You know, I, as a Fallout 3 fan think I feel about Fallout: New Vegas something like fans of Twilight must have felt when that film adaption came out a few years back. At first you feel a bit euphoric and generally forgiving; happy since new life is being forcefully injected into a property you love. But then as time passes and cruel reality sets in you start to wonder ‘wait, wasn’t that actually pretty bad?’. In the case of New Vegas, it was good, not great. The Twilight movie was actually pretty bad, but then the original novel wasn’t actually that great to begin with so I think my comparison holds. In both cases though I think the honeymoon period has ended and it’s time the record was set straight on this disappointing release.
In the first few weeks I was willing to let New Vegas coast along in my good graces. Bugs aside, because, hell, if I were to pull the game on its game-breaking issues and generally poor performance it’d be a much longer rant. Most of that got patched out anyway so we can forget about those painful first couple of months for now. I’d name the third Fallout on any ‘top 10′ list I’d ever compile, along with Oblivion, both of which share the annoying tendency toward bugginess with this game but its an order of magnitude difference. Anyway I slogged through the game, initially buddying up with Mr. House, and when it was done left it alone for a while. As is customary with me, at least.
Now it’s January and I have no inclination to return to the post-apocalyptic Vegas strip. In fact I’d more readily return to the Capital Wasteland or even the Shivering Isles, and have done in the time since. The fact is those bugs have left a bad impression in the back of my mind. I can confidently fire up my M11x and HDMI out 720P at 60fps for those games, while I’m left with a lingering question mark over New Vegas. More importantly though I have no reason to go back. Replayability was a major draw in those other Bethesda RPGs – both in exploring everywhere there is to explore and doing everything there is to do but also in revisiting the main narrative to make other decisions and explore other trees of consequences. NV has no DLC released to date and despite what I might have said late last year, the story wasn’t even that great. It wasn’t compelling, no NPC (or faction for that matter) was very interesting and it seemed like at every turn the game was undermining my choices. Killed all those Caesar’s Legion Legates earlier? Taken Boone to town on their camps and generally pissed on them whenever possible? Who cares. Later in the game Caesar is willing to forgive you. Did anything I do in my playthrough actually matter?
While New Vegas was more than happy to stand on the shoulders of its extraordinary predecessor, it made very little effort to stand up straight. In fact, I can’t think of a single merit to attribute to this pseudo-sequel except that Fallout 3 was good, and this doesn’t deviate too far from that game’s formula. But as time passes that little achievement seems less and less worth defending. And as this happens the little inconsistencies in narrative, the minor texture bugs and overall lack of polish seem to carry more and more weight. Those factional problems are highlighted by the fact that NV was meant to introduce more thorough reputation systems. My ass they did.
Speaking of systems either raped or squandered, what happened to VATS? Did it suddenly get relegated to uselessness for a particular reason? Between the amount of points things cost and the loss of some very useful perks, I never used the damned thing. Which is a shame since headshotting raiders with a plasma rifle and getting all my AP back for chain plasma carnage was one of the most memorable things about Fallout 3.
I feel a tad guilty about saying all this seeing as New Vegas was developed by the geniuses behind Fallout and Fallout 2. It brought back the NCR and introduced the Legion, but were they meant to be so boring? Neither was a fitting substitute for the Brotherhood on the other side of the US. And did you guys think about weapons or balancing or anything like that? And, hell, did you Q&A the thing?
There’s that cinema parlance that sequels are never good. Wisdom is that game sequels should always be better than the originals. Technically speaking, it’s like a craft. And why shouldn’t you do something better the second time? Sure it’s hard to write a great followup story but Fallout is about open-ended, free flowing and non-linear narrative. It’s about a world and populating it with meaning and fun gameplay. And in that sense it’s like a craft too. However you slice it, Fallout: New Vegas was not better than Fallout 3 and despite the expectations heaped on it, does not even stand equal to its forebear.
As the malaise wears off, the stream of DLC trickles out, and the graphics age with time, people will likely remember Fallout: New Vegas for what it was; an expansion billed as a full game that coasted on the name and the success of the game before it. You know what it really feels like? One of those hackneyed farmed-out expansion packs from the 90’s like Hellfire for Diablo. They lack polish, are buggy and categorically inferior. But they fill a void until a true sequel comes out. Blizzard released Diablo II a year and a half after Hellfire and put that Siera-developed title to shame, relegating it to the anals of history where few whisper about it and no one counts it as canon. Let’s see how long it takes for Bethesda to take the reigns again and show how a sequel to the now-legendary Fallout 3 should be done. I think when that time comes, New Vegas will slink off into the background where it belongs.