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Fashionably Late: Fallout: New Vegas

Ramallah January 4, 2012 User blog:Ramallah

As part of their Fashionably Late column, which analyzes slightly older games "in an environment where prices are cheaper and hype is quieter, focusing on insightful analysis rather than consumer advice", the folks at True PC Gaming have tackled Fallout: New Vegas. After playing for roughly 250 hours with a small selection of mods they call it a "true RPG experience", and praise its handling of inter-faction politics and world building. Here's a snip:

Obsidian’s thoughtful attention to the politics and economy of what would otherwise be juvenile fantasy is admirable, as is their skill at building a world. Though the writing is oftentimes spotty (particularly at the end of every DLC chapter,) there are more than enough moments of environmentally-told storytelling mastery that make up for it. New Vegas’ storyline is all about juxtaposing first impressions with second and third impressions. As morally black and white as its three main factions seem at first, a bit of free-roamy exploring reveals layers of justification and deep characterization coloring these factions

The unreal evil of Ceaser’s Legion is a reaction to their harsh environment and the abuses they faced under the new post-apocalyptic government. Their slave economy is an effective way of sustaining a society under these conditions and processes former prisoners into devout followers in a way that disturbingly resembles reality. Though they are undoubtedly “evil,” they are realistically evil, and that makes them scary as hell. Robert House, Vegas’ enigmatic and immortal billionaire, touts objectivist goals for curing the apocalypse through capitalism. But it’s a goal that can only work if he is allowed to murder the opposition. The New California Republic, the supposed lesser of these three evils, is an ideal socialist-capitalist combination that is laced with realist cynicism. They exploit their impoverished sharecroppers and scavengers to fund an expansionist military that overwhelms everyone else. I left it up to reddit to destroy this metaphor, but am nevertheless shocked that such obtuse observations can be made in a violent fantasy setting rife for shlock.

You can’t save everybody. Because of inter-faction politics, someone’s always getting screwed. By you. I slowly began to notice that pushing for an independent New Vegas meant pushing out the people who were best for it. Because almost all of this world it is left in stasis before the player’s meddling, I became its representative. I was the person to blame for its successes and failures. Though the game was revolving around me, it wasn’t empowering me.

New Vegas is depicted dispassionately, and that’s one of the game’s biggest criticisms. It may also be its biggest strength. Its alphabet soup of acronyms (the NCR, NCRCF, Big MT) hammers home how unexciting these factions are supposed to be, but I relished in it. The storyline has no urgent goal breathing down your neck, no pressing tension hurrying you to finish the main quest. If you can accept the Legion, there isn’t even a real antagonist. Instead, the goal is something remarkably pure and almost innocently “game”ish: to simply experience New Vegas. The main quest mereley has you traveling across the Mojave to try to understand the various tribes and factions that inhabit it. One by one, you become entrapped in their society and face their problems, then express your thoughts about them to the secretary back at your office. Ultimately, the final goal is to simply experience the battle at Hoover Dam and watch a credits sequence explain what you did to influence its aftermath.

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