Fallout: New Vegas [Review]

Obsidian Entertainment’s return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland is a highly compelling and immensely enjoyable adventure... In spite of its frustrating technical issues.


When Fallout 3 was announced several years back diehard fans of the series were concerned over the newest entry in their beloved franchise.  Here was a brand new installment in a highly revered classic PC role-playing game series that was being handled by an entirely different studio with a very different take on the mechanics of previous titles.  Message boards everywhere were filled with laments of how the new Fallout was just going to be a sci-fi Oblivion and easily forgettable.  While Bethesda Game Studios’ final product put many loyalists’ fears to rest and introduced a brand new generation to the Fallout franchise, some fans still yearned for those halcyon days of 1996 and the original Fallout games.

When it was announced that Obsidian Entertainment was working on the follow-up to Fallout 3 there was excitement again in the community.  Many former members of Black Isle Studios, creators of Fallout and Fallout 2 now work at Obsidian Entertainment and one of the original writers for the series, Chris Avellone was appointed as senior designer on the new title.  After over a decade of waiting it seemed fans would finally have their “true” sequel to Fallout 2.  Although Fallout: New Vegas doesn’t stray too far from the core design of Fallout 3 it adds just enough to satisfy those diehard fans while also helping newcomers to another healthy serving of post-apocalypse mayhem.  The final result is another sprawling, fantastic adventure into the wasteland that is easily one of the year’s best gaming experiences despite its technical failings.


While Fallout 3 took place in a bombed-out Washington, D.C., the setting in Fallout: New Vegas switches the series’ focus back to the western side of the United States.  Just like in the original Fallout titles, the story in Fallout: New Vegas sets the player in an apocalyptic wasteland where multiple factions fight one another for control of precious resources and territory.  Throughout the course of the adventure, the player chooses with whom to ally and all actions taken will have a major impact on rival factions and the world itself.  This time around the up-and-coming government of the New California Republic is locked into a vicious war against a massive marauding army known as Caesar’s Legion.  Players are engulfed in the conflict as these two major powers lock horns and fight for control of the Hoover Dam, one of the few remaining sources of electricity in Nevada.  In addition to these two factions, the desert is also controlled by roving gangs of bandits, mercenary companies, New Vegas crime families, super mutants, and fanatical ghouls.

While the story in Fallout 3 was considered by many to be a slow burn, Fallout: New Vegas begins dramatically with the player being executed and buried in a shallow grave in the Mojave Desert.  After being miraculously saved by a robot named Victor and thoroughly patched up by a local doctor, players learn a small bit of information regarding the events that have lead up to the present.  As a courier for the Mojave Express mail service, the player had been given a package of a single platinum poker chip which was stolen right before his execution by a sharply dressed, Mafioso-looking thug.  Everything else concerning the botched job and the killer is shrouded in an amnesiac fog.  It is up to the player to discover the truth behind the package and seek out retribution for the assassination.  What follows is an intriguing mystery that leads the player to the town of New Vegas, the vibrant sin city of the apocalypse, and will ultimately decide the fate of the Mojave Desert.

As is a staple of the Fallout series, the player has full agency over his actions and can impact the world as much as he pleases.  Should players decide to be proponents of justice and peace they can fully pursue this path and side with the forces they set fit.  If a life of crime and self-gain is what motivates you then go right ahead.  Or players can choose to go on a massive wanton spree of violence and cruelty if they please.  More so than in any entry in the franchise yet, Fallout: New Vegas caters to any style of play with its inclusion of the new reputation system.


During the course of Fallout: New Vegas, players will choose to take on missions for any one of the many factions that inhabit the Mojave Desert.  Actions taken for groups such as the New California Republic or the Powder Gangers, a group of escaped convicts armed to the teeth with explosives, will appropriately influence the player’s notoriety or acceptance within the factions.  As time goes on and more missions are taken, players will be rewarded for positive actions with lower prices at stores or reinforcements during combat.  Anger any faction enough and hit squads will be dispatched to hunt down and eliminate the player.  Each faction has their own play style associated with them and respectively reward those who side with them.

In addition to the new reputation system, Obsidian Entertainment has also made several mechanic changes to the combat and dialogue system in Fallout: New Vegas.  While the game play in Fallout: New Vegas still holds true to the first-person/RPG experience of Fallout 3, a lot of effort has gone into making the shooting mechanics more accessible and the skill development much more rewarding.

