I know Fallout NV reviews are old news, but I'd like to tackle some points that I haven't seen addressed, since I've had time to really soak up the game from different perspectives and played out a handful of the choices. While most critics and forum "Fiends" are complaining about Bugs and why the damage capabilities of a plasma rifle is equal to that of a fire axe,or whatever, I'd like to hit some more important aspects that actually pertain to the overall flavor of the experience .
While I recognize that the bugs are more prominent than in a Baltimore low rent apartment, we've all had to hit the reset button on our respective systems dozens of times, let's try to journey past that and examine the atmosphere. Coming from a guy that has invested 20 years into this franchise: (real die-hards started with "Wasteland" in 90') Fallouts 1,2,3, Tactics, and even (shutter) the much maligned Brotherhood of Steel, I have come to realize that what makes this game great is not the strong narrative, but how the "Fallout" from the narrative trickles down and effects the average blue collar NPC living in the universe and how their stories give the player the ability to be enjoyably distracted by a trail of clues littered in the dust and discover more little unsung stories, lost amongst crumbling bones and forgotten buildings. These are the reasons most of us enjoy this game leaps and bound beyond all other linear titles.
Aside from great side quests in Fallout 3: helping a child in a city overrun with killer ants, saving a town that is under-siege from the idiocy of two psychos that think they're superheros, venturing into a den of blood suckers to save a child, and even unleashing a horde of zombies on a tower of rich snobs; there were even smaller moments than these that gave the game a deliciously awesome flavor. Remember stumbling upon the bunker where the inhabitant went insane after making dozens of plunger sculptures, and how about the George Town area of DC where a robot eternally reads bedtime stories to the bodies of rotting children, or even the nut job that has wired an alley way with a half dozen nukes. Fallout NV developers didn't even come close to breathing this kind of life into their title, only providing little scraps of stories scattered about the Mojave.
Instead, the developers took "the courier," identity to painful lengths since most of the quests involves the player running back and forth across the wasteland delivering "he said, she said" messages, which I wouldn't mind as much if there were events of interests that occur in the Mojave. In Fallouts 1,2,3, and Tactics the vault dweller always stumble into the cross fire of factions or comes across a random encounter of some sort. NV may have the occasional NCR vs Legion scuffle, but these events seldom occur, and that Wild Wasteland Trait barely unlocks more than half dozen pop cultural easter eggs-most of which you might not even notice- that made the previous titles enjoyable.
Encounters aside, the locations are often empty and boring: there used to be a racetrack here, this is a dried lake and now some ants are here, here's a toxic waste dump, here's an old race track. Look, A state park used to be here. So what? Where are the old stores where boxes of detergents have been rigged like Dominos to create a deadly Rube-Goldburg? Where are the zany scenarios like the Republic of Dave, Girdershade, or the lingerie quests? The Mojave seems to be drierthan the compilation of its sand when it come to juicy little bits of flavor that Fallout 3 provided.
After finishing Fallout 3, I remember going on-line and finding out about dozens of little niches I missed like two scientists that were tucked into a corner who had tried to study ghoul culture to deadly results. Instead, NV relies more on hunting, which is cool only if you've activated the games "Hardcore" mode, which is fun until you reach about level twelve, by then you've probably already brewed 120 bottles of purified water and killed enough Gecko to grill up enough steaks to feed all of Freeside. While there are some caves with "legendary" versions of some of the games animals to take down, and a quest of egg gathering that plays up the hunting angle with a reward of lots of caps and some nookie from a sultry ring master of an underground arena, the hunting angle loses its luster quickly. Perhaps, the biggest joke is the Gecko hides, which you could sell in Fallout 2 early on for some quick caps, but NV makes the recipe complicated enough and the re-sale value so low that by the time you did all that garbage you could have made hundreds more selling the loot from a few bodies.
In general, Hardcore Mode was grossly exaggerated by pre-release press that had you believing that your character would be crawling on his hands and knees and just make it to toilet seconds before dehydration strikes. Take it from a guy, that's only played with hardcore on and has the full game achievement already. It's more annoying mode than hardcore mode. I like the flavor it adds to the game, but the effects that become most prominent are constant item management since ammo weighs too damn much and constant re-loading because your idiot companion will always charge into battle (even when set to passive... that doesn't do shit) and block your shots and get himself or herself killed.
The whole eating/drinking/cooking system is pretty screwed up in general. While you can craft items that offer higher food recovery like the Caravan Lunch Boxes which restore a whooping 300 food points you would never allow your character to drop to -300 FOD because of the statistical penalties that kind of hunger carries. In short, you would eat the ingredients before holding on to them long enough to even make the more advance item, so the only time you could benefit from this is if you stumbled upon a pre-made one, which is extremely rare, and you had reached that level of starving from finding no other food for awhile, which is near impossible because EVERYTHING drops food. New Vegas's developers really out played themselves at every turn.
