Considering how much I liked Fallout 3, I suppose getting Fallout: New Vegas was something of a no-brainer, despite my earlier hesitation and quibbles about the pre-order nonsense (admittedly, I became sufficiently obsessed with it that I was playing the game within an hour of its midnight launch).  I’m about 10 hours in now, and here are my first impressions:

-The first feeling I got from the game was how much the developers may have been influenced by all of the innovations that modders added onto the original Fallout 3.  Some notable mod influences I immediately saw were the inclusion of add-ons for the various weapons, a super-mutant-run radio station, and various creatures from the original set of games that were introduced to Fallout 3 by Mart’s Mutant Mod (in fact, the gecko model and skins from the mod put the ones included in New Vegas to shame).  In many ways, it feels like the developers saw what people were doing with some of the mods in Fallout 3, and included them as official features this time around.  (Additionally, there are plenty of new guns in the game, many of them more closely mirrored to actual modern weapons.  I can certainly feel the influence of the 19th and 20th century weapons pack on a lot of the new additions – for example, the silenced .22 follows on from the Ruger Mk. II in the mod, the silenced SMG from the American-180, etc.).

-VATS is, thankfully, mostly functional again in this version.  The battles tend to be quite frantic at times, so it definitely comes in handy.  Still waiting on a bullet-time mod, although I’ve heard there’s a consumable that does this as well, which I’m trying to track down.

-The combat seems a bit tougher this time around, even on the easiest difficulty setting.  This is partly due to the fact that decent armor is tough to come by in the first parts of the game – it took me about 7 hours before I saw something akin to the regular combat armor from Fallout 3.  Also, about the only thing that insta-heals now are stimpacks (and not even that in hardcore mode), all the other consumables heal over time.  Enemies also seem slightly more aggressive, moving in faster.  Also, armor now suppresses a lot of damage, and unless you have special ammunition, your bullets are barely going to faze certain uparmored enemies (especially in the early game, unless you’ve happened upon some AP ammo, radscorpions are especially tough – and surprisingly fast).

-As far as I can tell, you don’t get access to a player house until you reach New Vegas itself – about eight hours in on my playthrough.  This means that you can only hold on to so many supplies at once, with no place to save anything you might want to hold onto.  If you like collecting certain things in-game, like me, it quickly becomes a juggling act between various items, and I had to discard some things I wanted to keep for lack of space.  Contrast this with Fallout 3, where the first quest, however you resolved it, resulted in a safe place to store your stuff.

-The music selection for the radio stations is, in my opinion, not as good as Fallout 3.  If I have to hear “Johnny Guitar” one more time, I think I might just go Super Mutant on anyone nearby.

-Holy crap, some of the faces are terrifying.  Fallout 3 didn’t exactly have a lot of good-looking people, but seriously…  the girl you meet for the tutorial, for example, looks kinda like Moira from Fallout 3, in the sense that it looks like someone scalped Moira, stripped the skin off of her face, and stretched it around a cold, emotionless android with clouded, pupilless eyes.  Some of the other ones are a bit better, but don’t get your hopes up.  If any of the characters in this game (including the strippers) actually manage to get any emotional response out of you, you have a surprising knack for navigating the uncanny valley.

-Somehow, everything feels smaller this time around.  The world in general feels smaller, it seems like the distances between things are shorter.  Whether this is true or not is hard to tell, maybe it’s just that the topography this time around blocks more stuff off, leading to a smaller sense of scale.  From the very start in Fallout 3, you walk out of the vault and are met with this incredible vista of the wasteland – here, you empty out into a ramshackle town, at ground level, and nothing really tends to look as impressive.

-The wasteland doesn’t always feel all that alive, and there are a fair number of times when I’ve been hiking around, with nothing of interest around to see or do (or shoot at), and wondering why I felt so much more bored than in similar spots in Fallout 3.  I guess F3 had a certain ambiance to it, that really strong feel of walking through a radioactive wasteland, while this feels like walking through a slightly dusty stretch of, well, Nevada, with nothing much else to commend it.  You start to feel thankful just to see one of the sparsely populated retro billboards.

