The opening sequence of Fallout: New Vegas leads players to believe that it’s about a courier’s journey to track down the gangsters who left him for dead in the desert. Yet almost as soon as the game sends you on your way—you assume the role of that courier, rescued from death by a suspiciously protective security bot—countless side stories and eccentric characters crowd into view. Ignoring them to plod straight through the main storyline would take either extraordinary focus, or a lack of imagination. As veteran players of the series know, Fallout is really about exploring the periphery, and the fringes in New Vegas are even more wonderfully lunatic than those in Fallout 3.
Building on Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3 framework—New Vegas is a sort of side-quel—the developers at Obsidian have added enhancements like a super-difficult “Hardcore” mode, item crafting, and a user-friendly conversation wheel for interacting with your traveling companions. The good-vs.-evil karma system from Fallout 3 returns, augmented by a system of “reputation” among the world’s different factions, harking back to earlier games in the series. There’s even a full-fledged card game, Caravan, that can be played throughout the Mojave Wasteland or with real-life playing cards.
The more meaningful change in New Vegas is a renewed emphasis on weird, dark humor. (As if there’s any other kind in the Fallout universe.) The citizens of Fallout 3 lived through doomsday, and it showed. Vegas, however, never got nuked directly, so while the area isn’t exactly Xanadu, the people are a bit more upbeat. The result is a wackier tone, reminiscent of Fallout 2. There’s still plenty of gloomy, serious fare, but there are also bits like a chipper cult of ghouls who want your help rocketing themselves into the sky, or a marauding gang of Elvis impersonators.
The experience is marred by jerky visuals, as the game strains so mightily to render the vistas of the Mojave that the image often grinds to a halt, threatening to freeze up, and sometimes succeeding. Load times are long, and seemingly none of Fallout 3’s niggling glitches have been fixed. Still, technical nuisances don’t ruin the delight of moseying through New Vegas and sampling the huge variety of depravity—and occasional glory—that post-nuclear Sin City has to offer.