Friday, October 29, 2010

Wier Reviews: Fallout 3: New Vegas: The Quickening

There are few things in the world that fill me with greater glee than the release of a new installment of a series I already love. This feeling of pure joy and complete satisfaction that good things still do happen in the world is sometimes ruined by the harsh realities of failure. Fortunately for me, New Vegas is nothing but pure awesome and did not disappoint at all. In fact much of this game is a vast improvement on the previous installment of Fallout 3. It is important to note that Fallout 3: New Vegas is NOT a sequel to Fallout 3. The story is very different and the only similarity is that they both take place during the same time period in the same Universe. However, the genre has not changed at all. Fallout 3: New Vegas is another RPG based shooting game (With a hint of melee fun). For those of you who are not "in the know" with this recent installment allow me to hip you to a little enlightenment. New Vegas, unlike Fallout 3, was developed by Obsidian Entertainment which is a company that formed out of the Black Isle Studious portion of Interplay Productions which made the original Fallout titles. To people who care about things like video game politics, corporate movers, and other such nonsense I leave you here because now I depart for Fun Island, population: Me.

The Story (Spoilers Incoming!): You start the game with one foot in the grave, quite literally. Some rather ritzy looking fellows explain to you the run of bad luck that has lead to your current situation before promptly sticking a bullet into your head. You wake up to find yourself in the care of a good doctor treating your wounds after a strange robot randomly decided to pluck your near dead body out of the ground. This opening sequence is a little less horrifying than the miracle of birth scenario where your father asks you to sum up your entire destiny as a new born shortly before your mother dies that Fallout 3 had. You go through this little introduction to find yourself in a post-apocalyptic world where the Chinese and the U.S. finally went at each other guns ablaze leading to pretty much total world doom. Strangely enough, or rather quite logically, the Mojave desert is largely untouched by the nuclear devastation that went on all around the United States. Who the hell is going to waste resources bombing a desert? As such you must venture out into bustling locations in an attempt to find out who the hell shot you and why. I don't want to spoil too much of the story so I will go ahead and leave it at that.

Character Creation: One thing that people seem to enjoy about RPGs is creating their personal little mini-me or idealized self in the game world. Unfortunately the game falls a bit short here in the variety department since all of the same faces, hair styles, eye colors and what not are still there with almost no changes. Granted it is fun to adjust the tones and brow ridge depth for the sake of creating a neanderthal but I really wish there were some more preset options beyond the original Fallout 3 ones. Despite the lack of additions in the customization department you do have all the fun stat tweaking and skill selection that you had previously to deal with. Some skills were thrown out to be replaced by others (survival for instance is a new skill that allows you to make food, stimpaks and other such things in the field). And there is actually a new layer to the character creation cake. In this installment the developers have added "Character Traits". You can choose up to two traits for your character or none at all. The interesting thing about traits is that they involve more of give and take from your character directly. For instance you can choose the "Four Eyes" trait which gives you an extra point in perception when you are wearing glasses but when you are not wearing them you suffer a perception penalty. One of the traits I chose bargained away 30% fire rate to give me 30% more accuracy (this reduces the amount of drift on guns as well as increasing VATS aim from what I can tell). Another trait just makes the Mojave "stranger" by adding bizarre characters and events that you would not experience in the normal game. These traits are a little extra tidbit that I really enjoyed. Having to trade one ability for another gives you a lot more things to consider when creating a character as far as deciding what kind of player you want to be. Ultimately I ended up focusing on charisma, sneak and guns in order to be a smooth talking assassin of course.

Factions: Before I dive into the actually game mechanics I want to take on the topic of factions in New Vegas. In Fallout 3 you basically were seen as good or evil among the Wastelanders depending upon your actions. Doing good things got you in bed with all the good guys and being bad got you into the evil doer's lair. Fortunately Obsidian realized that not everyone likes the clear and cut "THIS IS GOOD AND THIS IS BAD" game play that a lot of "RPGs" have gotten mixed into these days. Games such as well...Mass Effect, pigeon hole you into a strict black vs white (or in their case red vs blue) dichotomy. New Vegas is a game that realizes that someone is "good" or "bad" depending on who is talking about them. Because of this fact there are factions in this game and as you do things for or against them you either lose or gain reputation with them. Consequently doing good things for one faction that is opposed to another will earn you infamy in the opposing faction. If you kill a guy in a faction that has pretty much nothing to do with another faction then that other faction wont care at all. In other words, you can kill a Powder Ganger and not upset the Legion because the Legion doesn't give a crap about Powder Gangers!

