A return to the post-apocalyptic world of the Fallout universe is always welcome. Fallout 3 was such a phenomenal game that people were waiting anxiously for Fallout: New Vegas as soon as it was announced. While such enthusiasm was dampened a little when it was revealed that Bethesda was only publishing the game, and that Obsidian would be making it, people were still generally looking forward to it. I know I was.
Which is why I was saddened when it didn't grip me like the previous game did.
The basic premise of the game is that you're a courier who's been betrayed and gunned down in the wasteland outside the brightly-lit city of New Vegas, which largely survived the apocalypse. You're retrieved by a robot named Victor, and nursed back to health by a good doctor in the town of Goodsprings. Thus begins a quest to find out who had you murdered, and what you were carrying in that package that you were killed for. Along the way, you'll be caught in a 3-way conflict between the New California Republic, Caesar's Legions, and the mysterious Mr. House, who seems to run New Vegas.
The engine used in Fallout: New Vegas is a modified version of the one used in Fallout 3, so it looks beautiful. The Mojave Wasteland isn't as varied as the Capitol Wasteland, but it has much more distinct terrain, with mountains and large, impenetrable hills that make navigation confusing at times. The bright lights of New Vegas (when you finally get there) are a sharp contrast to all of the desolation you've been traipsing through before. Sadly, graphical glitches can be quite common, marring what would otherwise be a major strength of the game. There's way too much clipping, and getting stuck in a piece of terrain, unable to move, can be a truly frustrating experience. Save often!
The combat system is much the same as the previous game, with the VATS system still making it easier for those who don't have good trigger fingers. You can still press the handy RB button and call up a display of your target, along with percentage chances to hit. I did find it easier to play without the VATS than it was in Fallout 3, but VATS was still much preferred.
There are a few changes, though. In addition to the normal weapons that you can find/buy, you can also get weapon modifications that add to combat bonuses, or increases to ammo, that are easily applied to your weapon. This can help a great deal, and is a wonderful addition to the game.
The character system is much the same too, with additional perks to add as you level up, and skills to increase. Some of the perks seem pretty useless, but it depends on your play style whether you'll find the new additions handy or not. One major change, that I didn't realize at first, is that skill books now only offer temporary additions to your skills, and they are not cumulative. There are some books that will give more modest, but permanent increases to your skills, but these are few and far between. You'll find yourself hoarding skill books to use when the situation warrants them. After initially really hating this change, I found that it grew on me.
The core of any Fallout game, however, is the story and the side quests. That's what is hit and miss about New Vegas. The over-arching story is pretty good, with you making your way to New Vegas to find Benny (the guy who shot you) and meet up with Mr. House. Along the way, you'll find yourself allying with either the New California Republic or with Caesar's Legions (the truly evil guys who like to crucify people) as you wander the Wasteland and generally help people (or hurt them, if you're that type of player).
There are other factions in the Wasteland as well, and you'll gain or lose reputation with all of them as you do things that they either like or dislike. This is a great addition, though I found it a bit too easy to get everybody to like me except for the Legions.
The story has big branches, so you'll never experience everything in one playthrough. There are three different endings, depending on who you ultimately side with, and a fourth where you end up siding with nobody. I like that aspect.
Unfortunately, the side quests just aren't as interesting, and they start to become tedious after a while. The urge to race through the game once I was half-way done says something about how much the game gripped me: it didn't. It didn't help that there are areas that you can't fast-travel to, and many of the side quests are the basic "go do something/deliver something for me and then come back and I'll give you something else to do" type of quests.
Once again, you can have companions to help you out on your trek. Using companions is a lot easier this time with the introduction of the "companion wheel," which allows you to give quick orders ("wait here," "be more aggressive," "take a stimpak") and also do inventory swapping without you having to talk to them first. You can also have two companions instead of just one.
If you're really serious, you can try playing in "Hardcore" mode, where you have to pay attention to things like dehydration and sleep, stimpaks and Radaway heal you over time rather than instantaneously, and limbs can only be fixed with a Doctor's Bag or with a Hydra chem. This mode is only for those experts who want a *real* challenge.
Finally, the addition of gambling to the game (hey, this is Vegas!) is quite nice. It was easy to lose myself in games of Blackjack, or other casino games, before getting back to the story. There's usually at least a small casino in every major town, especially on the outskirts of New Vegas.
Fallout: New Vegas is a fun game, and a welcome return to the Fallout universe. But glitches and a storyline that gets tedious after a while (unless you just race through the main story) make the game feel like the welcomed guest that just won't leave when it's time to say good night.