unavoidable are those tied directly into the main story, which include: The New California Republic (NCR), Caesar’s Legion, The New Vegas Strip.

The New California Republic (NCR)

The New California Republic (NCR) is a post-war federation founded in New California. It is comprised of five contiguous states located in southern California, with additional territorial holdings in northern California, Oregon, and Nevada.

The NCR emphasizes and strives to support a plethora of old world values, such as democracy, personal liberty, and the rule of law. It also aims to restore general order to the wasteland, the improvement and development of infrastructure and economic systems, and overarching peace between people. Similar to institutions of the old world it seeks to emulate, continued expansion has created challenges with territorial control, loyalty, and corruption that plague the Republic and serve to hinder its goals. The NCR is often criticized by residents of the Mojave wasteland as well as other factions for being hawkish, imperialistic, poorly managed and over-extended in the region, and trying to attempt to emulate old world values that led to nuclear holocaust in the first place.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

Caesar’s Legion

Caesar’s Legion is an imperialistic, reactionary, and totalitarian dictatorship based on large scale slavery and tribal dominance. The Legion uses trappings of the ancient Roman Empire as part of a unifying identity imposed on its tribes but does not recreate any cultural, social, or political institutions of ancient Rome. The Legion itself is simply a slave army built on ruthlessly utilitarian principles, supported by several tributary populations.

Enslaved men are used for combat, and are called legionaries, while enslaved women are forced to bear children and support the war effort. Both are predominately reconditioned tribals, forming a well-organized, culturally insular fighting force that mainly operates east of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, primarily in the former states of Arizona and New Mexico with footholds in Utah and Colorado.

Caesar reconditions his soldiers to worship him as the “son of Mars,” supposedly sent by the god of war to conquer and civilize the wastelands, but he has made no effort to establish a civilian culture (“civilized“ communities who submit to Legion rule are generally allowed to keep their freedom to an extent, rather than being absorbed into the army), as his ultimate goal is to conquer the New California Republic and merge its civilian culture and infrastructure with the military strength of the Legion, creating a new totalitarian empire.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

The New Vegas Strip

The Free Economic Zone of New Vegas is a city-state led by Robert House in New Vegas. Although it is formally founded if House or the Courier establishes sovereignty over the Mojave, in practice, it exists in a practical capacity throughout Mr. House’s rule in New Vegas.

The Three Families are a group of former tribals that control the New Vegas Strip on behalf of Mr. House. The families are the Chairmen, Omertas and the White Glove Society. Each of the Families have their own internal politics and rivalries, yet are united as one under the leadership of Mr. House.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

The Boomers

The Boomers are a tribe formed out of a group of vault dwellers who originally inhabited Vault 34, which contained an overstocked and unprotected armory that led to the emergence of a particularly gun-centric culture among the dwellers. The Boomers were a group particularly obsessed with weapons and the right to keep and bear them freely. The Boomers staged an uprising within their vault before leaving and settling in the ruins of Nellis Air Force Base outside New Vegas. The Boomers moved in and restored the base to working order, taking control of any and all explosive ordinance. From their position in the Mojave, the Boomers are an isolationist and xenophobic society that prefers to annihilate their neighbors rather than help them.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

The Great Khans

The Great Khans are a raider tribe located in the Mojave Wasteland who have a long and bloody history with the NCR. They are the only truly organized band of raiders in the Mojave and, as befits their warrior culture, men and women both can hold their own in a fight, whether in a brawl or a shootout. As a tribe however, the Great Khans are but a shadow of their former selves. Both their numbers and morale have been ravaged by a series of massacres and displacements. From their rocky stronghold at Red Rock Canyon, they make a living by drug-trafficking and the occasional raid or salvage find.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

The Brotherhood of Steel

The Mojave Chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel are but one sect of a much larger organization spread across the post-apocalyptic United States. The chapter is located in Hidden Valley and operates under a policy of strict isolationism: no outsiders are allowed anywhere near the bunker, and anyone found near it is killed. The only people cleared for surface access are nightly Hidden Valley patrols, scouts, and procurement specialists securing food, water, and other necessities. All members of the chapter are direct descendants of the original Brotherhood, with no outside recruitment. The chapter has lost half its number during a skirmish with the NCR and failed to recover its strength while the Republic’s hold on the Mojave increased, meanwhile the extended isolation is taking its toll on the chapter, putting it in a precarious situation. While virtual reality simulators and firing range exercises keep the Knights and Paladins (many of whom have only virtual combat experience) sharp, the chapter is incommunicado to the rest of the Brotherhood.

