The point at which I decided it would all be OK was random. I was walking from one place to the next and happened to spot an odd shape off the trail. I walked closer and noticed it was a refrigerator laid on its back with the door ripped off. Inside was the skeleton of a man wearing a hat. No explanation given. I took the hat and put it on and went about my business. There was no sinister purpose to this interaction. No overt message, or secret meaning. Or was there?
I could have imprinted many a lesson onto this encounter, written my own story behind this man's fate, but whatever meaning I assigned would be my own. Was he some courier like me who'd bee killed, then dumped into a fridge? Was he a joke left there by the game's developers in a nod to the horrible MacGuffin from the even more horrible Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull like the fossils of dinosaurs left in the earth by a trickster Christian god? It didn't matter. He was there whether he meant something or not and whatever meaning was intended was so veiled it may as well have been a quark, or Darth Vader in the cave. Whatever meaning was to be assigned was for me to assign. That, in itself, is meaningful enough for me. Any fears I had that the newfound sense of humor would be obtrusive or hokey vanished in an instant.
Die-hard fans of the original Fallout game will also be pleased at the addition of "Hardcore Mode," which assigns weight to ammunition (although, oddly, not to bullet components like lead) and requires you keep your character hydrated, well rested and fed. This mode can be turned on and off at will, although you earn an achievement for starting and playing all the way through on Hardcore. This mode may be a turn-off for casual players who simply want to experience the Fallout universe without all of the RPG baggage, but it's less obtrusive than it would seem at first.
Crafting is also vastly improved in New Vegas. Players will be able to create a much larger selection of items from scrap materials and, unlike in Fallout 3 all of the recipes are available to you at the start of the game, though some items have skill level prerequisites. You can make your own stimpaks out of a relatively small number of ingredients for example, but only if your "medicine" score is high enough.
Another welcome change is the addition of the Companion Wheel to replace the frustrating dialogue-based companion interaction. With a single button press, you can access an array of companion commands, changing their attack mode, asking them to wait or follow or accessing their inventory. It's a much improved way of dealing with companions, even if the companions themselves can still be annoying.
Still, as remarkable as all of the changes to the formula may be, they don't quite mask the fact that some of Fallout 3's most aggravating problems still exist in New Vegas. You will still, just as in Fallout 3, encounter enemies who have lodged themselves into mountains, or become trapped under railroad tracks. You will still, occasionally, find that your arms have become invisible. And certain missions will randomly crash and become unfinishable. During my playthrough, for example, I was initially unable to complete the Jason Bright storyline due to his failing to appear at a key location.
It's disappointing to see such an otherwise brilliant and polished game suffer from years-old bugs, and unfortunately our review score for the game has to reflect that. Reviewing 2008's Fallout, I felt inclined to give a certain amount of visual glitchiness a pass because that game covered so much ground, from a development point of view, and was simply awe-inspiring in many respects. Seeing the exact same bugs in a new game, two years later, is harder to excuse. Truth be told, I enjoyed New Vegas a lot more than Fallout 3, but I can't give it a full score on the basis of the bugs alone.
Bottom Line: Fans of either the original Fallout games, or 2008's Fallout 3 will find plenty to love in this new installment. New weapons, characters and locations, plus a fresh sensibility marry to make New Vegas a near-perfect continuation of the series.
Recommendation: There is more than enough game in this package to justify the expense.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Russ Pitts hates giving four stars to a game he will likely be playing all winter. But dammit, guys, you had two years to fix the engine bugs. You don't deserve that fifth star.
Game: Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 19th, 2010
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Available from: Amazon (360), Amazon (PS3), Amazon (PC)