Fallout: New Vegas and DLC (PC) Review
Back in 1997 Black Isle Studios created a game which to this day is considered an all-time classic by many. That game was Fallout and it was followed in 1998 by a sequel which didn’t quite reach the same levels but did cement Black Isle Studios as a force in the RPG world. That status was further enhanced between then and now as the company worked on the Icewind series, Baulders Gate Series and more recently, following a name change to Obsidian Entertainment, Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions.
So, what does that have to do with Fallout: New Vegas which is the follow-up to Bethesda Game Studios Fallout 3? Well Fallout: New Vegas sees a return to the franchise of Obsidian/Black Isle, the guy’s (and gals) who started it all.
A return to the franchise of the company who started it all should make anyone sit up and take note but as so many developers have found in the past, recreating the magic of a classic title is no easy task. Have Obsidian risen to the challenge?
NOTE: As with most RPG’s part of the overall experience in Fallout: New Vegas is being able to experience the story first hand with minimal information. For this reason we will keep plot points to a minimum in the following sections.
As the name suggests, the latest version of Fallout centres around Las Vegas or as it is now known, New Vegas. When the bombs dropped earlier in the timeline Vegas was not directly hit and so is still, at least at The Strip, similar to the city we all know rather than a complete wasteland. We begin with a small introduction, voiced by Ron Perlman, where we find ourselves tied up in the desert, shallow grave to our left and in front of us is a gun which will soon lodge a bullet in our brain courtesy of "Benny" (Matthew Perry). What brought us to this unfortunate scenario? Well it seems we are a courier and shortly before firing off a single shot to the head Benny gives us the cryptic line that we had been set-up from the start.
Within a few minutes Obsidian has set the scene for a storyline which is as much 50’s/60’s Vegas and mobsters as it is classic western and in doing so have us buried in a shallow grave as the game fades to black.
And so begins the game proper with the now familiar character creation system. Taking us through this section is the Doctor from Good Springs who has patched us up after a friendly Samaritan discovered us, near death, in the desert. We start with the usual visual attributes before choosing our main skills but then, in a change to the norm, we end up in a psychology test, answering questions such as "What do you see in this ink picture?" and word association which helps determine how our character will initially play. It is an interesting method and certainly feels a little more engaging than the initial stages of Fallout 3.
All patched up and confirmed as reasonably sane we are presented with a jumpsuit, energy weapon and Pip-Boy by the Doc who sends us out into the world. The Pip-Boy is our main interface within the game for managing information, statistics and items. In its various screens we can check on our own health, assign items to wear/use, manage our inventory, keep track of quests and even listen to the radio.
So what will we be using this for, well first and foremost we want to find out why Benny saw fit to shoot us in the head.
From this point on the game really opens up for the player. We can essentially play it in our own style, approaching each challenge as we prefer and attempt to pass each using the skills we have chosen to concentrate on. Those looking for a more action packed game who start with attributes which lean towards gun skills are catered for immediately through the small quest where we take on some gecko pest control. Mixed in with that, the crafters amongst us will find a small quest on how to combine various plants to create healing powder. We also get to grips with combat controls, an interface known as V.A.T.S. which allows us to target specific points on a NPC to achieve maximum damage, or if preferred cripple the adversary to reduce their attacking skill. One option which will appeal to fans of action RPG’s is KillCam, which can be enabled or disabled in the options. KillCam brings us out of the normal interface to a more cinematic, slow motion camera of the fatal blow. As expected this can be both cool and humorous with a decent amount of gore on show.
Damage during quests can be repaired by using various medical supplies or sleeping and the latter is very useful for passing the time if a quest requires that we wait until a particular time of day to progress. Also present in Fallout: New Vegas is the ability to fast travel, something which is hugely appreciated in a game so huge.
For those who haven’t played this type of game before fast travel allows us to move between locations without having to take the time to control our character in "real time". The only requirements are that we begin the travel out in the open, that we are not under attack and that we have been to the location before. Through this aspect Obsidian are able to give the player a feel for the size of the game, make them work for their quest completion but always retain interest as we are not required to travel through the Mojave Wasteland over and over again, looking at the same landscape.
As we progress through the quests, killing enemies, solving puzzles, chatting to and assisting NPC’s and generally progressing the story we receive experience points which combine to level our character. At each level we are given points to allocate to our skills and a new attribute to learn. The skill points assist in general gameplay, possibly increasing our gun skills or ability to barter. Our other choice gives us abilities such as enhanced night vision and sneak potential. Essentially, making our character better at the skills we deem most important for our gameplay style.
While the game takes us through a core plot there are of course a huge number of side quests, generally they all run at a good pace and are located in areas which are challenging but not impossible for our character at the time each is accepted. We can of course walk away from the core story and go exploring the vast landscape available to us. Be warned though, there are dangers out there and each is put in place for a reason, essentially quest content later on in the game. Go north towards Vegas too soon and be torn apart by Deathclaws. Go south out of Primm too early and if the gangs don’t get you the Feral Ghouls will and the results are rarely pretty.