There are MAJOR players in the story that I want to give a little bit of information about before I move on here.

NCR (New California Republic):

Before you ask, yes that is a two headed bear. The New California Republic is an entity that could be seen as the "good" guys. This group has a military presence in the Mojave for the purpose of, in their own words, "spreading democracy". Despite their large military role in the Mojave they tend to not be in direct conflict with New Vegas or many of the smaller factions in the area. They consider most smaller factions an annoyance but of no serious threat. Working with this group will put in direct conflict with Caesar's Legion.

Caesar's Legion:

This faction is a vast army of slaves and slavers coming out of the Grand Canyon area. Built up of any number of conquered tribes the Legion seeks to wipe out the impurities in the world. A very Romanesque Empire they wear garb that makes them look like legionaries. War is their bread and butter and they want to basically wipe out and enslave everyone in the Mojave. People who probably see this group as the "bad" guys in this story.

Mr. House:

Mr. House represents a third and unique major faction in the New Vegas story. As the unseen ruler of New Vegas he keeps the peace in his town through the use of robots known as securitrons. Despite a shaky peace with the NCR Mr. House desires nothing more than to see a free and independent New Vegas. Working with him will put you at odds with most likely the NCR and the Legion depending on how things go of course.

That is just a tiny glimpse at three of the bigger players in the game. There are a myriad of smaller groups that you can deal with or just flat out kill should you desire. Some of these groups include The Kings, Brotherhood of Steel, Great Khans and The Boomers. Like I said, that is just a slice of the variety in the game.

Gameplay: Since this title is attached to the previous game Fallout 3 it has an extremely similar control set up. You play in first person or third person made based upon your preferred style of shooting/melee/pants bombing and dispatch your enemies with shots, swings, throws, and explosions. Returning to the scene is the popular VATS system whereupon the player engages in a bullet time-esque cut scene where they shoot at limbs or faces that they chose in a selection screen. Since words do not describe it too well I shall provide an interface screen shot:

Basically you have a percentage chance to hit the enemy in this mode based upon your distance from the target, your weapon skill level, any cover between you and any extra skill perks you might have to improve the chance. Each attack uses a certain number of Action Points so that the system is not completely broken to where you can bullet time everything in combat to death. In all honesty I found myself using VATS significantly less than I would have thought.

Aside from VATS there are normal shooting and melee mechanics that don't have any real problems with them at all. Granted the drift on guns can be a little annoying at times but honestly you shouldn't be playing a sniper if you don't know how to be patient and aim.

Also the Pipboy (As seen above) is back in full force as your primary menu, map, status indicator and portable radio. People who are fans of the series know full well the operations of this wondrous mechanism that can even freeze time while you heal yourself to full by spamming a few stimpaks. However, for those of you that hate the idea of being able to essentially "potion chug" your way to victory Elder Scrolls style there is a new mode of gameplay added to New Vegas!

I speak of HARD CORE MODE! YEAH TOTALLY METAL!!!! Er, well it makes the game much more difficult. In addition to your normal survive the wasteland routine Hard Core mode thrusts you into a more realistic survival experience. When you play this mode you not only have to keep yourself hydrated with water, well fed with food, and get plenty of sleep but you also have to consider your weapons and ammunition more carefully. People who are used to the mystical lack of weight to all forms of ammunition in Fallout 3 will be shocked that bullets actually weight something in this version. Some people might think "big deal" but honestly all those little bullets start to add up over time and you find yourself trying to pick between your 9mm side arm and the food you found that you might need soon since it has been hours since you last ate. Going through the game like this alone is quite a challenge and extremely fun to do. Some people might find it frustrating that they have to find a bed to sleep in during their travels but I found it that much more interesting to play. Also, if all of that didn't sound hard enough for you then enjoy this addition to HARD CORE mode. Stims are great right? Hit the tab, instant heal without taking fire to full health? Yeah...You can't really do that in Hard Core. Instead of stims and food healing you automatically they basically heal you over time. This means that inside of combat they are not terribly effective. So finding cover and not exposing yourself to more fire than necessary is key to surviving in this mode.

