Many games are based around living in a different world, filled with strife and unimaginable turmoil. Unfortunately, playing as the main character of these titles generally spoils this feeling a bit, as the main character is often blessed with the ability to combat the darkness and bring hope to a new world. To say that the Fallout series doesn't adhere to this process be a lie, as naturally the main character has his own skills that are superior to others. But there are still very clear differences between this series, and just about any other post-apocalyptic game out there. For starters, Fallout simply does it best.
Players will start off the game by getting shot in the head, a courier caught up in the shipping of a seemingly invaluable poker chip. After being left for dead you wake up in a nearby town, under the care of a local doctor who then proceeds to help the player decide everything character-customization related. Unlike most games which offer a set class to fall under, Fallout simply provides the players with a long list of stats, and allows them to rearrange them in any manner. Players also get to select some core abilities to go along with base stats, all of which have their own potential drawbacks. Being able to do more damage while having limbs that are more easily crippled is a good example of just one of the choices players can make to customize their character.
Once the customization process is finished players are tossed out into the world with a single primary quest: to get revenge on the man who shot you in the head. It's a simple enough goal, but one that naturally requires a better grasp of the surroundings. This is where the true vision behind New Vegas hits, and where the experience really will differ depending on the patience of the individual player.
There are few games out there that can beat the sheer atmosphere of New Vegas, because almost every aspect of the game is dripping with a dark ambiance. Desolate wasteland holds a tight grip over what was one rolling hills and green fields, plant life struggles to cling to life even when tended by hard crop workers, and with very few resources people are forced to draw together reek of remnants of a past life. Most RPG games will encourage players to explore and scavenge when they can, always looking for that next weapon. Fallout: New Vegas demands it, rewarding creative players for taking risks with much needed supplies but at the same time never making it easy to obtain any goods.
This also changes what sort of weapons players decide to use, as different enemies/scenarios call for a different strategy. Knowing that energy weapons aren't as effective early game means knowing to only save battery packs and skip over the actual laser weapons themselves until encountering a few rare gems, and likewise for any player looking to capitalize on damage through the various rifles that appear. Managing what's needed, what's wanted, and what can actually be carried is part of the challenge of the game, and it makes everything from combat to general survival much easier.
Enemies in Fallout are terrifying on a number of levels. First and foremost in size, but when lacking in that department they usually make up for it in creativity. Entering an abandoned home only to find it suddenly surrounded by bandits, rifling through bodies for supplies can be intense, but when they find a land mine underneath them it gets even better. The list of deadly-but-amusing traps goes on for hours. It gives players a true feeling of accomplishment by surviving them, and always provides enough risk that simply charging into combat guns blazing is something to second guess.
The writing in the game is second to none, fleshing out some of the most realistic characters presented in an RPG yet. The allies you make throughout the game are truly interesting individuals, and finding their connection in the game's overarching storyline is a treat that never fails to deliver. Villains likewise, are both absolutely despicable and at the same time endearing. The first real encounter with Caesar's Legion is a real treat that puts great emphasis on the sort of psychos players are forced to deal with throughout the game. It makes it easy to determine what side to join, oppose, or avoid at all cost.
Where things take a downward turn for New Vegas comes in the form of unforgivable bugs. Most of your experience with the game can be summed up into two game-breaking categories, crashes that would happen in the middle of mindlessly wandering the desert (generally losing hours of gameplay), or NPC glitches that would result in death. Enemies that get stuck in walls but can still fire, scorpions that have somehow learned to burrow under textures but can still hit you, quests that cannot be completed due to one of the two reasons. A personal favourite would be spawning into a city that happened to have an unfriendly posse in it, only to be shot and killed immediately upon loading it. The result? The game backs up to the last autosave, which is loading into the town only to be shot again and tossed back to the loading screen. The cycle continues unabated.
These bugs combine with the game's extreme difficulty curve, and the result feels like a completely unnecessary amount of punishment. Alone, many of the encounters in game are difficult, but adding the additional risk of losing save data, crashing, or encountering one of the title's many other glitches makes the entire process almost not worth getting into. There's nothing more disheartening than getting really drawn into the world, only to have it accidentally erase a few hours worth of gameplay, and while many of the New Vegas' qualities are superb it's hard to forgive this kind of poor game design.
Another point to mention is that these bugs often times can be subtle, and make enjoying the game difficult on a more subtle but equally frustrating level. Not having a quest NPC spawn for example, means not knowing what to do when one reaches a town. Even worse is that the developers have a very clear way of showing players where to go and what to do, as characters in-game will make their way directly to the player and let them know the situation. When they fail to show up, it's hard to picture exactly what the task at hand is and what side of things they should be looking to join. Missing these events may mean missing out on a new companion in game, or perhaps a much needed item, let alone some experience.
Looking back at Fallout: New Vegas is rather depressing. It's such an amazing game but it suffers from a ridiculous amount of game-breaking technical faults that overshadow the story, the detailed world design, and an extremely intuitive levelling/skill system. Perhaps some fans will choose to work through this, and certainly there's a lot of reward for anyone willing to stick it out, but on a fundamental level the scale and frequency of these release-day glitches are unforgivable; a shame considering that with a few patches all of these problems will naturally be fixed. Missing out on this experience altogether would be robbing yourself of one of the best games of the year, but the game just doesn't feel finished.