A Critical Look at Fallout: New Vegas

I have a lot of great history with Fallout: New Vegas. Initially introduced to the franchise with Fallout 3, I was incredibly excited and frankly a bit incredulous when I found out that a second 3D Fallout game existed toward the close of my stint in high school. One of my none-too-bright friends (I grew up in Texas, remember) offered to trade me his copy of Fallout: New Vegas on PS3, along with a hardcover guide book (and, funnily enough, a copy of the original Crash Bandicoot on PS1 which I had never played before) for four Yu-Gi-Oh! cards from the collection that I still had from my childhood. Obviously, I made the trade immediately (I actually tried to get more out of it being the ruthless little tycoon that I was) and began New Vegas in earnest. I was several hours into the game when something I never expected happened; I lost interest.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I gave New Vegas another shot and ended up playing through the whole thing. And while I enjoyed the hell out of it, there were a lot of problems in New Vegas that significantly hampered my experience, especially when compared with the brilliant Fallout 3. Unfortunately, the internet has become a dangerous place for people like me who value the legacy of Fallout 3 over New Vegas, so I’m hashing out my issues with New Vegas in a metered, largely objective manner to best explain why I feel the way I do about the most polarizing entry in one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time.

The first (and probably biggest) problem that I have with New Vegas lies in its approach to storytelling. I know a lot of players enjoyed exploring the Mojave Wasteland, tracking down your assailant, Benny, from the beginning of the game and getting drawn into the war between The NCR and Caesar’s Legion. And while I also liked it a lot, it was a far cry from the emotional narrative Bethesda created in Fallout 3, which I still consider their greatest accomplishment as a developer. While choosing the future for New Vegas and the surrounding areas is fun and interesting, I never felt like I had a vested interest in the outcome. This is hampered further by the crippling decision Obsidian made to give the game a hard ending, meaning the game is over once it’s complete and the only way to keep exploring the wasteland is by loading an older file or starting a new game (and thus loosing all of your equipment). This is a major problem for two reasons: the first is because all open-world games need to allow players to continue to explore their worlds upon the game’s conclusion or else risk losing the narrative focus of the game as players take their time discovering every location and completing every side quest, completely derailing the story that is supposed to be building toward a climax rather than sputtering across a finish line once the exhaustive exploration is complete. The second problem is, unlike Fallout 3, which initially had a hard ending that Bethesda smartly altered with DLC, New Vegas really doesn’t have a reason for the sudden cutoff that it forces upon the players. Your character doesn’t die. There isn’t a nuclear bomb detonation or anything of the sort that significantly changes the landscape. The game just ends, largely out of nowhere, robbing players of exploring and enjoying the choices they made in the game’s final hours. I understand the veteran devs at Obsidian may have made this decision because the original isometric Fallout titles had similar endings, but a 3D open world game like New Vegas is very different from the top-down experience of the first two titles and they should’ve taken that into consideration.

Another major downgrade from Fallout 3 in New Vegas is the lack of major moments that really make the player sit back for a moment and think to themselves “Wow, that was awesome.” I found this to be the case constantly in Fallout 3 from nuking a rampaging Super Mutant Behemoth to fighting in vain to save the team of doctors on the run after the Enclave takeover of Project Purity to finding a gigantic ant queen in a subway station to uncovering the truth behind President Eden. And let’s not forget about the Pint-Sized Slasher or Gary. Just about every side quest and story moment in Fallout 3, in addition to a number of locations you could just stumble across, left me in a sense of wonder and euphoria at the detail and polish that went into the development of that game. But other than one or two moments, I never felt that way in the more by-the-books story development and side questing of New Vegas. Yes there were many more quests to complete in New Vegas compared to Fallout 3, but how many of them stand out as much as The Power of the Atom or Oasis? Almost none.

Finally, I must say I was massively disappointed with the Chris Avellone-helmed DLCs offered in New Vegas. Fallout 3 contains some of my favorite DLCs of all time, each brimming with quality, length, reward, and different experiences than what was offered in the base game. While I think the New Vegas DLC attempted to replicate this, and even go beyond with an over-arching storyline connecting the packages together, in execution few of these ideas coalesced to create satisfying experiences. While the character development was top-notch within Dead Money and Honest Hearts, there always felt like something was lacking after the DLC masterclasses that were The Pitt or Point Lookout. My first time through Honest Hearts, I had to reload my save after accidentally shooting the wrong person and ruining the entire add-on. And my time wandering through the, at times, poor level design of Dead Money was plagued with cheap, repeated deaths from the annoying bomb collars, even as I wanted to keep powering through to see what twists the narrative would take next. But nothing was worse than Old War Blues with its cheap plethora of sexual innuendos, bad puns, and unbelievably lengthy dialog trees. I know that Obsidian loves their long-winded discussions, but never before has it crippled an experience like it did in Old War Blues, and this is coming from a gamer that loves exhaustive dialog in games. Overall, the DLC offerings paled in comparison to those in Fallout 3, a sad truth that dampened my overall enjoyment of the game.

New Vegas is not a bad game by any means; it’s a fantastic open-world RPG with great weapon variety, memorable characters and an excellent atmosphere. But compared to the life-altering masterpiece that was Fallout 3, it felt like the spin-off it was rather than the bold new direction that Obsidian fans have convinced themselves that it is. I have no issue with those that enjoyed New Vegas more than Fallout 3 (though I do question their perspective), but to disrespect Bethesda, the company that revived one of the greatest gaming franchises in history, by insinuating that Fallout 3 is a horrible game and decreeing that Bethesda should hand over all Fallout assets to Obsidian just because a few of them worked at Black Isle is a disappointing stance I’ve seen many New Vegas fans take, splitting the community in a way few have ever experienced. Talking about Fallout shouldn’t be reminiscent of creeping carefully through Minefield; it should be a celebration of the great work both Bethesda and Obsidian have put out and a continuous expression of excitement as we await what’s next for what is an incredible franchise.

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