Falling For Fallout?
I have never played a proper RPG before, unless you can count Borderlands or the Fable franchise, which I know the majority of people reading this won’t. It’s not that I’ve gone out of my way to avoid them, I simply know they’re ‘not my thing’ so they pass me by. I like action, having to do stuff almost constantly and rarely give two hoots about any storyline or plot. I started playing Mass Effect, but got bored during the dialogue scenes, and when I saw Fallout 3 being played it looked like the dullest thing to have graced a console. Imagine my confusion then when the release of Fallout: New Vegas stoked my interest.
At first I put it down to infectious excitement from friends, but I felt nothing when Mass Effect 2 was released and others were going crazy over it. The urge to purchase the game grew and, despite numerous people warning me not to and agreeing it’s not my kind of game, I picked it up on launch day. Loading it up, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read game manuals and rely on in-game tutorials, so everything was new to me. Aside from hearing the words ‘Pip-Boy’, ‘Nuka-Cola’ and ‘Deathclaws’ bandied about by gamers, I knew nothing, and I bumbled my way through the introductory quests as the doctor and townsfolk tried to guide me through the basics.
Realising I could pick items up to take with me, I soon looted the entire contents of the poor doctor’s home. At one point I must have had about twenty completely useless ‘small burnt books’ on me. This form of panic-grabbing stayed with me for the first couple of hours as I explored the area. I kept a tight hold of any Abraxo cleaner I found, thinking at some point somebody will want me to use it to make a bomb and my excitement level at finding a medical clipboard was naively high. “This is definitely important! This must contain a character’s medical notes and be part of a future quest” I thought, as I smugly put it in my inventory. Anytime I came across a radio I would activate then deactivate it assuming it might be part of a hidden mission or achievement. I never did look into why I could turn these fairly useless radios on and off, but even in the final hours of playing I was still activating them.
I struggled with the combat side of things for quite a while and was regularly fleeing from feral ghouls or a lone Radscorpion. It was only in my panicked state one time that I hit a random button and ended up in VATS mode. It truly was a lightbulb moment. Where I was trying to empty dozens of bullets into a creature while running away, suddenly I could freeze time and BOOM, headshot. I’m sure this must have been covered in the tutorial somewhere and I’d missed it, or perhaps it’s simply karma for me being a moron and not reading the manual. Either way, that and Veronica – my arse-kicking first companion – made my travels across the Mojave much easier.
Slowly, I found myself starting to care about some of the characters I met. I ditched Veronica for Cass as I felt bad for her, stuck drinking all alone everyday. She’d be running in and picking off enemies before I even saw them and that’s always a good way of winning my affections. I also loved Lily the mutant and felt genuine concern over her storyline; I hoped none of the choices I was making would be detrimental to her already… ‘fragile’ state. Local gang The Kings were also a highlight. Maybe for the humour involved with such a group or because they reminded me a little of the Elvis impersonators in Grand Theft Auto 2. Either way it’s fueling my new imaginary campaign to get a bunch of Elvis-a-likes into all games, let’s make it the new ‘zombies’! However, one character I never warmed to was the friendly cowboy robot. He creeped me out and even at the very start of the game I didn’t trust him one iota.
As the hours I was pouring into the game quickly melted away I found myself getting more and more into it. Instead of turning on the Xbox and spamming friends to come and play Halo with me, I was burying myself in Fallout: New Vegas. Most things came to me quickly, I realised the error of my ways regarding clipboards and I sold my collection of burnt books. I focused on levelling up in lockpick, speech and science, which I found most enjoyable. Once I figured out how hacking a computer terminal worked I couldn’t get enough and I found speech to be one of the most useful skills when progressing through the storyline dialogue options. For once in a game I wasn’t focused on simply shooting the crap out of things and other acts of sadistic violence; I preferred the satisfaction gained from sneaking through a previously locked door or diffusing a tricky situation using words alone. I was in love with the game. What made it such a joy to play was the open world nature. I could roam virtually anywhere and discover little shacks or caves that could have been so easy to miss. Most hours were spent ignoring the main story and, instead, wandering away from the roads and investigating a lone farm to piece together what happened there, thanks to notes scattered about or a grave in the back yard. As I neared the end I could use my skills to enter buildings that were full of raiders or booby-trapped with turrets and be rewarded at the end with a fantastic weapon.
Of course, New Vegas wasn’t perfect. A lot was said at the time about glitches and I did experience a few, although thankfully nothing that ruined my enjoyment – no corrupted saves. I lost a couple of hours gameplay when I got stuck in a tree, and twice I ended up inside a boulder during my attempts to climb in a rocky area. While exploring one building Rex got rather attached to a pump room and wouldn’t come out and, at the same time, Cass was stuck running into a wall. I took a step back and surveyed the sight. That was my team right there. My buds who I relied on to see me through difficult times. What a moronic threesome we must have seemed to any passing Legion or NCR. Aside from that, any quibbles were minor. I found it hard to reach the Boomers thanks to their explosives bringing instant death, but eventually I fluked it and Cazadores can go f&%k themselves, by far my least favourite beasties to run into in the desert. Finally, I made the mistake at the beginning of being a woman. I’ll usually choose to play as a female in games I can customise, but it just seemed wrong and I kept forgetting I was a lady until something was said regarding my sex or the camera pulled back during a shot in VATs. In my gut I felt I should have been a man. To make it worse I’d given her some shocking-pink hair, which was probably what attracted all the damn Cazadores in the bloody first place.
At forty hours in I felt I was pretty much done. My enthusiasm for the story was waning, not that I was fully following it anyway as I felt the narrative suddenly moved at a faster pace once you actually arrived in New Vegas. The various casino gangs didn’t interest me and the back and forth for the related quests weren’t quite as fun and it felt repetitive. I could have done more with the Boomers and the Brotherhood of Steel had missions for me, but they seemed like a bunch of knobs to be honest, so I wanted little to do with them. It was at this point I discovered I could unlock the Explorer perk which revealed all locations on the map. Sweet heaven! Almost another twenty hours was poured into exploring the dozens of places I hadn’t even known were there.
It was also at this point I had my final “duh” moment as I’d twigged what the tiny filled and blank triangles on the compass were for. It might have made finding places a little easier in the beginning! The ending itself was a slight disappointment as I must have made a choice earlier on that had affected the course of the outcome. I had wanted to side more with the NCR out of continued loyalty, but I wasn’t given that option. I experienced a pang of sadness as the conclusion played out. It felt like the end of The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to hug brave Cass goodbye, crouch down and pet my tin man Rex one last time and bid farewell to The Kings with a tear rolling down my cheek, before clicking my heels together and being whisked away from this apocalyptic desert I’d called home for so long.
Am I glad I gave into my urge to buy Fallout New Vegas? Of course, without a shadow of doubt. For £39 I took a risk which paid off and broadened my gaming horizons. I can now list New Vegas among my favourite game experiences. As I write these words I’ve commenced backtracking and am five hours into Fallout 3 which feels like a very cold and grey world compared to New Vegas. I start Fallout 3 as a veteran this time and not the guileless, child-like newbie who took her first tentative steps in Goodsprings. I know what to expect and how things work. Already it means some of the magic is gone and this may make me one of the few to favour New Vegas over Fallout 3 but I look forward to pouring more hours into this barren world and seeing what’s out there to be discovered.
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