Okay, enough trashing these guys, Some of their changes were wise decisions. The repetitive, and unavoidable sewer mazes, of the DC wastes, had to go and this team knew it. There are a small stretch of sewers that can be used, but you never "Need" to use them to get somewhere. I absolutely hated setting my marker for a location ten feet away only to see a connect-the-dots line that looked like a star of David appearing on my PIP Boy informing me that I had to wind my way through seven metro lines to arrive at that location.
Another good call was lifting the generic raider label off of every-other enemy in the game. NVs boasts: The Khans, The Fiends, The Powder Gangers, The Vipers, and The Jackals. The last two may seem a little on the generic side, but NV provides the first three with their own cultures and the ability to walk amongst and do quests for each one. Even though, the Karma system is all screwed up (get Karma for killing people, lose Karma for taking their stuff) and probably should have been omitted, the return of the reputation system is a far better way to interact with the game's many factions.
On a whole, the faction system is more of a choice of ideology than good verse evil in the smaller groups, but the overall story is pretty black and white. The Legion will come in and rape your wife, take your daughter as a slave, crucify you if you don't join them, but the NCR is going to raise taxes so there bad too...give me a break. I think we could have worked a little harder on finding a less evil faction to oppose the NCR than just scooping up the Legion off the failed Van Buren
Regardless, most of the little, day to day gameplay mechanics shine far above Fallout 3. Companions are easier to control, most of the time, and sending them back to the Lucky 38 to a little NPC party so you can easily reclaim whatever one you want later is very convenient. The companion quests are also an excellent addition to the experience even though you have seek out, bizarrely concealed, triggers to convince each one to tell your character about how to embark on one. Regardless, the quests still add life to the characters, making most of the NPCs feel deeply intertwined into to the story of wasteland that you are mostly the author of.
Authorial choices on the part of the courier is probably what gives NV its gold stars. Rather than have a linear line that you can deviate from, do some side quests, but are ultimately forced to get back on that line in the extact spot you left off, NV's story landscape is more like a web where every decision you make, even in side quests, has ripples that effect the entire narrative as a whole. The freedom to make whatever choice you want can be overwhelming, but so are the consequences of those chooses.
Where NV's developers gave in narrative design they took away on the front of character design. Once all was said and done in Fallout 3, your character would probably be maxed out in most categories of Skills allowing a character to talk, shoot, zap, or explode his or her way out of every situation. NV shaves the amount of Skill books down to a fraction, and cuts the amount of perks you can have by half. The character is forced to specialize or become insanely average. While the introduction of skill magazines allow you to be something you're not for a temporary period of time, most of the game involves you solving problems in the manner your character excels at.
NV's most pleasing feature comes in the form of an excellent climax, which leads up to a challenging boss fight. Instead of Fallout 3's anti-climatic Enclave General that falls over dead with the brush of a feather, NV challenges the player with a boss battle worthy of the Fallout stamp. No one in Fallout 3 comes close to posing such a threat.
My final side note deals with the gambling system, which comes down to either playing simple fast paced, lose your shirt or get rich quick games, in the casinos or mastering Caravan. Caravan, a weird blend of Blackjack and solitaire, involves collecting cards as you travel and developing a winning strategy as you play, which will eventually limit the chance of losing far beyond anything you can play in the casinos. Once you get a feel for building columns of card that equal 26 you can earn tens of thousands of caps without the fear of being banned that the casinos carry. Generally, the game is much more fun than blackjack or roulette anyhow.
At the end of the day, I would probably say that Fallout 2 and 3 have more to offer in the field of a complete gaming experience, but they are hard to compare, and its more accurate to say they are apples and oranges. NV's unfortunate common thread with Fallout 3 is its unfortunate challenge curve that has the player reaching god-like status too soon. Before the Mojave is even halfway conquered, your character will have reached level 30, acquired over 50,000 caps, installed every implant, and have their refrigerator full of enough food and water to open your own supermarket thus shaving away several layers of interaction with the RPG environment. Future fallout titles need to find a way to balance out the amount of time it takes the player graduate from struggling to survive and sleeping and eating garbage, to yawning as you swat Cazadors like gnat and kicking up your feet in your hotel suite while eating Fillet Mignon and trying to convince Cass to try on the Sexy Sleepwear. Aren't Post-Apoc RPGs supposed to be about brutal survival, afterall?
With all that said, NV is still a welcome entry into the cannon and probably the most freeing experience in the Fallout world. I think fans who have appreciated this franchise for the compilation of all its games will be pleased. Younger fans that only have Fallout 3 for way of comparison will be polarized into love and hate tribes. Either way. Bring on twenty more years of these games. I've have my wasteland stomping boots ready, with these spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle.