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Here's another roundup of minor Fallout-related tidbits. If you have more, please post them here in the comments.
Unlike Fallout 3, the returning factions are provided with logical, comprehensive explanations as to why they are in the Mojave and what they've been doing for the past forty years. For example, the Brotherhood has lost a bloody war over technology with the NCR, and is now dying a slow death, while the Republic grows stronger above. Other returning factions include the Followers of the Apocalypse and Crimson Caravans and, admirably, none feel arbitrarily added to the game for the sake of fan service. When compared to returning factions, new ones don't feel out of place or insignificant. Even the biggest and most controversial one - the Caesar's Legion - fits right in, thanks to the fact that its leader explains in detail why he chose to emulate ancient Rome and what his motivations are. This is true for others as well. From the Van Graffs to Powder Gangers, new factions are provided with adequate context for their presence in the Mojave and a backstory explaining how they came to be.
There is something very odd about the way Fallout: New Vegas' world is designed. Odd, but easy to explain. Unlike its Oblivion engine predecessors, New Vegas doesn't really try to get away with presenting “large” settlements in disproportionally tiny maps. This is good in that it provides a much more convincing game world, but it is bad in that this is the wrong engine to do it in. With its limitations, noticeably on how many NPCs can be present on the map, New Vegas ends up giving us large but eerily empty towns and areas. It makes some sense for a post-apocalyptic game to do so, but as mentioned, this is more of a post-post-apocalyptic game. Furthermore, it is a deterrent to gameplay.
As a Fallout fan, you'll mostly notice New Vegas combines a less nonsensical take on Fallout lore with a kind of light-hearted post-post-apocalypse similar to Fallout 2. The writing is miles beyond Fallout 3 and that's a saving grace for many fans, as is its increased dedication to RPG mechanics. I feel the mechanics and engine's shortcomings keep it from being “the Fallout 3 that was supposed to be”, but it's certainly a lot better than Fallout 3, and quite probably the best thing that could happen to the franchise after Bethesda purchased it.
Fallout 3 had nothing to rival Fallout 2's New Reno, but the New Vegas Strip is perhaps the most effective encapsulation of the Fallout aesthetic and ethos to be found in any of the games. The Lucky 38's Presidential Suite, made of faded leather and velvet and full of battered closets stocked with dirty pre-war apparel, is the physical embodiment of Fallout's decaying American dream. The strip itself, meanwhile, it a glitzy hellhole, full of desperate individuals with so little to live for that this strangled, neon-cast shadow of a once-great city is worth killing over. Shame you can't take a job as a fluffer, Reno-style. That's still probably the most degrading thing in videogames.
Drinking out of toilet bowlsPretty much everything about Hardcore mode recalls Black Isle's Fallout games: the way your companions die, leaving you all alone out there in the wastes; the way a crippled limb or radiation poisoning can lead to a slow and inevitable death; the way everything in the entire wasteland, from the wildlife to the water, is trying to murder you. But there's nothing that depresses us quite so much as lapping irradiated liquid from a toilet bowl to stave off death by dehydration.