Alex Trebek: “65,000.”
Contestant: “What is the approximate number of lines of spoken dialogue in Fallout: New Vegas?”
Words, words, words. You might say there are a lot of them in Obsidian Entertainment’s latest opinion divider. I might agree with you for saying as much. But so far I’m enjoying them, and I hope you can too.
As far as technical performance, the cat’s out of the bag: it’s a bug riddled journey, the various oddities depending on which platform you play the game, but it’s nothing anyone’s too surprised about; though if they’re not surprised, perhaps they’re disappointed that none of the engine glitches were fixed over a two-year development period.
We kind of knew it would happen, and if they were to be honest with themselves, Obsidian probably did too. The thing is this: I don’t think they care. How can they possibly? They’re responsible for some of the most beloved-but-broken games released in recent memory. Knights of the Old Republic II had an entire planet removed from the game because they couldn’t work out the kinks in time for release; add that on top of the already damning fact that a lot of people think the ending of the game was also left out and replaced with several “So and so went on to do this…” lines of dialogue. (This, however, is arguable and I disagree with the majority, but the stigma remains). Neverwinter Nights 2 was and still is commonly cited as a ridiculous technical system hog when it had no reason to be. And Alpha Protocol… the consensus was that somewhere hiding inside the broken shell of a product that shipped out on launch day was a well written story, and it’s really too bad a lot of people will never experience it.
Fallout: New Vegas, then. A chance to redeem themselves? “Fuck it. Let’s just stick to what we’re good at. Fire the technical project lead, tell Bethesda not to bother with the beta testers, and just send Avellone some more Twinkies. If we need any new texturing or engine work we’ll hire some street urchin.”
That’s not to say this strategy bothers me in any particular way. I’m just shocked, frankly, that Obsidian continues to operate under the guise of “game developer.” They don’t develop shit. They take someone else’s game and make it more appealing to an audience who want something … different. Am I complaining though? A little bit. Well, no to be honest, actually I can’t complain at all. I’m in my mid-twenties and already crusty and jaded. My heart is a deep shade of brown; my soul went to the corner store to get some macaroons but that was years ago, I think it’s gone for good. Obsidian fill that void by giving me exactly what I didn’t know I needed: an often ugly world, but one filled with compelling words and compelling people.
That somehow is a prerequisite to be able to feel and love in Obsidian’s bizarro-universe. I actually forgive them for putting New Vegas on shelves in its current state. I forgive them that in 21 hours spent in the wasteland so far my PlayStation 3 has locked up and said “tough shit” a total of five times. I forgive them that some woman in the Mojave Outpost was typing on an invisible typewriter (and not Chief Wiggum style, either). I forgive them that when I ventured into the Bison Steve casino to rescue a dimwitted deputy, I was met with a “Hello” from his captor, who sat on a bar stool and did nothing as I bludgeoned him to death with a shovel. I forgive them that nine times out of ten when I target a Nightkin in V.A.T.S. my percentage to hit is zero.
But why, you ask, do I forgive so easily? Well … I guess it’s love. Do you not forgive your lover when they scorn you?
There’s no reason to touch on the myriad technical retardations present within New Vegas. That information is easily obtainable elsewhere. What I can touch on is how I feel about it so far. Have the five system freezes bothered me? Yeah, they’re really annoying, but I’m not letting that affect my overall judgement of an otherwise enthralling adventure. The minor bugs that aren’t crashes? I couldn’t care less about those. They’re one-offs in a massive world that I can forget about in an instant. The whole V.A.T.S. thing with the Nightkin is pretty annoying to tell the truth, but if I had to guess that’s something that Obsidian might actually fix with patching.
For many of us we should have expected exactly this, and therefore should have had our minds set. Mine was set on a launch day purchase and I do not regret that decision. Would you? It’s largely a question of tolerance. That and what you felt about Fallout 3, and what exactly sequels (or non-sequels as I think this is) should be. If after completion of Fallout 3 you felt that you’d had enough and wouldn’t likely return then I can’t honestly recommend New Vegas. If you ate up all the downloadable content, however, and still wander the D.C. wastes today (or would at least consider it) then I absolutely would recommend New Vegas to you.
