Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Game Impressions: Fall Out New Vegas

Fall Out 3 New Vegas wastes no time in letting you off the leash.  Once you have created your character (a rather in-character process) you are then unleashed onto the world and while there is a primary quest to follow and several easier quests in your starting location, there’s nothing to stop you from trying you luck in going off the beaten path.  Sure, the enemies might be massively overpowered compared to you but you can still try it and with a little luck you may even get past those Deathclaws defending that road.  The whole place is saturated with an atmosphere of another world you’re exploring – one that is post-apocalyptic where a nuclear war has irradiated America and left its prior proud (yet corrupt) civilisation in shambles.

In case you didn't think of it, here’s a reminder that there will be heavy spoilers for the first hour of gameplay.  This is an analysis, after all.

Starting Screen
Starting screens in videogames are like a well-designed character sheet (the design of it, not the stats on it).  It gives you a sense of what the game is about.  In this case you first see a member of the Steel Brotherhood (futuristic suit of armor) holding a western-style revolver (wild west old-fashioned technology themes) with the New Vegas sign behind him (themes of greed and rivalry).  The other screens shown involve 1950s-style posters with little hints of exposition on them and screenshots of derelict roads.  This is a pretty good primer for the sort of technology you’ll see.  Most of it is backward but some of it is far advanced of what we have available to us.  This helps us ease into a game that will pare DOS-style computers with lazer rifles.

Introductory Clip
“War never changes.”  This tagline gives a real sense of theme for the games.  There’s people all fighting over resources and championing their own ideals and this leads them into clash and competition with each other that sometimes leads to murder or even massacre, in the event of all-out war.  The clip itself also highlights the various conflicting forces from Caesar's Legion to the Steel Brotherhood to the Lucky 38 police robots to the NCR and the various tensions between them all.  Following this is a brief history lesson on a flickering screen like an old-fashioned documentary with a voice over and then a short cut scene where you are in the first person of a man whose hands are tied together who is shot by a rather cocky man in a suit flanked by two thugs who are apparently Khans.

Character Generation

You begin in a doctor's office after having been shot in the head by a guy called Benny for the poker chip you were carrying.  His various assessments give you a chance to decide your gender, appearance, SPECIAL skills (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) and certain extra traits.  This is a pretty neat way of doing it and it's kind of funny that I've never seen character generation pulled into the first hour of gameplay in an RPG before -- likely because most character generation systems are so long-winded!

Once you've proven that you're able to walk about, you can then search through his home and potentially steal all of his things (which for some reason aren't marked as stolen goods as they are in everyone else's home) and then you can head out into the sunlight.

Goodsprings ... not derelict at all.

The setting of Goodsprings is exposition in its own right.  You can see dirt-logged roads whose asphalt is being wittered away by the desert.  You can enter homes whose furnishings are in variable states of disrepair whose wardrobes have broken glass panes within their doors (no idea why folk haven't removed the shards).  The place itself, however, does look a bit like a tiny town allowed to go to ruin with a few farmhouses, a schoolhouse, a general store, a saloon (quite large, all things considered) and a defunct petrol station.  That’s not all. There's more clues to the kind of world we're in:
  • The clothing everyone wears hearkens back to the 1950s but with a wild west vibe occasionally obvious from some of the hats and the leather armour you can see.
  • You’re given a Pip-Boy (advanced tech on a wrist-mounted computer which is where you access your inventory, stats, quest logs, etc. and it warns you of radioactivity by crackling) and a Vault uniform which clues you in to the whole underground survival aspect of the nuclear war that occurred years ago.
  • A talking cowboy robot shows that AI, while still most assuredly artificial, is more advanced than today.
  • If you drink the water, you gain a little radiation poisoning which gives you a hint about what’s happened beforehand.
  • The roads are being retaken by the desert – suggests no more maintenance programs.
  • The Brahmin are two-headed cows.
  • Lots of sandy dirt, rock, and desert plants reinforce where you are.
  • There’s a pet dog, which highlights the fact that these people are still people.
  • The schoolhouse has been overtaken with large insects that attack you when you approach.  The fact they haven’t been cleaned out shows that there aren’t many kids around.  In fact, the general absence of kids always makes me think of radiation-induced sterility.
Other Characters
There’s a number of different people you can speak with during the first hour and each one has their own perspective.  While you are nudged against, say, the Powder Gangers who are threatening Goodsprings (as Goodsprings’ doctor set you right, after all), you can actually side with the gang and help them take out the guy hiding in the petrol station.  In fact, you constantly have such choices to make.  By assisting one group you can improve your reputation with them while hurting the group with harm your reputation with them (sometimes this leads them to give you gifts or shoot you on sight).  You are going to have to take sides in a few instances but in other ways you can keep a relative balance of reputations here and be accepted in most places.

