[4 November 2010]
Is it okay to ship and sell a game this broken? It clearly shouldn’t be, but it’s not definitely unprecedented. For a long time, PC gamers regularly dealt with the annoying fact of life that publishers sold bug-laden software with the implicit promise that upcoming patches would make it all better. One of the main reasons that I embraced the modern console era a few years back was because I was so damn sick and tired of that nonsense. Nevertheless, here we have Fallout: New Vegas, a game that I was aching to play and bought on day one. And day one was great. As I wrote about it earlier, it sucked me right in and I loved it.
It was day five when everything went to hell. Saves were corrupted, and my Xbox 360 crashed and froze an even dozen times in a row. I spent an hour on hold waiting for Bethesda customer service. They were very nice, had many suggestions, and none of it helped. I had to revert to an old save and go from there. It hasn’t been that bad since—just irregular crashes and freezes and glitches and broken quests—but nothing that killed a save or cost me more than a few minutes game time. I finished the game (well, sort of, see below), a satisfied customer, and I’m going to recommend that you buy it if it sounds interesting to you. But I’ve started out the review harping on the bugginess because, continual patches aside, this is some bullshit. Also, I want to urge you to save early and save often. They let you have 100 save slots. Use all of them (I did).
New Vegas isn’t a sequel to Fallout 3, but rather a sort of expansion. “Companion Game” would be a better description (although I think I just made that term up). New Vegas is just as vast as Fallout 3, a full fledged game in every way that offers scores of hours of interesting gaming. There have been some tweaks to the older companion systems, especially when it comes to dealing with your followers, but they’re mostly minor changes. The bigger differences come in the setting. New Vegas and the surrounding Mojave Wasteland are more varied and alive than bombed-out DC, featuring more foliage, more established settlements, and a lot more neon. The two great foes in the game, Caesar’s Legion and The New California Republic (NCR), are whole civilizations gnashing at one another’s throats. This is a wasteland on the mend, and your role is to determine what course society will take.
The biggest and best innovation in the game is the Reputation system, which mostly supersedes the Karma system of the first game. Karma is still here (and still stupid about the context of your actions), but I noticed zero impact from it on my game. Reputation on the other hand is front and center. Each community, gang, or group in the game has a view of you and your actions. Help a town out and they can come to idolize you. Shoot down gang members on the street, and they’ll hate you. With the big groups, like the NCR and Caesar’s Legion, the choice can eventually become mutually exclusive. Helping one pisses off the other, which is how it should be. Become beloved and you’ll be showered with gifts, access, and allies. Earn eternal enmity and people start sending assassins in the night for your head.
Like Fallout 3, New Vegas rewards players that spend a lot of time with it. Also like Fallout 3, there is a strong central plotline that resolves in an appropriately epic climax, but unlike the previous game, this one doesn’t feel quite as much like a railroading. It centers around your character’s decisions and more sensibly unfolds at the pace that you set and according to the priorities that you set for yourself. That’s a great thing; both of these Fallout games are at their strongest when they turn you loose on the characters and locales of the wasteland.
The Mojave Desert region is full of quests, sticky situations, and fierce rivalries for you to throw yourself into the middle of. Some are funny, some tragic, some kind of lame, some really great. On balance the good far outweighs the bad, and you’ll seldom be short of things to do. Yes, there’s still more walking than some might be comfortable with and scrounging through every toolbox and garbage pile might not be your idea of a great time (although some of us love it), but if you put yourself in the right frame of mind and let the game’s milieu inhabit you just as you sink into it, it’s a game you can easily lose days to.
At a certain point, I plowed on through to the end, mostly so I could write this review. Like the original Fallout 3, this ending also ends the game. You need to revert to an old, pre-finale sequence save if you want to explore more. I think that it was smart of them to undo that same terminal ending in Fallout 3, and it’s weird that Bethesda chose to do it again here (although this ending is much more satisfying). Remember what I wrote about using all 100 save slots? I’m glad I did—because there’s still a lot of Mojave for me to explore. But I think that I might wait for at least one more patch to come out. You might want to as well.