If you’re in the latter crowd then I’m betting you haven’t stuck around for the technical mastery or graphical wizardry of the Fallout world. You’ve stuck around because of the stories that world tells, the characters who inhabit it, and everything else related to the two. If you’re a “hardcore” Fallout 1 or 2 fan there’s no denying this either, and I can’t stress this enough. The passage of time can often afford a nice shell of safety to artifacts of the past which we hold in high regard. The early Fallouts being no exception. Many a rose-coloured glasses-wearer would tell you that Fallout 3 and now New Vegas (or maybe just Fallout 3) are bastardizations of a beloved role-playing classic, and blah, blah, blah. If there’s one thing that makes me wretch it’s blind nostalgia for stupid shit you liked when you were younger. I’m not calling Fallout 1 or 2 stupid shit, I’m just saying.
To the contrary, you could call me one of those “hardcore” fans of the original two titles, but I’ll call a spade a spade. Fallout is one of the most hilariously bug-riddled games I’ve ever played. Go on YouTube and one can seek out some entertaining variations of bugs that allowed players to beat the game in a matter of minutes. Fallout 2 was the same: bigger and better. That goes for the game world and the bugs. Anyone who holds those Fallouts in high regard yet tears down New Vegas for its technical failings is kidding themselves. Nobody loves Fallout 2 because of the sleek rendering of a Deathclaw or excellent character animations. They love it because it’s a brilliant, true role-playing adventure where you can destroy every single person you meet, or harm no one at all.
As for story, players seem to be torn between Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Some say that the former’s main quest line was more compelling, but the latter improves the overall quality of the ever-abundant side quests. Others are saying the exact opposite. I say they’re all fairly level to me. I think Fallout 3‘s narrative, while nothing Shakespearian, was fair and it suited the game’s purpose: exploration. The reason you spend a good chunk of time in Vault 101, which serves as the game’s tutorial, is so you build up a connection to a few of its inhabitants but mostly your father. His disappearance and the mystery surrounding it served as a metaphor for your entire journey: the exhilaration of exploration, of having goals but never knowing exactly where they will lead you next.
This is all unchanged, just executed differently in New Vegas. Instead of controlling your character from birth you pick up in a small town called Goodsprings (named for its clean water supply) where the local M.D. has just finished patching you up after a mysterious robot calling himself Victor exhumed your buried-alive carcass and delivered you to his doorstep.
After a brief orientation and a bit of legwork for the townspeople you’ll soon be off on your own, much like you were in Fallout 3, only this time you’re not searching for the man who seemingly abandoned you; you’re after the man who left you for dead. It’s hardly different from past objectives, and I offer this in a good way. “Open world” games or whatever we’re calling them now don’t need to rely on a tight narrative in the way that a game like, oh I don’t know, let’s say Max Payne does.
Do you remember what Fallout was about? Your vault’s water chip was broken, so they sent you out into the wastes to find a new one. If that’s not the most dry (no pun intended) setup for a role-playing feast then I’ve apparently missed the game where you have amnesia and go knocking from door to door to learn things and eventually kill some bad guy. Oh wait, that’s every game ever, including New Vegas! Well then, they’re all equally rubbish, aren’t they?! We need to enjoy F:NV for what it is, not for the hidden talents that we stupefyingly still believe Obsidian is harbouring.
This game is about the illusion of freedom, and dammit I intend to enjoy it. There are just too many beautiful subtleties in the writing team’s wit not to. First of all, if Fallout 2 in particular is your favourite of the bunch, I guarantee you are going to enjoy a lot of referencing that goes on here. Some personal highlights in my time with New Vegas so far are overhearing a Nightkin going mad, rambling to himself about how a bunch of Brahmin are responsible for the voices in his head; listening to a former NCR ranger, now settled into a life of protecting a small town, complain about his paranoia … from atop his sniper’s perch inside a dinosaur’s maw; a classic quip from a soused patron in a bar where she alludes to two of the Mojave’s largest factions swinging their dicks around via a pair of over-sized, self-congratulatory statues which greeted you on your way in; a plaque next to an empty gun case that surmises at length about the number of victims this 9mm sub-machine gun might have claimed, if only its infamous owner had ever fired a shot from it; though my absolute favourite touch includes just a handful of Obsidian’s words. It’s the withdrawal effect experienced each time I run out of beer or whiskey (I’ve become quite addicted, you see): the desert’s harsh tones all glow a beautiful glow, enhancing this place to a level of majesty it could never truly achieve … and then slowly fade with a rumbling din, signifying that maybe I’ve lost myself… perhaps gone too far, seen enough of this desert hell for one day. My television agrees: “You are experiencing withdrawal.” (From real life, I can only assume it means.)
And then I take another drink.
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