Despite its post-apocalyptic setting, there's a sense of wonder in the "Fallout" games. A sense of freedom, that the horizon is your oyster and any interesting landmark in the distance is just waiting for you to explore its depths. "Fallout: New Vegas" manages to capture this sense of freedom rather well, and makes for a worthy addition to the franchise, albeit one somewhat marred by serious bugs.
You are a courier working in and around the Mojave desert. In the midst of a special delivery, you're caught, bound and shot in the head. "Fallout: New Vegas" focuses on your quest to find out why, and eventually that quest will shape the world around you.
Gameplay-wise, "Fallout: New Vegas" is almost identical to "Fallout 3," save for a few additions here and there. For the most part, though, it's still an action-RPG which allows you to play as a club-swinging brute, a smooth-talking mercenary or an ingenious scientist. The focus on exploration and story-telling remains extremely true to the franchise.
Wide Open Spaces
Thinking back, I never really considered "Fallout 3" to be a linear game. But, when I thought about the main quest line, there was really not too much branching. There were a few shortcuts and a few decisions to make towards the end, but for the most part, it plays out the same for 90% of people.
In "Fallout: New Vegas," experiences will vary much more dramatically, as the main quest line has so many potential, optional branches. Do you side with the murderous slavers known as Caesar's Legion, or do you attempt to take control of New Vegas for yourself? These aren't decisions you make at one point at the way end of the game. Throughout your journey you're building alliances, forging relationships and plotting out the Mojave's future.
Off The Beaten Path
Beyond from the main quest line, there's so much optional content in "New Vegas" that you're likely to miss most of it on your first time through. You could decide to cure a gang of semi-friendly super mutants of a debilitating illness, for example. Or rescue a Ghoul mechanic from murderous talk show hosts. Or avenge the death of a companion's wife by framing an innocent soul. Three examples out of the dozens of quests in "New Vegas" that are 100% optional. It makes the experience much more personal when you know you've done things that your friend hasn't.
Finding Humor In The Dark Times
Despite the setting of Las Vegas after the apocalypse, "Fallout: New Vegas" remains lighthearted, with a gallows humor that has always been a staple of the franchise. It's usually not "silly" (though there is an option that allows players to experience some more off-the-wall encounters), but there's a levity to the situation that allows you to accept that you're talking missions from an Elvis impersonator without blinking an eye. The game is tremendously well-written, better than "Fallout 3" in this case, and is backed by a talented cast of voice actors (including Dave Foley, Danny Trejo and the series' narrator, Ron Perlman, to name a few).
A Crash Course In Crashing
I'm sorry to say that "Fallout: New Vegas" is one of the buggiest triple-A releases I've ever played. In this case, I reviewed the game on the Xbox 360 and over the course of 30 hours, the game crashed 9 times. I don't mean it quit back to the dashboard...I mean it straight up froze and required that I get up and restart the Xbox. One or two crashes I can accept, but with "New Vegas" it's a habitual occurrence, and there's simply no excuse for that. The only bright side is that the game auto-saves very frequently, so you aren't losing too much progress, but it's still a really unfortunate circumstance that shouldn't have made it into the final version.
Bugs, And I'm Not Talking About Rad Roaches
In addition to the incessant crashing, "New Vegas" is littered with smaller, but no less annoying, bugs. Enemies falling through the ground, your gun floating 2 feet above your head, companions being stuck in never-ending dialog loops which prevents you from using them, to name a few. Even people that aren't very observant will have bugs like these shoved in their face.
Not Quite "New" Vegas
Although the developers at Obsidian have made certain improvements, adding functionality to companions, weapon modding and a new system for aiming outside of VATS, the gameplay still feels a lot like "Fallout 3." I wouldn't go so far as to say "New Vegas" is a glorified expansion, but when the vast majority of game mechanics have been untouched, it doesn't quite feel like a sequel, either. For fans of "Fallout 3," this is actually a good thing. If you disliked that game, though, avoid "New Vegas" like an irradiated bunker.
If it weren't for the bugs, I'd say that I enjoyed "Fallout: New Vegas" more than its predecessor. It's an incredible journey and one that I can't seem to stop playing, even after I finished working on this review. My sincere hope is that Bethesda and Obsidian work quickly on patching the larger bugs in the game, because once those are fixed, players will be treated to one extraordinarily fun gem of a game.