As Fallout: New Vegas progresses we also begin to take on companions who join us on our quests, often for reasons which benefit them and ourselves. These characters generally perform well, sometimes taking out adversaries before we even knew they were a danger. While these NPC friends are generally self-sufficient we can assign them tasks depending on the quest or scenario we find ourselves in. A simple wheel interface with the available options allows us to control this.
So that’s the basic game mechanic covered, how does it all hang together? The answer is very well indeed.
The main strength of Fallout: New Vegas is of course the quests. Obsidian have done well to keep them varied, well-paced and most importantly, challenging without being impossible. When we take on a quest the chances are that, as long as it’s in roughly the right order, we have a reasonable chance of succeeding. It is also very clear when we are out of our depth and should return at a later time to complete particular tasks.
In terms of that variation we mentioned above, there really is something for everyone here. In the couple of hundred main and side quests there are fast paced action set pieces, slower paced character driven stories, even a bit of survival horror based gameplay mixed with a nice level of humour, both verbal and physical. It keeps things fresh throughout and ensures that players of all types find something to keep them playing.
The controls for our character are pretty standard for an RPG, or an FPS for that matter. WASD controls movement. Space to jump, E to interact and so on. It makes the game as pick up and play as it could be and leaves the player to concentrate on the overall experience rather than worry about how to perform a particular action.
With a game that has an environment as large as this there are of course some bugs which have yet to be ironed out, though none that we experienced were critical. For example there were a couple of occasions when we travelled off the main path to find one of the larger scorpions half trapped in the ground, essentially rendered at the wrong height. Those sorts of scenarios are beneficial as we can dispose of that enemy without any danger. On the other hand there was one occasion where we hid in a building only for the NPC who was chasing us to be able to damage us through a wall they should not have known we were behind.
No doubt these will be picked up and patched as more players play through the game and in truth the problems are few and far between, given the scope of the game. It is also worth mentioning that for every small blip there is also a new and interesting addition to the game. For example we now have a hardcore mode and reputations. Hardcore mode is more challenging as stimpacks heal over time and won’t fix broken limbs, ammunition has weight and dehydration of our character occurs. Reputation is essentially a karma system where our actions, even down to minor things like picking up items which are not ours, have an effect on our overall standing in the various communities of the Mojave Wasteland. For those who complete the game in Hardcore mode, keeping it on for the entire main story, then there is a special reward at the end.
NOTE: Fallout: New Vegas is also linked to Steam, offering 50 achievements in adition to the standard game quests/tasks.
In February 2011 and again in May 2011 Bethesda released extra content for Fallout New Vegas in the form of two downloadable packs. Dead Money and Honest hearts are available on Xbox Live, Playstation Network and Steam costing around £7.99/$9.99 or 800 Microsoft points.
One of the key points of the DLC packs is that each raises the level cap by 5 however other than that they are quite different. In Dead Money we are stripped of all our inventory, taken to a locked area surrounding the abandoned Sierra Madre Casino and forced by our captor to form a team with NPC’s in order to perform a heist. And when we say forced, we mean forced… by the fact we have an explosive collar round our necks; act in a way which is deemed incorrect and we will lose our head.
The gameplay area for Dead Money is significantly different in style to New Vegas and with it come a new selection of enemies. This very much freshens up the game for more advanced players (level 20 and above is recommended) and when we add in items such as the Holorifle it becomes even more worthwhile.
For Honest Hearts we find a style of gameplay which is more suited to players at lower levels and the overall pack is much less restrictive with a similar art style to the standard game though it lacks the wasteland feel.
Old World Blues is the third batch of downloadable content for Fallout: New Vegas and like the two before it the newest pack creates its own unique atmosphere within the New Vegas universe. So much of a new atmosphere in fact that this feels almost like a standalone game thanks to the new characters, weapons and setting.
This time round we get a sci-fi twist as we receive a signal telling us to head to a drive-in where we find a crashed satellite, at midnight the satellite begins projecting onto the screen and upon investigating it we launch into the DLC quests which are intended for level 15 players and above.
The basic storyline, which contains influences from many sci-fi based books, movies and TV including Futurama, Mars Attacks and Eureka is that a group of scientists created a haven in a crater on Big Mountain. The idea was to create a think tank which would advance science to create better medical treatments, technology and more. Unfortunately as war broke out the efforts of the Think Tank moved away from this and towards other, less productive research. Now, many years later we find ourselves waking in "The Sink", the main building housing the Think Tank, dressed in an ill-fitting patient gown and covered in scars. As we explore the area we find that we have been operated on and our brain, heart and spine replaced by technology… not a good place to be but by the sounds of things we should be thankful we still have our skinvelope…
As we discover what has happened and accept the first few challenges in our quest to recover our parts we discover that the Think Tank is now a collection of less than sane floating brains with monitors for eyes and mouths and they are locked in a battle with Dr. Mobius, one of the former members. Mobius, by the most probable of probabilities has our brain and from there queue some excellent b-movie plot aspects and dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in any over the top sci-fi and with this we know from the outset that Old World Blues is all about having fun.