-There’s also less of a sense of interest in the quests, especially the main story ones.  Fallout 3, while cheesy at times, did develop a story that you could connect to from the very beginning.  The story to this one is this (and it happens right at the beginning, so not much of a spoiler): You were sent to deliver a package.  Some asshat shoots you in the head and takes it.  You live, and vow to shoot him in the head as revenge.  Of course, once you track him down, things get more complicated, and a little more interesting…  but for quite some time, there’s not really that much to keep you interested.  Even the main quests often feel like uninspired fetch quests – pass these skill checks, or go get these items, or go kill X enemies.  One mission a few hours in, especially if you’re the type to play nice, is pretty much an unending, tedious series of time-consuming and even costly fetchquests – however, you’ve got to go through them all if you want to progress on the main storyline (think Three Dog’s quest extortion, multiplied by ten).  I think on my next playthrough, karma or no, it’s gonna be cheaper, and less aggravating, to just shoot them all.

-Once you give it some time, things do get a bit more interesting, although weirdly telegraphed.

-The strip itself does look quite nice.

-There are the occasional glitches.  Once, I saw a dog decide to move in a new direction by rotating itself seamlessly around its own central axis – occasionally, people glide across the road without moving their legs.  One time, I walked into a certain area, and two “friendlies” suddenly became hostile and came after me, while all the other ones nearby didn’t seem to notice.  The game’s autosave feature is also somehow bugged – while it claims to save, the autosave file is actually stuck on a save exiting a building back in the starting town, circa an hour or so into the game, and so all saves have to be done manually.  The game also crashes on occasion, and continuously crashed after the day-two patch (although this was due to a corrupted file, and worked again once the file was re-downloaded).

-If you’re a gun kinda guy, I hope you’re fond of the 9mm pistol in the game, as you’re gonna be using it probably far more than you might have imagined – and so is just about every other character in the game.

-Yes, there are actual iron sights in the game.  I’m still mixed as to whether they’re particularly useful or not.  Accuracy is still determined by skill points, so it’s not quite as easy to run and gun, especially early on, and your shots seem much less accurate and do less damage than the equivalent shots done in VATS.

-Supposedly the companion system has been revamped and is much easier to use (and companions don’t bite it at the first taste of combat, unless you’re in hardcore), however, I ahve yet to actually encounter anyone yet who’s willing to tag along.

Overall, New Vegas doesn’t quite pull off the magic and ambiance of Fallout 3, and honestly, Fallout 3 with a good selection of mods is generally a better game.  However, it does have some certain charms to it, and if you put in the time on the front end to get up to the Strip, things start to unfold in a more satisfactory fashion.  Up to that point, it can be a bit trying, and while it does add a number of things, they’re not always for the better.  Ultimately, I think if you liked Fallout 3, you’ll like this, albeit while occasionally considering going back to the original for some more playtime instead.


Okay, so that was with eight hours into the game.  Now, add 6 more hours to that, and here are some more impressions:

-I take back a lot of what I said earlier.

-Seriously, I think when you’re talking about the game, it almost makes sense to talk about it in two parts: the leadup to reaching the strip, and the game after you’ve gotten there.  The initial part of the game really doesn’t showcase what makes this game interesting – with few exceptions, it consists of not hugely interesting locations, fairly boring quests, and not a whole lot of plot or intrigue – move along a preset path to vegas, do various fetch- or kill-quests to move the linear plot forward, and on you go.  Couple this with a small handful of available weapons, a lot of long, sparse trips across stretches of fairly barren terrain, and you get my first review – not a whole lot to get you excited about the game.

