Fallout: New Vegas - Back to the Wasteland, Mojave-Style

Bethesda Softworks' 2008 release Fallout 3 was met with critical acclaim by critics and the gaming community alike. The novel mix of action-adventure and role playing has been attempted by many other titles over the years, but Fallout 3's incredibly compelling story, sweeping scale, and painstaking attention to detail elevate it to the status of masterpiece. In 2011, the Maryland-based company seeks to re-capture lightning in a bottle with Fallout: New Vegas (FNV).

FNV is not a sequel in the true sense of the word. While events depicted in FO3 most definitely factor into the world of FNV, you play a different character with different motivations than the Wanderer in Bethesda’s previous title. The game begins with the protagonist (The Courier) recovering from a near-fatal wound, with the goal to ultimately confront those responsible. The game interface and mechanics are identical to FO3 is pretty much every way, with a few minor changes in order to provide game balance, largely transparent to the player. The graphics engine and thus look and feel of both FO3 and FNV are completely identical. In fact, the similarities between the two games may prompt many to be disappointed by the apparent lack of progress from one title to the next. This is a legitimate observation, since even though FNV does offer a few more bells and whistles, it in many ways feels more like an expansion pack than a completely new title.

FNV does a lot of things to up the ante (pun intended) on the difficulty level from FO3. While the level cap has increased from 20 to 30, perks are only granted every other level and often have increased skill and stat requirements. This means that cookie cutter builds are much harder to make, and some level of specialization and planning is required for various character types to be optimally effective. Several adjustments have been made to available perks and skill bonuses, resulting in less skill points to spend. Again, the intent is to avoid “super-characters” and promote more unique characters (ergo, like classic RPG classes). This, in turn, increases reliance on companion characters and NPCs for combat or support skills, depending on the player character’s loadout. In practice, this is refreshing because it forces more of a role-playing feel rather than the player character being able to do pretty much anything himself.

Combat at low-mid levels seems more challenging than in FO3. VATS has seemingly been reduced in effectiveness, and many all-powerful items (ergo, the plasma gun) nerfed. While a bit frustrating at first, it forces many fights to be avoided until later in level – or, at the least, promotes planning to achieve an advantageous position before attacking. Changes to weapon and armor stats encourage strategic decision-making when choosing weapons and ammo for particular opponents rather than just rushing in with the same favored weapon every time. Again, while this does make things a bit more challenging, it also makes it much more realistic. Still, after reaching level 20 with any kind of emphasis on weapon and repair skills, the PC is still lethal in the extreme in almost any combat situation.

Combat does have some additional layers to it that also mix things up from FO3. Poison has been introduced to the game on both sides of the table. The usual enemy suspects sport venom with devastating effect. Opponents using poison are rightly feared, and anti-venom becomes a commodity far more valuable than its sticker price. A new skill, Survival, allows for the crafting of various food items, buffs, and – you guessed it – poisons. A PC using powerful poisons can be just as lethal as a Giant Radscorpion. Yes, really.

Other changes to combat include weapon upgrades, variant ammunition, and perhaps most importantly, “damage threshold” (DT), which made appearances in both FO1 and 2 but was left out of FO3. In FO3, armor and buff effectiveness was reflected in terms of “damage resistance” (DR). For example, DR 50 meant you took 50% less damage from any given attack. DT acts in addition to DR, providing a barrier to taking damage in the first place, after which the DR kicks in. DT will never reduce damage taken to less than 20% of any weapons starting damage, but it means that armor is a much bigger deal against light weapons than it was before.

Example FO3
DR25 against a 100dmg attack gives you 25% resistance for 75 net dmg.
DR25 against a 32dmg attack gives you 25% resistance for 24 net dmg.
Example FNV
DR25 against 100dmg reduces the first 25 damage for 75 net dmg.
But DR25 against 32dmg attack reduces the first 25 damage for only 7 dmg! As you can see, heavy armor in FNV is great against smaller arms – which it should be!

Another new feature in FNV is “Hardcore Mode”. In this mode, food consumption, hydration, and sleep are required and ammunition counts against your weight limit. While these may not sound like major issues, the need to factor all of these in – especially since they do get factored into fast travel – is daunting. For those who seek a more visceral, realistic wasteland experience, this mode is for you.

Finally, factions come into play in FNV. Both settlements and organizations (military, gang, etc) have independent though often polar opposite philosophies. At the start of the game, everyone is neutral to the PC. During the course of the game, your actions and allegiances will not only alter the reactions of various groups, but change mission options in very significant ways. Some groups may come to regard you as a hero, with deep discounts or gifts, additional mission options, and offers for companions to join you. Others may attack on sight if you near their settlements, and even send assassins to track you down if you’ve made a bad impression. Some groups, such as the Brotherhood of Steel, are familiar, but major and minor factions have significant impact on the environment and game as well. The PC will often find themselves in the middle of two groups, and have to decide how to approach problems – picking a side, favoring neither, or pitting the two against each other all being viable options.

On a technical note, the stability of FNV is occasionally suspect, as bugs do come up. While the game only crashed twice during review, numerous minor issues such as the PC or creatures being hung up in terrain, oddly floating in mid-air or minor quest bugs are indeed present on the PC version. One can only hope that Bethesda will address in a patch at some point in the near future. Regardless, for those who bravely navigated through Fallout 3's minor issues and saw the balance of the game's positives outweigh the minor bugs, the issues in FNV are nuisance on very much the same scale.

Overall, everything fans loved about FO3 is still present in FNV. The world is still huge, wide open, and you can tackle it in any way you want. If you want to crank through the main story in 20 hrs and explore nothing, you can do that. If you want to obsessively and painstakingly explore every corner, complete every mission, and not rest until your character has reached demi-god status over 100+ hours, yes, you can do that too. Side quests and plots, though often interesting and featuring good voice acting, can admittedly become repetitive and tedious. As mentioned before, many things have been added, from skill magazines, to new ammo loading and crafting stations, to new weapon types. But, even as an admitted fan of the series, it must be conceded at the end of the day, that for better or worse, this really is just more of the same. For anyone who was not a fan of FO3 after having played it, this “more of the same” feeling will leave you wanting more and might be disappointing. However, if as this author, you completed FO3 wishing there were more to see and do, this title is for you. There are enough subtle differences, areas to explore, and new weapons, creatures, and nuances to the game to make it a must-play title for any fan of the RPG/adventure series such as Fallout 3.

Article by: John  F. Beaty II
Images (C): Bethesda Softworks

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