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Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Love Letter To A Wasteland

 (Written March 2011)
New Vegas is a game I love almost unconditionally, I played it a year ago and liked it enough but was never “wowed” with it. And then for some reason, every two months since I’ve played it again. I couldn't explain it for the longest time.
I kept coming back, when the game had something to sell (dlc, weapon packs, what have you) I bought it all without a second thought. So when I heard that Bethesda was releasing a version of the game complete with all it's content I knew I had a chance to sell the game to those previously unsold on the post apocalyptic western. Because at this point I knew it wasn't the greatest game in 2010 or even 2008, but that didn't change the fact it was my favorite. The best damn thing I ever played by a mile, last year or otherwise.

The game's first moments find you hogtied in a cemetery as some jerk in a plaid suit (who sounds curiously like Mathew Perry) waxes poetic about your role in delivering a single poker chip to New Vegas before pulling out a and shooting you square in the face. It's breath of fresh air to play an RPG that doesn't revolve around your character being a “chosen one” or a Messiah figure. In New Vegas you're just a courier with a bullet in your brain.
The background is thus: Las Vegas survived the “Last” war and has been running off the Hover Dam ever since. Naturally, outside powers are drawn to the last source of electricity in the United States, albeit for very different reasons. The New California Republic wants to reinstate an American representative democracy. While Caesar’s Legion; a massive collective of raiders decked out in dog pelts and football gear, vies to raze the whole facility to to the ground. All this goes on as a secret military power brews inside New Vegas itself, and yet somehow the guy who tried to kill you has the key to the whole dam conflict.

This isn't a game about saving the world, it's about picking how it gets screwed, by who, and how much. New Vegas is all about taking sides, under the NCR good people get taxed into poverty. Under the legion, good people get crucified. Yet both make valid points about what leadership the world would need under post apocalyptic circumstances. But seriously, the legion are the villains here, no questions asked.
The flexible nature of it's narrative is the game's greatest strength. I've never seen anything like it. You can join the legion, the NCR, or just blow them both off the map and still hear a story worth telling. Not only that, but every single fully voiced character (there are over one thousand) seems affected by the conflict and communities will have an opinion of you depending on where your allegiance falls.

All the major settlements have opinions you can improve or diminish depending on what you do for or to them. Kill a citizen in cold blood, you'll be vilified and run out of town, gear them up for a successful showdown with a gang of escaped convicts and you'll become a folk hero. No matter how you play the game, you make an impact on the people that live in it. You come to care about the denizens of New Vegas precisely because they care about you.

There's no escaping the fact that the game is a technical re-hash of 2008's “Fallout 3”. But calling it the same game is missing the point. Its a much longer and tighter game than before. It learned from all of Fallout 3's mistakes, like the overabundance of resources and the crushingly low level cap. As well as adding a few clever new features like ammo-loading work benches and campfire cooking recipes just for the hell of it.

But where Fallout 3 was more interested in keeping you moving, do-one-thing-here-then-go- there, New Vegas lets you stick around your favorite towns and outposts longer by simply giving you more to do instead of more places to go. Freeside (the new vegas slums) alone has so much to do that it made me forget all about the strip the first time. I thought I was already there.That's what happens when game writers and designers work in perfect tandem to give you something you didn't know you wanted.

But perhaps the most thoughtful aspect of the whole experience are the companions. Each a three dimensional character that dramatically changes they way you play the game. Sure, you could just use them as well written pack mules, but they each have a story to tell and a quest to finish. You can find them all and change each of their lives forever. Or you can ignore them completely and not feel like you're missing out on the heart of the game... but you would be.

The developers threw an absurd amount of time and effort at these characters. Featuring a talented voice cast including Danny Trejo , Zachery Levi, and Felicia Day. As well as five others, each the most interesting characters literally in cast of one thousand.

But all I’ve prattled on about here was for sale for $60 two Octobers ago, what is this alleged “ultimate” edition selling now for 40 you ask? In short, a butt load. Each of the four (wonderful) dlc expansions as well as all five equipment packs. That's fifty bucks separately.
Hold on though, I’m not done pitching. New Vegas had each of their DLC episodes planned out from the get go. They weren’t cooked up post-mortem for some extra cash. They were all separately foreshadowed in places and by people in the Mojave wasteland and all based around, I feel like I’m running in circles here, spectacular characters.

Dead Money's Father Elijah is one of the best villains I’ve seen in years, a tragic figure with the technical aptitude to pull the world back into civilized society. Albeit a society bent to his homicidal whims.

Honest Hearts centers around “The Burned Man,” the only human being Caesar fears, and his “missionary work” in Zion national park.

Old World Blues answers the question of what science would become if the brightest minds on earth could live forever.

Lonesome Road features the final confrontation with Ulysses, a central presence in every dlc episode and he doesn’t go down without a fight. . . or a bang.

They are each meaty enough by themselves but together they represent a good twenty hours of content even if you rush through them. But listen, don't try any of them under level fifteen and please play them in order. I'm just looking out for your story continuity experience. Old World Blues kind of ruins Dead Money.

I am perfectly aware this all reads like a gushing love letter to New Vegas, because that's exactly what it is. I'm sick of hearing about it's pockmarked history of bugs and technical gubbins, Which are all gone, and now I hope more people can take an objective look at the Mojave Wasteland and see a glimmer of what I see. Which is the best game I’ve ever played.

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