I’ve spent the last week or so wandering across the post-apocalyptic expanse of the Mojave Wasteland, fighting off raiders, thieves, mutated insects, and radioactive monsters, all while double and triple-crossing the various armies, politicians, and power-hungry maniacs who populate (and are fighting for control of) the titular city of New Vegas. This is a game that I’ve already poured dozens of hours into, and judging by the amount of incomplete sidequests I have left to do and the vast swaths of unexplored territory still remaining on my map, I’m still probably going to have to pour dozens of more hours into this game before I’ve seen all of the content it has to offer.
And I can’t wait to explore more of the wasteland, but there’s just one big hurdle that’s preventing me from doing so: the bugs. No, I’m not referring to the radioactive, giant insects that populate the wilderness outside of New Vegas, I’m referring to the various glitches, lock-ups, and game-ending bugs that pop up on a regular basis while playing this game. Far more dangerous than any of the enemies stalking the wastes, the amount of bugs in this game will cause you to lose hours of progress, force you to re-do entire quests, and, if you’re anything like me, will probably cause you to toss your controller in frustration. I understand that a game of this epic size and scope is bound to have a few issues here and there, but sloppy programming pervades every aspect of New Vegas: save files will refuse to load, important items and characters (that are mandatory for progress in the game,) will just simply disappear and never respawn, and frequent crashes and freezes all combine to create what is perhaps the most unstable, buggy,and seemingly unfinished game to be released on any platform in this generation. The game is so rough and so broken that oftentimes it feels more like an early beta test rather than a supposedly finished, final retail product that they’re charging $60 for.
But despite the frustration (and believe me, you will get frustrated) of dealing with the game’s broken programming and the seeming absence of thorough bug-testing on the publisher’s part, I have for the most part enjoyed my time with New Vegas, because as ineptly as the game was programmed, its still one of the best written and designed role-playing experiences I’ve ever played. When the game decides to work properly, it’s brillaint; it’s deep, challenging, rewarding, and addictive, and it even manages to fix some of the problems associated with Western-style RPG’s.
First and foremost of those issues would be the level of challenge. Previous games in the series had a sort of backwards difficulty curve; they started off hard when your character was low level and lacked the skills necessary to fend off danger, with enemies capable of killing your character in a few hits, but as your character leveled up and gained more useful skills and more powerful equipment, the games became progressively easier as you neared the end. New Vegas still has this to some extent, but the beginning of the game is definitely better balanced than previous entries, as the game does a good job of easing you into wasteland rather than dropping you into the middle of it and expecting you to fend for yourself.
The big appeal of these games has always been their non-linear, emergent gameplay, and New Vegas manages to improve on this aspect as well; instead of merely playing a good or bad character as you do in most games of this type, New Vegas forces you to choose sides in a morally ambiguous, three-way war for control of the wasteland, where your choices aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad” but rather beneficial to certain people or factions while costly to others. You’re almost always given more than two or three choices on how to handle a situation, and every choice you make has genuine, branching repercussions that permanently change the world inside the game. While most Western RPG’s give you the illusion of having freedom in your choices, usually the only major difference you get for your behavior is a “good” or “bad” ending, but in Fallout New Vegas, the choices you make having a lasting, tangible effect on the entire game, and by the time you reach the end, chances are the political and social landscape of New Vegas in your game will be vastly different from anybody else’s.
New Vegas also manages to retain all of the aspects that made Fallout 3 great as well; the ruins of the American southwest are just as vast and beautifully rendered as the Capitol wastleand from Fallout 3, and despite the bleak setting, the series’ trademark black humor and quirky personality remains intact. The game’s story is also probably the best in the series, filled a memorable cast of characters and some of the most well written, clever dialogue to have ever appeared in a video game.
The combat and character-development systems are still as addictive as they ever were as well, managing to strike the same sweet spot between traditional turn-based RPG combat (courtesy of the game’s V.A.T.S. targeting system,) and twitch based shooter that Fallout 3 managed. Customizing your character has been streamlined as well, with new perks (the Fallout term for special abilities) and some much deserved simplifications done to how skills are categorized. If you (were crazy and) didn’t like how Fallout 3 handled these aspects, chances are you still won’t like New Vegas, but fans of the series will appreciate the streamlining and new additions, while newbies will have no trouble getting used to it thanks to how accessible it is.
So, Fallout New Vegas basically manages to get everything right in terms of how it was designed and planned, but in terms of how it was executed… Well, I already went into that. If this game managed to work properly on a consistent basis it would be perfect, but it doesn’t, so it’s a shame that I can’t give it a perfect recommendation because of technical issues. If you have the patience to deal with having to redo entire sections of the game or restart repeatedly when the game inexplicably (and inevitably) craps out due to a bug or an outright crash, you will be treated to one of the best RPGs ever made. However, if you understandably don’t want to/won’t deal with the game’s multitude of random bugs, I don’t blame you, because while the game was designed perfectly, it’s sloppy, unfinished nature often turns it into an experience that’s just as frustrating as a badly designed game would be. If you simply can’t wait for the next, great RPG, then you might as well get Fallout New Vegas now, just be aware that you’re paying full-price for an unfinished product. Everybody else would be advised to pick this game up in a few months after it’s (hopefully) patched to completion.