The secret affinity between gambling and the desert: the intensity of gambling reinforced by the presence of the desert all around the town. The air-conditioned freshness of the gaming rooms, as against the radiant heat outside. The challenge of all the artificial lights to the violence of the sun’s rays. Night of gambling sunlit on all sides; the glittering darkness of these rooms in the middle of the desert. Gambling itself is a desert form, inhuman, uncultured, initiatory, a challenge to the natural economy of value, a crazed activity on the fringes of exchange. But it too has a strict limit and stops abruptly; its boundaries are exact, its passion knows no confusion. Neither the desert nor gambling are open areas; their spaces are finite and concentric, increasing in intensity toward the interior, toward a central point, be it the spirit of gambling or the heart of the desert – a privileged, immemorial space, where things lose their shadow, where money loses its value, and where the extreme rarity of traces of what signals to us there leads men to seek the instantaneity of wealth. ~Jean Baudrillard
I was low on ammo; My two main rifles were broken due to overuse, leaving me to survive on a faulty sawed-off shotgun and a laser rifle. My leg was still crippled from the grenade blast pack in Primm and I barely had enough caps to pay a doctor to mend it. My sleep depravation meter was ok for the time being, but my hydration and food meters were reaching critical levels. I was miles from the nearest settlement, and without a means to run meant any hostile encounters may be my last. My companion had already saved me more times than I could remember, but he was burning through his own ammunition faster than I could replenish it. A damn fine shot, just a bit trigger happy with even the easiest of foes. My Pip-Boy said it was past 3 in the morning, meaning I had a chance to make it to safety before the sun dried up the rest of my baked flesh. Boone catches sight of an approaching soldier ant the size of a steer and readies his custom-made sniper rifle. You hear it all the time from folks across the desert, but it never takes hold til you’re at the end of your own rope—the Mojave desert is a harsh place, and it’ll tear you apart the first chance you get.
The Fallout series began as a sort of cult hit in the 90’s that envisioned an all too familiar apocolyptic future, but it wasn’t until Bethesda Game Studios developed Fallout 3 that people were truly offered a chance to experience this bleak landscape. 200 years after nuclear war shredded humanity, a lonely vault dweller emerges to search for his father in the wastelands of Washington D.C. The following story is one of hope amidst greed and despair as mankind strives to rebuild society as newly crowned orders seek to control the destiny of the world. But Obsidian Entertainment knew this was only one of many tales across our war-torn country, and with the debut of Fallout: New Vegas, we learn that we are given another reason to believe the everlasting mantra that this series is known for. As famed actor Ron Pearlman innaugurates yet another Fallout entry, “War. War never changes”.
New Vegas takes place 4 years after the end of Fallout 3, but the designers at Obsidian make it clear from the beginning that their Fallout entry has little connection to the events that took place in Fallout 3. While honoring the world that Bethesda created, Obsidian contains many employees that worked on the original Fallout game and felt their expertise would help breathe even more life into the world they began so many years ago. As a result, the overall experience of New Vegas is very similar to its predecessor in terms of gameplay, combat and character progression, but at the same time exploring new depths to the established dialogue system as well as the lasting impacts of choices made by the player. Unfortunately, these new depths are not enough to properly distinguish New Vegas from the previous entry, and when coupled with a myriad of game-crashing bugs, the final presentation of the Mojave Desert leaves something to be desired and ultimately prevent New Vegas from being a fantastic Fallout experience.