In Fallout 3, the system behind combat actions was done purely through dice rolling and calculating stats.  Even if players aligned a target dead center in their scopes, a center mass shot could miss if their gun skill levels were at too low.  This focus on statistics over actual skill was incredibly frustrating and it ended up turning off many people from completing the adventure. In Fallout: New Vegas the entire shooting system has been retooled to reward skill while statistics are generally reserved for precision shots using the returning VATS system.  Like in most modern first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, players can now aim down the iron sights of their weapons and crouch down to improve accuracy.  Players will no longer find themselves missing a critical shot at a target no more than ten feet away.

Obsidian Entertainment has also worked the dialogue system to now incorporate more than just the speech skill into the mix.  In Fallout 3, a player’s level in the speech skill was the only deciding factor when trying to persuade a character in conversation.  This time around, non-player characters can be swayed to meet the player’s request if a particular skill is relevant to the conversation.  For example, if a merchant is unwilling to give up a mission-related item for a low price, players can either use their speech skill to charm the seller or a high barter skill can convince the merchant that they feel ripped off.  Fallout: New Vegas is ripe with dialogue options that allow skills such as medicine, stealth, or even explosives to have positive effects outside of combat.


Beyond reworking the system mechanics of Fallout 3, Obsidian Entertainment has also expanded the crafting system in Fallout: New Vegas.  Workbenches have returned once again, but this time around they’re more common and players can now create new types of ammunition.  If a particular enemy has armor too thick to easily penetrate then armor piercing rounds can be crafted, or new explosive rounds for grenade launchers can be made from various household items.  There is also a new focus on the wasteland ecology as players can create food from hunted wildlife at campfires.  If there’s one game to ever allow players to make a tasty salad with the venom from a giant radioactive scorpion’s poison gland, Fallout: New Vegas is it.

Players shouldn’t balk at such culinary choices as that salad may be particularly useful when playing through the game in the new “hardcore” mode.  At the outset of the adventure the choice is offered to experience Fallout: New Vegas in a slightly more realistic setting.  In hardcore mode healing items work over time, party members can die, ammunition now has weight, crippled limbs need to be cared for by a doctor, and players will need to eat, drink, and sleep.  Wandering through the vast Mojave Desert, players can find themselves dehydrated or slowly starving to death if they’re inattentive to their character’s needs.

While the hardcore mode does spice up the game by adding the additional dangers of malnourishment and sleep deprivation, the mechanics behind these systems are too generous to really be a threat.  Players can stay awake for days at a time and forget about their character’s hunger and thirst for a long while before it becomes an issue. Even then, quickly gobbling down some giant gecko steaks and gulping down purified water solves the problem.  Weight restrictions can be ignored by treating party members as pack mules and injured limbs can be fixed by revisiting the doctor in the starting town.  While hardcore mode is an interesting idea it just isn’t enforced strongly enough to make the game drastically different from the normal adventure.


With the exception of the mishandled hardcore mode the changes that Obsidian Entertainment made to the mechanics of Fallout: New Vegas really go a long way towards making the game more enjoyable to play through than its predecessor.  Combat feels far less clunky now that statistics are mostly reserved for VATS and the inclusion of more skill checks in dialogue choices rewards players for creating multi-talented characters.  Yet while a lot of effort certainly was spent on making the game-play a more streamlined experience, more attention could have been given to the graphical side of things.

Although the wasteland of Fallout: New Vegas is a pleasure to explore, many players will find themselves seeing too much of Fallout 3 in the Mojave Desert.  A lot of Fallout 3 assets are used again here as buildings and furniture are often copied and pasted from the previous Fallout title.  One city in particular, albeit a minor one is almost entirely comprised of destroyed homes and bombed-out buildings taken directly from the apocalyptic wasteland of Washington, D.C.  While this sloppy reuse of textures and models doesn’t break the immersion of the newest Fallout game it certainly detracts from the experience when multiple graphical assets from Fallout 3 are clustered together.

Contrary to the visuals of Fallout: New Vegas the sound and music design of the game is entirely fresh and interesting.  More 1950’s era music has been added to the in-game radio and composer Inon Zur’s score itself is very atmospheric.  From the lonely but beautiful violin piece that accompanies the player in the starting town to the musical cues of the New Vegas strip itself the music does a wonderful job of adding to the tone of the Fallout series and making the world feel very organic.