Summary from the Fallout Wiki.

Each of these factions is important, because once you successfully hunt down the man in the checker suit—who you learn is a member of the Chairmen named Benny—you find out that you’ve been placed in the middle of the region’s power struggle, and every major faction wants you to help them out. You may ask, “Why?” Well, remember how you were a courier before Benny shot you in the head? Turns out you were carrying a package that belonged to the mysterious benefactor of the New Vegas Strip, Mr. House. This package contained a special computer chip designed to look like an oversized poker chip, and this chip controls an army of specialized robots located directly underneath Fortification Hill, where Caesar’s Legion have set up camp on the Arizona side of the Colorado River.

Perhaps the story’s starting to come together a bit now.

Everything in this game boils down to the regional power struggle, and you are being pulled in every direction. Your decisions will decide the fate of the Mojave. At this point you would be inclined to choose the clear “good” or “bad” faction, but it’s not that simple. The reason New Vegas is so good from a storytelling standpoint is that there is no “good” or “evil” factions. It is debatable that the NCR is the lawful good while the Legion is the lawful evil in the land, however both have their ups and downs. On the surface the NCR contains good people who work hard for a living. Yet once you get to know them you realize they are a closeted totalitarian society who claims they support old world democracy. Their upper echelons care little for the consequences of their actions and would much rather wipe out anything in their way instead of try and make alliances. This is supported by their skirmishes with the Great Khans and the fact that one of the colonels, Cassandra Moore, will order you to wipe out the remaining members of The Brotherhood of Steel, simply because of ideological differences. Similarly, Caesar’s Legion appears to be the root of all evil in the Mojave. It is true that the Legion are not good people. They conquer tribes and forcibly assimilate them into the Legion by killing all the man who resist and enslaving the women. However, the lands east of the Colorado are much more peaceful under Caesar’s authoritarian regime. In a post-apocalyptic setting, isn’t safety all you could hope for? Wouldn’t you want the same for the Mojave? While these two factions quarrel with each other, you also have two other choices, to side with House or declare all-out Independence. Siding with House means keeping the Mojave free of foreign influence, pushing back both the NCR and Legion so The Strip can operate the same as it always has. However, House will fully admit to the character that he’s an autocrat and cares nothing for the greater region outside of keeping New Vegas free from outside influence, so he can continue operating on The Strip as a bastion of civilization. The Independent route establishes New Vegas as an independent power in the Mojave with the help of the aptly named Yes Man—a robot who belonged to Mr. House but was reprogrammed by Benny for his own plans of taking over New Vegas. However, establishing independence removes every other faction from the region, including Mr. House, leaving the Mojave on its own under the questionable control of yourself and a robot. Sounds a little ominous, doesn’t it?

Regardless of what path you choose, you always end up fighting for control of the region at Hoover Dam. The outcome of that battle depends entirely on the choices you made leading up to the battle, making the battle easier or harder. It’s all these details, major and minor, as well as the moral ambiguity making you question your every move, that make New Vegas such an amazing game. Due to the many, many choices you make at every turn, the game is very easy to replay for a brand new experience. The game always ends after the Battle of Hoover Dam, leading to a slide show depicting everything you’ve done and how your actions affected the people of the Mojave, for better or worse.

Overall, I would give this game a 9/10, docking points only because of the dated graphics and game breaking glitches. Other than that, this is one of my favorite games and is one I always find myself returning to after growing tired of newer titles. It’s become a classic in its own right.

This is all without mentioning any of the DLCs, which each deserve a review of their own, and the companions, who have their own interesting stories and quests that can have an impact on your final decisions at Hoover Dam. Furthermore, New Vegas also has an amazing community that is still active to this day, creating new mods, making videos on YouTube, and simply enjoying the game over eleven years after its release. If that isn’t a statement on how good this game has held up, then what is? But don’t just listen to me, search around and look up some reviews on it as well! The one I’ve included in this post, created by The Act Man in early 2021, goes much more in-depth than I could ever hope, highlighting everything I love about it and what makes it such a remarkable game!

Please leave a comment down below and let me know what you thought of this review. The game review was made for the DS106 Writing Assignment “A Game Of Reviews”, however that doesn’t make this review any less sincere. Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope you enjoyed it!

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