On a purely creative level, Fallout: New Vegas comes close to achieving the same level of quality as Bethesda's 2008 smash-hit, Fallout 3. However, under the microscope on a graphical and mechanical level, the games are worlds apart.
There are two core considerations to be made with Fallout: New Vegas. If what you're after is an addictive, well-written adventure that can go on for hours then this is a game you should play. However, if you often find yourself ripped out of gaming experiences due to crippling bugs and possibly game-breaking glitches, you might want to reconsider spending the next 30+ hours with Obsidian's latest.
Fallout: New Vegas sets its stage in the Mojave Wasteland. Like the Capital Wasteland before it, the Mojave is a desolate, desperate, and depressing world fueled by conflict and paranoia. Admittedly, I didn't think a fabricated stretch of Las Vegas would pull me in as much as spotting the real, but devastated-by-the-apocalypse landmarks of Washington, D.C. but New Vegas has a fresh charm. As empty and alone you might feel digging through graves on one side of the world, there's always the constant reminder of bustling life under the distant bright lights of a scorched Sin City.
Whereas Fallout 3 began at your character's birth, Fallout: New Vegas begins on a darker level--a rebirth of sorts. You, a courier on a delivery to the "untouched by the bombs" New Vegas, are ambushed, robbed, shot in the head and left to die among the dust and destruction apparent in the Mojave desert. After being patched up (and answering a slew of questions that will chisel out the core of "who you are and will become"), you set off on a mission to find the man who failed to take your life.
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For me, the "revenge" plot of Fallout: New Vegas just didn't carry the same weight as Fallout 3's story, which saw you break free from one of the franchise's famous Vaults in search of your missing father. There was a sense of venturing out into the unknown in Bethesda's Fallout 3 that is just missing here. Rather than have this extended connection missing from your life that made you feel safe and innocent, New Vegas throws you into a world your character was already a part of, adding a thick dose of rage for your character's core motivation. It made the journey start on a limp note for me.
In Fallout 3, I always felt compelled--in my "good" run--to shape the Capital Wasteland into a utopia. In Fallout: New Vegas, I didn't feel like I had any effect on the world around me as a whole. At the end of Fallout 3 there was a sense of saving or preserving life, whereas the final conflict in Fallout: New Vegas is much more shallow.
The gameplay of New Vegas unfolds the same way it did in the last game in the series. You'll chart a course to go somewhere specific, but find something interesting along the way. You'll meet new people, take small jobs, which then transform into big decisions and three hours later find that you've forgotten your original intention. That sense of getting lost in the world and not caring is what makes Fallout: New Vegas a special kind of game. Obsidian did quite a few things to set New Vegas apart from Fallout 3, like giving players the ability to control companion actions, upgrade weapons, harvest what little plant-life remains to develop chems, and create ammo, but none of it held my attention. It always came down to me, happiliy alone, fighting off hordes of enemies. Although some dislike the combat, I tend to stick primarily to V.A.T.S. (as I did in Fallout 3) and still enjoyed the system.
Fallout: New Vegas also features a faction system, which is essentially forced upon you in order to complete the game. At first, not having a choice in working with these factions was counter-intuitive to what I came to expect from an open-world game of this nature. However, the game allows you to beautifully play each faction against one another to a point where I felt I should be boosting a non-existent "Con Artist" skill. In the end, there is just so much to see and do in Fallout: New Vegas, you'll rarely be bored.
That doesn't mean you won't be angry throughout the journey. Without sugarcoating it, Fallout: New Vegas is a technical disaster. The game features painfully slow load times and often halts the framerate to slideshow speeds. It completely crashed on me twelve times over the course of 40 hours. Seriously.
The A.I. is an embarrassment, often sending enemies rushing your way with a melee weapon as you pump rounds out of a high-powered weapon in their direction. The world flickers and pops into place. The laundry list of quest bugs I've seen on fan sites is comical ... and the list goes on. Fallout 3 had issues, too, but in New Vegas it's so prevalent that it might as well be listed as a feature on the back of the box.
It comes down to the experience. I can deal with bugs if the core gameplay is entertaining and the storyline is intelligent. Both are true of Fallout: New Vegas. It might look and feel as old as the last game in the series, but Fallout: New Vegas was something I'm glad I saw through to the end. It's a bleak, quirky, devastating, and twisted world, but it's one I can see myself walking through again in the future.
This review is based on a retail copy of Fallout: New Vegas for the PlayStation 3, provided by Bethesda Softworks.