After this long, and fairly amusing conversation with the Think Tank we head off into the DLC using our new found skills which are provided by our artificial brain, heart and spine in a quest to defeat Dr. Mobius in his dome-shaped Dome within the Forbidden Zone… after all, we wouldn’t want to have him rule "all of science" would we?
The good news is that as we battle through waves of lobotomites, robot scorpions and atomic powered atomic robot scorpions we have our existing inventory and a whole load of new items, such as sonic emitter and "psycho-analytic cardiac-dampening sneaky stealth suit" which is like nothing this world has ever heard, seen or could ever see… Welcome to the world of tomorrow…
Lonesome Road DLC
Each DLC has had its own style and this latest pack is no different as we enter the Divide, an area of the game which is even more desolate than the Mojave wasteland of the main game. Interestingly though this DLC plays differently to the others, at least to begin with, as it lacks the initial movie or overview of packs such as Old World Blues. Instead this really does feel like part of the main game and that is essentially what it is as we work our way through the pack, finding out the answers to some key plot points which have not been answered by the original game.
Interestingly, despite the pack being called Lonesome Road, and our character having to leave behind any companion before entering the Divide, we do get some company along the way thanks to the inclusion of ED-E, a small robot with skills to help along the way, who makes an appearance early on. The ED-E dialogue is responsible for moving the story along initially and he also assists us in not dying in the initial stages of a pack where everything is out to kill us… and we really do mean everything. Thankfully though we have a whole range of new more powerful weapons to help through the journey which should take most players around 9-10 hours… good value for 800 points (or $10/€10).
Fallout: New Vegas uses the most recent version of the engine which powered Oblivion and more recently Fallout 3. In many ways this benefits the game. First of all, with it being an older engine it has a good level of optimisation by AMD and NVIDIA, ensuring a good bug free experience out of the box. There is also the fact that the older engine is less demanding than something new and so it plays well on low specification and ageing hardware. This, mixed with the amount of options available to the user makes for an easy to tailor and enjoyable experience for everyone. The use of the same engine as Fallout 3 also means the game looks similar in terms of style which will please fans of the older game.
On the down side, the older engine, for all its updates and nice lighting effects, is a little lacking in quality compared to more recent titles. There are some pretty low res textures in the game, some noticeable popup and the faces used during conversations are very dated. We do know from experience though that there will be fan/community modifications available which will improve the visual aspects of the game, just as there were with Oblivion and the previous Fallout.
To be fair, none of these issues cause a significant problem with the game and there are some impressive views in there. The view distance as an example is excellent and through a tweak to the config file we can add support for surround gaming… allowing us to play at 5760×1080 across three screens. In this mode the game takes on an extra level of quality as our examples above and below show.
Fallout: New Vegas contains some excellent voice acting, a good chunk from Matthew Perry… Kris Kristofferson too but the most notable being William Sadler as Victor. He plays that part perfectly and it real is a highlight of the game.
Where the game falls down a little is in the Radio which is available through our Pip-Boy. Wayne Newton makes an appearance here as the DJ and does a fine job. The country theme mixed with Vegas style tunes such as Blue Moon does give the game an initial atmosphere but after a short while we had to reach for the off button as it becomes far too repetitive. It’s lucky this is the case though as turning off the audio allows us to really enjoy the exceptional environmental effects on offer.
The sound guys at Obsidian really have excelled at creating a fantastic soundscape which conveys the bleak wasteland environment. From whistling wind to creaking pylons it all sounds fantastic and playing through a set of headphones really adds to the effect of wandering through the Mojave alone.
So what have Obsidian delivered? Well to be straight to the point they have given us one of the most well rounded RPG’s of all time. The game is huge, the quests are engaging as much as they are varied and there is some exceptional audio in here. The graphics engine isn’t the best and there are a few minor bugs evident in the build we had access to but neither of these aspects come close to ruining what is a hugely enjoyable experience.
As we noted earlier in the review there really is something for everyone here, action fans will enjoy the battle at Boulder City. Survival Horror aficionados will like the rocket factory quest and character driven plot lovers will find fun in the numerous side quests where we get a glimpse into the lives of the Mojave Wasteland residents.
In the end the true test of any game is whether it manages to keep a reviewer wanting more and Fallout: New Vegas certainly does that… A point emphasised by the fact that I was still playing at 5am every day since installing the game… just one more objective… quest… hour…
DLC Comments 22nd July 2011
With the release of Old World Blues we have a new favourite though. The sci-fi setting and humorous script won us over immediately and the enhanced abilities we now have; along with new weapons add a freshness to the game.
Overall three good packs which enhance the New Vegas experience, offering a fresh look and feel for those who have had their fill of the wasteland in the original game.
DLC Comments 27th September 2011
With the release of Old World Blues we have a new favourite though. The sci-fi setting and humorous script won us over immediately and the enhanced abilities we now have; along with new weapons add a freshness to the game. That said, the story and content of Lonesome Road more closely match the rest of the game and do give a satisfying conclusion some key plot points from the rest of Fallout: New Vegas.
Overall four good packs which enhance the New Vegas experience, offering a fresh look and feel for those who have had their fill of the wasteland in the original game.