Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas

I was a big fan of Fallout 3. Having never played a Fallout game before, I was pleasantly surprised by the odd, retro-futuristic aesthetic and loved to explore the huge world Bethesda Game Studios made. I played that game for at least a good sixty hours, though I don't think I got anything close to finding everything in it. The pure volume of content simply amazed me, and the quirky, black-humored sci-fi was appealing to me in the same way The Twilight Zone is. In that game, once you think you've found the weirdest thing, something or somebody else comes along that's a lot weirder. The world was populated with super mutants, talking trees, vampires, zombies, and people with strange, horrible problems. Raiders who look like punks roamed the DC-area wasteland, Mad Max style. For somebody (me) who grew up watching Planet of the Apes with his (my) dad, it was a dream come true.

Fallout: New Vegas is much of the same, but also a little different.

Obsidian Entertainment, known for making high-quality, yet buggy, RPG sequels, made this high-quality, yet buggy, RPG sequel. Vegas, as in Knights of the Old Republic II, focuses more on story and story mechanics than it does on creating new gameplay mechanics (most of that work having been done by Bethesda and Bioware respectively). The various tribes and factions you meet in the Nevada wasteland all have unique, engaging backstories and characters, from the technophobic Caeser's Legion to the agoraphobic, artillery-happy Boomers. So, a lot of fear-driven violence. But you know what they say: war never changes.

American RPGs, at least the AAA ones, tend to promise "choose-your-own-adventure" levels of story immersion, but usually fail to deliver. The primary problem with the "choose your own path" idea is that RPGs are written by human beings, and human beings can only account for so many possible outcomes. Every choice and consequence must be written. As a result, a single playthrough of any of these RPGs will show you less than half of the work the writers and designers put into the game - but who has time for more than a single playthrough?

Vegas deals with this problem in much the same way Bioware's Mass Effect 2 did, letting the players know early on that there's going to be a giant showdown at the end of the game, and that the actions they take are going to affect the outcome of the battle. But while ME2's story options were limited by the promise of a sequel, Vegas has no such limitations. There are quite a few different endings in the game, and all of them are determined by the complex network of choices you make in regards to the factions in the wasteland.

The game's predecessor seemed more focused on making a true-to-form Fallout experience, but this time around the developers were clearly more interested in telling their story. Instead of throwing you out of the vault and saying "okay, figure it out," Vegas seems to guide the player a little more, setting them on a path through the world that introduces all the factions and important story figures before cutting them loose in Vegas and letting them decide the fate of the world. Because of this guidance, most of the side-quests in the game tie more directly into the story than they did in the last game.

Most of the quests are linked to the game's reputation system, which profoundly affects the player's experience. Actions you take in one town will affect how another town perceives you, so they carry a lot of weight. I know I missed out on a lot of potential quests because I made a bad first impression with Caeser's Legion. Because they decided to just shoot (or really, spear) me on sight, I figured I'd just go kill Caeser. So I did, cementing my terrible relationship with that faction but gaining good karma with others.

Fallout: New Vegas is a more unified experience than Fallout 3, and every action taken in the game feels like it carries a lot more weight. I found that I was taking the story more seriously, and as a result was more invested in its outcome. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that no other game in history has made me feel like it was telling me my story.

As mentioned above, the game does have more than its fair share of bugs. I didn't have too much of a problem with them on my Xbox, though sometimes my machine would get stuck on the loading screen. I certainly didn't have the issues presented in the video below (warning: NSFW).

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