Why Fallout: New Vegas was a narrative car-crash and why some people love it.
Published by Bethesda Softworks, Bandai Namco Entertainment. Certificate 18. Reviewed on PC.
You wake up in the middle of nowhere. Sand and rock in all directions. You've been left for dead; not just because you've been left out in baking heat that cooks everything but lizards, but because you've been shot. You can't remember who you are.
Not terribly original, but also not necessary terrible - there are, after all, only 7 original types of story (though some reprobates recently started claiming there are actually 8) and so this isn't a deal-breaker. Also, this being a game you can interact with it and you're soon going to start running around doing things and trying to figure out who did what to you and why - you'll soon be busy going places and meeting people and this might be an interesting way of introducing you to them.
Potentially, this could have been the case, but what follows is just a mish-mash of ideas pulled from Fallout 3 with no clear, well-directed, narrative focus. So, when looking back on this beginning after I've played the rest of the game it just seems like shitty written-by-committee writing. Like much of the rest of the game.
With Fallout 4 just released I thought I'd better check that plans weren't already in place for a "parent company releases a new game - gap to the next one is filled in by some secondary outfit" arrangement like we see with the Call of Duty games.
I nearly had a heart-attack; but then I actually started reading the articles themselves. Obsidian are lobbying hard for this to be the case and want the interim-titles gig, and it may end up playing out that way, but there's no deal in place and it's all noise coming strictly from them at this point. Which is good.
Reviews for Vegas were actually pretty good and initial sales/profits are pretty much the same for it and Fallout 4 - what's impossible to know is how ongoing sales will compare. In these days of Steam while profits obviously drop off, they never stop - with people re-buying titles and upgrading their game libraries to one that will never degrade or be reliant on the whims of a console manufacturer.
Looking at the normal review sites New Vegas is the slightly weaker-reviewed game in the, rebooted, series, but it was still pretty well-received.
So, you find yourself locked into the usual - very familiar - opening grind. Going looking directly for your end-point, or even just travelling very far, gets you killed early in these games - so you find yourself doing small missions for people at a nearby settlement until you can buy an OK weapon and some basic armour. So far, so good.
Where we run into a problem is whether you like your game to have a decent narrative or not, and a bunch of hours sunk into this game reveals that this one doesn't have one. What it has instead is stuff.
Now, of course, this game has an over-arching narrative like the other Fallout's and the Elder Scroll games. Here, obviously, it's revenge - a pretty good motive and one I can totally get behind; but while the player accepts that the majority of the game is going to be spent doing unconnected things so as to level-up and acquire the experience, heavy-weapons and protection you'll need for the end-game, it's not enough for you to just wallow only through all of this until you get to the necessary type of badass. You need to feel like you're constantly being fed information that's important to that main story.
This game doesn't do enough of it. Instead you get a mass of unconnected side-missions - too many clumped together, and a maddeningly sense that you're not getting anywhere fast.
It's not that you're doing nothing and not going to interesting locations to do them, but where's my fucking story? The main initial drive is to get the guy who runs New Vegas - he's powerful, he knows things, he'll be able to help you out. Getting to him is a boring graft. Assassination missions, clearing out infestations, delivery shit - all the things that populated Fallout 3, but here feeling like an empty experience and too many of them. Accepted, this is not a problem if you want to pick up your controller (or - yes, yes - keyboard and mouse) for 40 minutes, get something done and then be able to go do something else feeling like you achieved something.
The twist when you finally get to the mayor of Vegas is one you will have seen coming from very early-on in the game; the rings you have to jump through and the suspicious length of time it takes to get there make it an absolute certainty (if you didn't expect it then you didn't play the previous game) and is a ripoff of a similar situation from Fallout 3. It was here that a feeling of "Oh, fuck this" set in for me.
Ultimately the main story is hollow as shit. You wake up, want revenge and you go and get it. What makes the game almost obnoxious is how pleased it is with trying to surprise you. Look, a whole faction who are basically a Roman Army! That's crazy, right?! You weren't expecting that, I bet!
Many people dug all this; they were all about doing and seeing new things (and you can't accuse New Vegas off having a lack of thing to do) but if you're wanting a story this game is a wasteland.
Or maybe it's partly down to how people play their games - some people want to fire up the game, start a mission, spend an hour playing killing stuff and then come back and do something similar next time they play - it doesn't seem repetitive to them. But for the gamer who likes to clear the best part of a day every week so they can just lose themselves in a world; because they're spending longer periods in the game, then the story - or comparative lack of it - really is thrown into sharp relief.
Fallout 3 and 4 regularly reward the player who sits and plays for a few hours at a time - they don't just regularly parcel out small pieces of your main story, but lots of others too. New Vegas does far less of that. New Vegas might be perfect if you want to pick the game up and know you can complete a mission in 30 minutes and then go shopping - as opposed to the other Fallout's which can see you heading off on single missions and story-threads that go on for an hour or two with no natural break.
But for me, I mostly play games for the whole, rounded experience. I love shooters, but it has to have a story. Give me a Deus Ex or Half Life 2. That's why I rarely play online FPS's (likely to change soon with the new Ghost in the Shell game) - I'm not there to just kill stuff, I'm there for the escapism. I want to disappear into another world, that's the power of games for me.
And Fallout: New Vegas is painfully lacking when it come to this.
Images property of Bethesda and Obsidian