I have always enjoyed open world games and open ended games. Being able to choose what you want to do and being given the option of making wrong decisions is what makes them games to me. And few people do that better than Bethesda the makers of the Elder Scroll games and more recently the Fallout games. And Fallout New Vegas is the game that has been draining my time for the last week and I'm going to be sending it back to Gamefly soon or I'll waste another.
Beyond the freedom to be dropped off in a world and largely do whatever you want what I love about Fallout: New Vegas is the tone. This is a post apocalyptic game that does not feel depressing even while it is able to feel like you are just struggling to survive. It does this through the feeling of what the world was before it was destroyed. This is a science fiction world that would have been imagined in the 1960's with rocket ships and robots but you also have radiation, murder, slavery and a collapse of civilization and the attempt to rebuild it. This makes the game feel important and keeps it fun at the same time.
In this game you are a courier in the area of Vegas. You wake up having been shot in the head giving the game a chance to give you a tutorial. You are then sent out with the only real mission being to find who shot you. You can then make your way towards Vegas meeting the NRC, Legion and others groups as you go. You can work with any of the groups you meet becoming more popular with them and often less popular with others. What that means is that unlike so many other games that claim to give you choice this one actually does rather than having choices that control little or nothing except the way you look or the powers you can use.
Another addition in this game is a crafting system that I do not remember from fallout. This is not as robust as I would like but you can collect things and create better things throughout the game giving a bonus to some of the skills that might otherwise not be all that useful.
Which leads to the balance of the game which is excellent. At the beginning the skills you pick can be a bit more important but almost everything is useful. For example science lets you hack into computer terminals among other things. If this is high you can do things like take control of all the turrets in an area and have them kill the enemies making up for the fact that your fighting skills are not as good. There are typically also multiple ways of completing quests. For example you can often avoid battles entirely if you have a high enough speech ability. Convincing people that they should just leave rather than fighting them. You can also fight in a lot of different ways such as energy weapons, explosives, hand to hand or more traditional guns. This means that some missions are going to be difficult for you because you don't have a key skill but others will be quite easy and they won't be the same for everyone.
This is a huge world you can explore with large areas you never need to visit in order to 'win' the game. For example there is an area in one corner with supermutants that you won't see unless you're just exploring but that has some useful stuff and interesting story and this is only one small area.
There are two major negatives to this game. The first is that it can be hard to get started. The fact that you can largely do what you want means you have to find your own entertainment to some extent and you can easily find yourself in areas far too difficult for your level. The other is that it seems a bit bugged. If you play long you will begin to have it go slower and even freeze. You can also potentially fall through the ground though that is rare. Both of these can be very frustrating especially when the game freezes just as you are going somewhere important but it does save every time you enter an area so you rarely lose anything when this happens.
If you like the other Bethesda games then this is one that is well worth playing though I suspect like the others that the computer is the best choice if you can because it will almost certainly have a lot of mods made for it.
Vault 11 section of Fallout New Vegas
I had nearly decided to return Fallout New Vegas when I decided to do a bit of random exploring. Finding places outside of those that the game makes you visit as part of its main missions. In doing so I came to one of the best experiences I have had playing a video game in years. That was Vault 11 a self contained story that has no impact on the rest of the game but is a nearly perfect example of how to tell a story in a video game.
The vaults in all of the fallout games are effectively large fallout shelters. Designed to hold dozens or hundreds of people in small communities that can wait out the radiation and let the earth heal. When you appear at Vault 11 you find four dead bodies and a recorded message. This message is of the four people discussing what happened in the vault and deciding to kill themselves because of it even though they have been called shinning examples by someone. If you are going to play New Vegas I suggest finding this vault for yourself rather than reading further.
Once inside it appear to be little more than a commentary on politics. There are campaign posters everywhere as well as signs of fighting throughout the abandoned vault. As you go through the computers you soon find that the campaigning was actually to avoid getting elected.
It becomes apparent that the citizens of Vault 11 didn't want to be elected but were avoiding it. What is remarkable about this part that the information is spread out across the vault and you can find it in almost any order yet the story becomes clear. For some reason people are fighting to avoid being elected as leader of the vault.
You then discover why. Shortly after the vault was sealed the citizens discovered that the computer demanded that each year one of the people in the vault were executed or they will all be killed. And because the overseer of the vault let them be sealed in and did not tell them he is voted to be the first executed. And because of this the decision that the overseer should always be the one sacrificed was made.
This explains everything except why the four people were dead in front of the vault after having finally escaped. Even if they had fought a war to escape they would have known what they were doing and left once they had won. In order to find the answer to this you have no choice but to go into the sacrifice chamber. Here you discover the ultimate solution to the whole thing. The people of the vault were part of an experiment. Once they refused to sacrifice someone they were told it was an experiment and the door of the vault opened but by that time only four of them were left.
What makes this part of the game so great is that you can explore this vault in nearly any way you want. The only parts which are controlled at all is that you get the tape at the entrance first and the one in the sacrifice chamber last. This means you can do largely what you want even leaving and coming back but you still get the whole story if you explore. You are also in the story in a way. This is a brilliant way to tell a story and told in a very interesting way. And while the entire game of Fallout New Vegas is good this section is a brilliant short science fiction story told in a way that is unique to video games.