Now I did mention previously that going it ALONE makes it much harder because well...some of companions you can get in the game are EXTREMELY deadly.

Companion System: The companion system has changed a great deal from Fallout 3 where you had basically no control over what your idiot companion did at any time. Typically they would run off into a hail of gunfire and die a miserable death making you wonder why you bothered recruiting them in the first place. These inbred dogs barely knew how to sit or stay let alone be of actual use to you in combat. New Vegas has improved the AI of your buddies as well as giving you a whole new interface to deal with them that looks as such;

As you can see clicking on your companion opens up an entire radial menu. Here you can do anything from tell your companion to wait to unload some of your extra inventory on them to carry. Each of them has a weight they can carry and from what I can tell NONE of them require, sleep, food, water, or even bullets (this includes in hard core mode). The only problem that they have really is that they are extremely squishy. It does not take a lot of fire to bring them down so it is highly recommended that you get them VERY GOOD armor. Another interesting addition to the companions is the extra perks that they give you. Each character has a trait about them that they give to you when you have them in the party. In the case of my first play through I picked up Boone who was a sniper. I figured a two sniper team would be very deadly (hint: it was) so I got him in my party. I started to notice that when I was in aim mode enemies would glow red in the distance making them much easier to see. I investigated this strange occurrence to find that Boone gave me the "Spotter" perk which highlights enemies when I am in aim mode! A few hundred decapitated Fiends later I found that me and Boone were best of friends! However his companionship was a little problematic when he would randomly shoot the face off of NPCs I was trying to talk to...(I think he really hates ghouls).

Questing and Environment: I decided to throw these two together mainly because they go well together. After all you experience much of the environment as you go questing. Unlike Fallout 3 which was a maze of subways and sewers much of the main action in New Vegas takes place out doors. Whenever you do have to go INTO a building it does not feel like a giant labyrinth that takes hours to clear like they did in Fallout 3. In other words, the zones and quest lines are nicely paced. Getting to places through the Mojave is not as horrible as trying to navigate the ridiculous cliff faces and canyons of D.C. and you don't feel like you are just revisiting the same place over and over. Each area has its own feel to it. Each little town is different and nothing seems to be repeated. Best of all there are little to no subways or sewers involved in your questing. The game doesn't really look a heck of a lot different form the previous installment but that is probably due to them running off the same game engine. The variety in environment is complimented by a huge variety in the questing. There are the standard go here and kill this thing quests but there are also quests like "Stand outside and be a guard for our shop" which are pretty entertaining in their own rights. On top of the variety there just seems to be a much greater volume of quests to complete compared to Fallout 3. Each area has more of a purpose than simply just being there if you take long enough to investigate it. All and all the entire game seems really well rounded and nicely paced.

Some Issues and Final Thoughts: Some people might find it disappointing that I am not bitching up a storm about how terrible the game is (like I usually do) but in all reality this game hits a lot of the nails on the head. It is fun, well paced, not completely serious, provides a good challenge without being frustrating, and has a compelling story that you want to play through. It doesn't fall into the pit falls that games like Elder Scrolls did where the emphasis on exploring ruins the main quest line because the exploring is more interesting than the primary story. It doesn't force you into making "good" vs. "bad" decisions like many other "moral choice" system RPGs do. A lot of what I like with this game is what I loved about Dragon Age: Origins. You can play how you want to play. You can make almost any kind of character work and you are allowed enough freedom to do things as you wish without interfering too deeply into a the creation of a logical conclusion. All and all it is an extremely solid thing. If I had to complain about ANYTHING at all it would be some of the strange bugs in the game, but honestly that is just being nit picky at this point. Sure in some cases the doctors head will spin around in the creepiest manner ever but honestly it doesn't kill the game. It is vastly superior to Fallout 3 and that was considered a GAME OF THE YEAR. So really this is probably going to be THE game of the year this year and I highly suggest that you pick this title up and give it a whirl. Even if you aren't a huge fan of shooting or RPGs or what have you I think it is definitely a game worth playing.

Wier gives Fallout: New Vegas One awesome NCR Trooper picture out of One.


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