Beyond the musical score, Obsidian Entertainment has really livened up the world of New Vegas by tossing in some great voice actors and casting well-known celebrities as major characters.  Ron Perlman resumes his role as the series’ narrator and New Vegas Radio’s disc jockey is none other than Wayne Newton himself.  While some voice actors are reused for multiple minor characters as they were in Fallout 3 there’s generally a larger stable of voice actors on display here.  Every line of dialogue read is done convincingly by each of the actors and all of it feels very natural.  While the actors themselves do a commendable job it really is the writing that stands out here though.

Beyond the retooled system mechanics and sound design of the game, the writing in this title is among one of the game’s greatest draws.  Fallout: New Vegas features easily some of the best writing in a video game in recent memory.  Chris Avellone, along with the rest of the writing staff at Obsidian Entertainment really knocked it out of the park with their contributions to the game.  Dialogue is well-written, natural, and clever throughout the duration of the player’s adventure.  When the game’s tone is serious it’s genuinely dark and a sense of dread is palpable.  Whenever humor is injected into the story it’s witty and often hilarious.  The writing here is every bit as enjoyable and as slick as 2007’s Portal…  Minus jokes about cake.


While there is much to laud and love about Fallout: New Vegas there is one major issue to be found with the game and that is its technical problems of which there are many.  The Gamebryo engine that Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas run on has always had its failings.  Every title that runs on the engine has graphical issues and stability issues aplenty and anyone that has spent dozens of hours in the worlds of Oblivion or Fallout 3 can attest to that.  Everything from graphical glitches such as rag doll physics going berserk with spasms to game-crashing bugs are known to occur on the engine.  In Fallout: New Vegas, however, these issues are rampant to the point of being constant.

Throughout my experience with Fallout: New Vegas, glitches were an epidemic.   After exiting a building, characters would be half-stuck in the ground and unable to move.  Sometimes enemies would be stuck in walls while trying to attack. On one occasion, a pack of wild dogs was randomly generated right on top of me once I exited a building.  The worst glitch during my time with Fallout: New Vegas occurred when the game froze upon auto-saving and an hour of game play was lost as a result.  While this only happened once the corrupted save file still serves as a stark reminder of the need to save progress every twenty minutes or so.

Another major issue here lies with the artificial intelligence itself.  Occasionally, enemies may run in place vainly trying to attack while others may stand around lifelessly.  Party members also have difficulty with walking up rocky terrain and can end up running into groups of enemies by trying to take a shortcut.  One particularly hilarious bug causes friendly characters to run away from the player while spouting off lines of dialogue.

In addition to the glitches I experienced while playing through the Xbox 360 version of the game there are complaints of many other technical issues on the official Fallout forums.  Those trying to play on PC in particular have had constant issues regarding the game’s poor optimization with their systems.  One unfortunate forum poster has even complained of having the game randomly delete all his saved games on two separate occasions.


While these glitches are certainly an issue to be taken into consideration when playing through the game it’s still difficult to hold it against the title considering how much it does right.  Beyond the game’s graphical failings and the bevy of technical problems, Fallout: New Vegas is easily one of the best and biggest Fallout titles yet.  Most of what Obsidian Entertainment sets out to do is accomplished expertly and the sheer amount of content in the game is staggering.  While players can rush through the main quest in under ten hours, full exploration of the Mojave Desert can easily take upwards of forty hours or more.  Even once the game has been completed, Fallout: New Vegas can be replayed in many different ways and there are multiple endings to go with any play style.  Even once the adventure comes to an end there’s still the promise of downloadable content packs in the near future.

With a couple patches to sort out the glitches and finely tune the A.I., Fallout: New Vegas can easily be one of the year’s best titles.  As it stands, Fallout: New Vegas is still a highly recommended title but one that requires a good deal of patience at times.  It’s rough around the edges and in dire need of some technical support, but anyone dying for an incredibly rewarding and highly compelling adventure should look no further.

Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits
Jason Wersits

MASH Veteran

Jason Wersits is a Senior Editor for Mash Those Buttons. A lifetime resident of New Jersey and a diehard Starcraft fan, Jason spends the bulk of his time on the site working with the review staff to cover the games you care oh so much about.

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