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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Fallout: New Vegas review

Scooter-Upon-Spacetone, March, 2010 by Maggie Osterberg from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

I didn't really play any of the earlier Fallout games (I tried the original Fallout once, I didn't like it much), but I sure played a lot of Elder Scrolls, so I thought why not try Skyrim: New Vegas as well?

I quite like the game - it might even be legitimately somewhat better than Oblivion and Skyrim - and the review will mostly compare it to these games. And disregard chronological paradox of New Vegas being actually older than Skyrim - that's the order I played them, so that's how I'm going to review them. Also I'm going to do some Skyrim bashing, even though I enjoyed it a lot.

The good

First, I like the genre of Skyrim-style sandbox games a lot - there's a lot of content to explore, and if you want you can go pretty deep into backstory and stories of individual characters, but none of that is forced.

New Vegas has very different atmosphere than Skyrim - and I don't mind happy epic fantasy, but here it's executed much better. Nothing like "Hi there new guy, how would you like to become our new Archmage even though you can't cast anything stronger than apprentice level Firebolt?". At least Oblivion for all its other faults executed epic fantasy a lot better.

The faction system is really neat, with (sort of) "good guys", (sort of) "bad guys", and a lot of minor factions all being very well characterized and interesting. Skyrim had unjoinable Hitler-Elves, Nord Ku Klux Klan lead by [SPOILER REMOVED, ask in Hitler-Elves Embassy for details], and the guys who were pretty much prefect do-gooders except for trying to execute you in the intro, for no particular reason. Forsworn had a neat backstory, but they're also unjoinable. Oh and there's this so called "main quest" with both factions being basically total asses, and in any case you can be on best terms with both if you don't care for some minor quests.

New Vegas has a lot more options for customizing your character and your choices have much bigger consequences. It really made no sense how in Skyrim you could be playing Khajiit (totally forbidden from entering any cities) and nobody would even make a complaint. You could even join the Nord KKK playing as one of the races they lynch as a hobby. Part of it was also crappy balance - Skyrim's offensive magic was crappy, 2/3 of all enemies (all Draugr, all Nords etc.) were immune to cold so cold offensive magic was even worse, with so many missions involving going to dungeons to kill Draugr any kind of peaceful or sneaky character was pretty much not viable etc. You could do some fun things and sneaking atop dragon's tower to backstab dragon with 30x dagger sneak attack damage was a very memorable moment, but 95% of the gameplay time was the same regardless of who you were playing.

One really great thing is total lack of levelled enemies. This was the single biggest issue with Oblivion, and Skyrim only halfway fixed that. I'm not sure if not having any level-dependence would work that well in epic fantasy setting, but Skyrim still has too much of it.

I also quite liked how enemies in New Vegas rarely respawn. For some time I even thought they don't respawn at all - it turns out they do, but only in certain locations and very slowly, so you get much better sense of making progress cleaning the world from bandits and other dangers.
Scooter-Upon-Spacetone, March, 2010 by Maggie Osterberg from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

The bad

But enough with complaining about Skyrim, let's get to complaints about New Vegas.

The worst part of all is the user interface. Elder Scrolls games sucked here hard as well, feeling like they were all designed console-first, PC is an afterthought, but it was nowhere near as bad as this Pip-Boy nonsense. How hard would it be to map M to map, I to items, J to quest journal, 1/2/3/4 to switch weapons, and so on? You need to go through 3 or 4 screens to do one simple action, then another 3 or 4 screens back to something else.

Probably the worst part of the overall abysmally designed interface is the local map. It doesn't show anything! It's just a vague blob of blurred pixels background showing nothing whatsoever - and in many locations they didn't even bother with blurred pixels. Would it kill them to make it minimally readable, and perhaps add a few colors to the interface?

It's a nice coincidence that my character is claustrophobic, so I can always blame this crap and getting constantly lost and generally confused indoors on my condition, but it seems pretty much impossible to play a non-claustrophobic character.

And speaking of maps - global map is strangely tiny and packed with locations. I know it doesn't really matter and the alternative of spacing them a bit further apart wouldn't really do much once you activate all fast travel locations, and how it's all consoles' fault (like almost everything else bad about gaming).

One thing that was sort of nice was how many quests people would give me, requiring various things done in even far away places, many of them inaccessible yet due to my low skills in something or other. Except this got instantly screwed because most of these quests didn't get to the quest log, and since I couldn't do them right away I'd forget about them by the time I could. Skyrim's minor quests list was just an amazing idea.

New Vegas suffers from Skyrim's problems of absolutely shitty encumbrance system (in both games ~ player.modav carryweight 9000 and forget about this nonsense), horrible inventory management, shopkeepers having very limited money to buy things from you (here at least this is much less serious issue than in Skyrim where it was just ridiculous). To this it adds another annoyance of item repair, which is only partially excusable by the apocalyptic setting.

Visually both New Vegas and Skyrim suffer form 95% of locations looking pretty much identical. This is one area where Oblivion is still unmatched. It's more a problem in Skyrim since apocalyptic wasteland excuse works in New Vegas's favour, but even in an apocalyptic wasteland a bit more variety was definitely possible.

The weird

New Vegas has this fairly ridiculous V.A.T.S. thing where you can switch to something vaguely resembling a turn-based system in the middle of combat. They integrated it with real time combat a lot better than I expected, but it still feels just weird.

There's a strangely high number of rapey parts. I don't terribly mind, and with people murdering and torturing each other as a routine matter there's going to be some raping as well, but it feels weird in a non-Japanese video game.

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