Fallout 3 was a landmark achievement when it was released in 2008. Not only was it bold enough to completely shift from the turn-based gameplay style of its predecessors, but it actually succeeded in being a superior title. With the critical and commercial success of the title, work on a follow up was quickly started, this time under the roof of Obsidian Entertainment, perhaps the premier studio for developing sequels to popular RPGs, ranging from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Neverwinter Nights. Everything seems to be in place for another smash hit, but does everything really come together?
Fallout: New Vegas’ first big change is the shift from Washington D.C. back to the arid west of the first titles. Set in the Mojave Desert around a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, the game has you playing a courier hunting for the men who left him for dead in the desert. The bone-dry landscape of the Mojave works beautifully under Bethesda’s still-viable Gamebryo Engine, offering a substantially different texture than Fallout 3. Gone are the webs of shattered overpasses, replaced with endless plains of whirling dust devils and dry lakebeds. The world of Fallout has always been fairly sepia-toned, and New Vegas is no different. The hazy, earth toned environment gives way once you finally hit New Vegas, a retooled Sin City whose neon glow still paints the night sky, even around the Mad Max modifications.
The other major change comes in the way of the storytelling. While the linear story itself is compelling, it’s the moral depravity of the side stories that keep you glued to the controller. Fallout 3’s denizens were a rotten bunch, but New Vegas’ citizens are positively wretched. One quest has you investigating the kidnapping of a man’s wife, whom you find out was sold to a band of slavers in exchange for the town’s safety. The sickening kicker? The slavers offered up a bonus for the fetus that the woman was carrying. Once this information was discovered, I had to choose: let sleeping dogs lie, or lure the person responsible to the man so that he could murder them. It’s not as easy a decision as you might think, especially with your reputation sticking with you throughout the game.
However, all of these fantastic changes and improvements are absolutely no excuse for the near-crippling occurrence of bugs and glitches in the game. While I can certainly understand the occasional hiccup, especially in a massive open world like New Vegas, the bugs are so prevalent and sloppy that it actually causes frustration. I’ll admit, the occasional tumbleweed floating in the sky is not a big deal, but when I am forced to reload a mission no less than three times so that I can complete the main objective, there is a genuine problem. The most inexplicable part is that there is really no reason for there to be so many bugs: the majority of the game’s mechanics and rules were pulled wholesale from Fallout 3, with the exception of a few appreciated nips and tucks. However, Obsidian has issued a patch already, which seems to have taken care of some of the problems.
Despite this glaring error, I still give Fallout: New Vegas a full recommendation. Why? Because even as I was reloading the broken missions, or trying to shoot enemies who had fallen into portions of the environment, or shaking my head at all of the tiny glitches, I never once stopped enjoying it. Despite the programming flaws, it truly is a fantastic game, one that can only improve when they finally fix the issues that, frankly, should never have made it into the final game.