-Once you get to New Vegas, though, the plot goes from a trickle of information to a torrent in a matter of moments.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but from just about the moment you head into the strip, a number of huge reveals come at you, one after another.  All of a sudden, the world opens up, and there are a ton of things to do.  Also, this is where the other factions really come into play, and suddenly you’re no longer a bit player that nobody cares about.  You’re directed to go to much cooler locales, with a ton of other things to do, including at least one fairly impressive set-piece.  Better weapons and armor also appear, allowing you to survive better off the beaten path.  Overall, there’s just a sense of the game suddenly opening up, welcoming you to get into the real, interesting part of it.  Of course, the question then should be: why didn’t the writers try to keep things interesting from the start, instead of stepping people through an eight-hour introduction to the fun part?

-Having a place to store your loot is much nicer.

-Rad-away and rad-x seem much more rare, but then again, so are sources of radiation, for the most part.

-You have to give Obsidian some credit – the game’s been out for less than a week, and they’ve already patched it twice, fixing a number of issues, including the autosave one mentioned earlier.  (this is a nice thing about steamworks integration: you can quickly roll out patches and fix things sooner rather than later.  Be nice if other devs were as committed – but then again, there’s also something to be said for not releasing something in a bug-ridden state in the first place.)  Also of note is the fact that a New Vegas version of the GECK (i.e. TESEdit) modding tool was released only two days after the game itself, which means that if there’s something in the game that aggravates you, the tools are already in hand to start tweaking things yourself (something I’ve already started on, with a few basic tweaks similar to the ones I instituted for Fallout 3, which makes the game a bit better for the way I like to play it).  This is also another good lesson: prompt release of mod tools and good mod support = a better gaming community = more gameplay modes = far better replay value, and a much better value for money.  Knowing this, I feel better buying the game at day-one retail prices, as I’m reasonably sure I’ll get my money’s worth (games that love DLC and forbid modding, take note: unless you’re truly amazing, you’ll only see my money once you reach the bargain bin).  Ranting aside, though, it is nice to see a commercial game actually get some reasonable support out of the gate.

-Another gun that seems pulled from the 19th and 20th century weapons pack is the 40mm grenade launcher.  However, that being said: BOOOM!  Much more fun than throwing frag grenades, to be sure.  Watch those raid- I mean fiends bounce!

-I’m pretty sure the CAR-15 was never chambered for 5mm caseless, but hey, plasma pistols don’t exist either, so go figure.  That being said, definitely enjoying the fact that there’s a bit more variation in guns in the stock game this time around, even if it does take a while to find them (oh, and that revolver reloading animation?  Very nice).  I think there’s even a laser carbine, but I have yet to test it out.  However, a few more available gun mods might be nice (really do have to check out the new crafting/reloading benches to see what can be made there, but the ones available in stores seem a bit few and far between).

-Still haven’t seen a whole lot of odd stuff with the wild wasteland trait – here’s hoping…

-In any case…  yes, I have quibbles, and the start of the game is slow, at times painfully so, and there are still a few too many uneventful long walks…  but ignore all that and play on anyway, as there’s a lot of fun to be had once you really get into it.  As much fun as Fallout 3?  Jury’s still out on that one, but after a while, the improvements over vanilla F3 are becoming quite apparent.  It still doesn’t beat my heavily modded version, of course, but at some point New Vegas will probably also have that level of mods…  the obvious solution, of course, is to play both!  Both are good, both have a lot of promise, and you really shouldn’t miss either one.

(and a very quick third impression, now 25 hours in – the plot really does get interesting!  Fallout 3’s main plot was pretty good, but pretty linear, and it’s generally clear which side everyone expects you to be on.  Once the plot starts branching out, you’re suddenly in the middle of a multi-faction tug of war for power over the region, with you in the driver’s seat.  Saying any more would probably risk spoilers, but suffice it to say, it’s nice to see a plot with a bit more moral ambiguity, and meaningful choices with a number of different outcomes.  Things just keep getting more and more interesting, and I’m hoping that’s a trend which continues all the way to the endgame, and post-endgame world.  Oh, and also: we’re now talking about a game offering over 4 times the length of your average COD:MW2 single-player, with no end in sight, and near-endless modability… for $10 less at retail release.)