In a Tarantino-esque fashion, the game begins with your character’s death. Shot in the head by a man in a checkered suit and buried in a shallow grave, you awake days later in the care of the town’s doctor and have no memory of what happened to you. As with most amnesia related stories, you set off to piece together your past and find the man who murdered you. But all is not so simple in the land of New Vegas as the story unfolds into a much larger plot that reaches to the far edges of the wasteland and even beyond. As in the previous Fallout journey, your journey across the game’s vast landscape will bring you to many NPCs of various factions, but rather than choosing between an apparent good side or evil one, New Vegas introduces several various factions for you to explore and possibly ally with, each fighting to carve out a piece of decent life for themselves. The character branching system introduced in Fallout 3 is further fleshed out in New Vegas to a substantial degree as the consequences of your choice are felt throughout your entire experience, rather than just for the immediate hours after making that decision. These choices will only intensify as the game progresses, sometimes forcing you choose between the lives of not just a few, but an entire town, regiment or even race of people. Choosing to ally with certain factions also closes off the possibility of allying with others, thereby closing off entire quest branches for you to complete. While there is no shortage of quests to complete out in the desert, this practice is often a double edged sword. A healthy breadth of content is enjoyable for any person, but when you begin to realize that the entirety of the game can only be experienced by completing it three times (each time choosing a seperate faction) the game begins to feel daunting and, sometimes, grinding.
It is unfortunate to note that what does set New Vegas apart from its predecessor is undoubtedly its polish, or lack thereof. It was clear from the beginning of Fallout 3 that Bethesda took every effort to ensure every single detail, however minute, looked and functioned precisely as it was meant to. While Obsidian was able to borrow heavily from Bethesda without too much problem, the sheer amount and frequency of glitches, lag, and bugs in the new content make one wonder how much QA time was spent when putting the world together, if any. NPCs will often disappear into the ground, enemies will become stuck and yet are still able to attack you from hundreds of feet away, and very often the game will simply freeze up for no reason at all. Whether you’re in the heat of battle, or simply walking out into the desert, you must learn to save early and often in hopes of avoiding a freeze from erasing an hour or two’s worth of exploring the wasteland. The vast majority of these flaws are relatively minor, and can be easily repaired simply be loading an earlier save, they become increasingly tiresome and, toward the latter half of the game, really begin to take the player out of the experience altogether and hinder the level of enjoyment out of the game. No game can ever be truly perfect, and as gamers we learn to overlook minor nuisances and view the game as a whole, but this understanding go only go so far before we start crying foul play is afoot.
When the game does succeed, however, it does so in very nice ways. Newly introduced is the companion system which allows the character to enlist the aid of special NPCs across the desert to join you in your travels. The characters themselves are all unique in voice and combat techniques, but this isn’t where the system itself really shines. Among many details of their Fallout experience, the designers at Obsidian took the time to not only craft unique personas to each potential companion, but also a history and quest line that directly influences the main story. Whether you choose to bring the King’s dog Rex along to help him find a brain transplant, or keep Veronica along to learn more about the intentions of the infamous Brotherhood of Steel, they all have a stake in this world as you do. Details like these immerse the player deeper in this chaotic place by reminding him that the story is not simply about them, but about all of the people of the Mojave Desert. This reverberates even further when combined with the exhaustive choice system discussed earlier, as many characters will voice their opinions regarding your actions. Anger them enough, and they will leave your side. I was impressed at how fragile the world of New Vegas can be with even the smallest of changes, but this is not unlike our own world, where the actions of one person can change the lives of thousands.
Ultimately, I felt as though the final hours of New Vegas illuminated a bigger message resonating through all of the Fallout games—that is, to survive. And I do not mean that simply as living through fire fights and beating the final boss at the end and watching the credits roll; I mean it by its grander implications. What can start as one man’s journey of revenge and survival can quickly turn into a struggle for the salvation of an entire city’s worth of innocent people just trying to stay alive one more day. Despite all of our reasons and decisions that lead us to the game’s conclusion, I guarantee they will not be the same as when it started. With the help of many people I forged my path through the desert of New Vegas, and I don’t see it any differently in our own lives. We effect others, and in turn we are effected by them. It is a cornerstone of the human experience, and it is one mirrored quite well in New Vegas. If you are able to look past the glitches and accept the occational freeze (or three of four), you will find this place has much more to offer than a simple adventure through a post apocolyptic world. With the spontaneity of lady luck, the charisma of a grizzled sheriff and charm of an Elvis-Presley look-a-like, enjoying Fallout: New Vegas is a pretty safe bet.
See you in the next level,