So what NPCs do you meet in this first hour:
  • Powder Gangers who escaped from an NCR prison facility and took the prison over.
  •  The residents of Goodsprings.
  • A man by a caravan who begs for your help to aid his wife against the geckos – only to attack you once you’ve cleared a path for him.  Treachery is a fact of life here.
  • The caravan guard hiding in the Goodspring petrol station.
Enemies / Difficulty Curve
The game allows you to explore the place and slam into things well above your current ability but it doesn’t leave you completely without guide rails if you choose to use them.  You begin in a relatively safe town where you are directed to speak with a woman who can teach you how to shoot at bottles before taking you down to clear some geckos away from the water supply.  Goodsprings has some relatively easy quests within it as well which you can accept, turn down, or return to later at your leisure.  This is something you could do in a pen and paper RPG, you would need to include some sort of time frame for certain quests as it stretches credibility for the party to return a month later to assist a woman who’s been assaulted by geckos all this time.
  • The large insects aren’t clever and don’t need great tactics to take down.
  • You can enjoy some safe gunplay exercises with Sunny Smiles.
  • You can reduce the difficulty of the encounter with the Powder Gangers (and are encouraged to do so) by encouraging the town members to rally together.  This requires the use of non-combat skills (Barter, Explosives, Speech, Sneak, Medicine) which allows those who aren’t that great with a gun to better their odds.
  • The geckos are problematic but you’re given prior warning and can attack them at range before they reach you.
There are plenty of different things you can do and the skills which you level play into this (just like in a roleplaying game).  In fact, this is such a good example of it that if you’re stuck on how to keep different skills relevant within the course of a high-combat game (such as D&D or Pathfinder) you should either play the game or examine the walkthroughs for clues.  Here's just a few examples below:
  • Hacking computers to unlock safes.
  • Or breaking into a safe through larceny.
  • Convincing people to assist you in a combat.
  • Noticing enemies from greater distances (Perception).
The moods this game evokes are those surrounding exploration, wonder and curiosity, as well as a touch of discomfort that this could be the future (partially averted by the fact this is a divergent history where the world didn’t progress from the 1950s except in a few key technological ways before the nuclear war that undid it all).

Game Expectations
You can really sense how much exploration will be pertinent here, especially when you open your Pip Boy map and see new locations light up.  This is further evidenced by the sight of roads or some of the broad vistas when you climb up onto the hill at the graveyard and peer out at the wide expanse.  You also expect to have a real impact on the game world as you can choose to undermine Goodsprings or the Powder Gang or simply lead Goodsprings’ citizens into a fight they can’t well win and then pick them off yourself.  You soon come to expect also that there may be another route to success and that skills other than combat ones will also play important roles to come.

If you’re going to run this sort of game, you’re in luck, because it already uses some of the systems of roleplaying games.  All you need to do is get them to log the objectives they accept (if they’re planning on roaming about) and include some sort of a map upon which you mark new places they’ve gained the coordinates for.  Oh, and do remember to give them a nudge when another skill could be a possibility.  The best nudges, of course, are part of the first impressions so giving them a quest like in Goodsprings where they have to use other skills to gain the assistance of the citizens is a good idea as well.  Especially if your players are fresh or come from games where their other skills just never got much use.

If you want to read most Game Impressions, you can find them here.

If you want to read the Game Translation, you can find it here.


  1. I keep going back to the fallout games, and each time I end up wandering across something I may have missed during two other plays. They're great games, and the style of plotting, with threads based on loyalties and previous encounters, is just what I'm looking for as pen and paper gamer when I sit in front of the console.

    1. Yeah, it's a really good example of how to create a roleplaying game that will appeal to pretty much anyone.