While the Fallout community seem to regard Fallout: New Vegas as an excellent game, some criticised it for being essentially the same excellent game they’d already played with Fallout 3.

Fallout: New Vegas

Certainly the games have obvious similarities, and anyone expecting a radically different experience was bound to be disappointed. Nonetheless, Fallout: New Vegas  introduced more than a couple of new features, expanding on its predecessors to become arguably the best Fallout  to date. 

#5 Companions

Fallout 3  wasn’t short of travelling companions, giving the player up to eight to choose from, depending on your Karma. However, once you recruited a companion, your story with them pretty much ended. They had no quests, no opinions, and little use beyond a spare inventory with a gun attached. 

The revamped companions are an impressive Fallout: New Vegas feature.

Conversely, Fallout: New Vegas features companions that have strong personalities, loyalties and aspirations. They aren’t just along for the ride; they join you because they want to get something out of it, and if you do something they don’t like, you better believe they’ll let you know. Each has quests that branch and present the player with choices, the outcomes of which—both tangible and narrative—determine their future as a companion, and as a person.

#4 Gambling

For a game set in Las Vegas, this one seems like a no-brainer. All the usual suspects are there, with blackjack, roulette and slot machines for you to test your luck (quite literally: with a high enough Luck stat you can clean out a casino in minutes). Even more enthralling is the skill-based Caravan card game, where you can build your own custom deck to match your strategy. And of course, if cards aren’t your thing, you can always rob the casinos for all they’re worth.

gambling remains an important Fallout: New Vegas feature

None of this feels like a departure from the Fallout  experience, but rather an evolution of it. The first two games both featured gambling—and the dens of iniquity where it takes place—and to see it return brings back that side of wasteland life, where the powerful sustain themselves with the desperation of those less fortunate. Conversely, Fallout 3 ’s bleak Capital Wasteland simply had the powerful ruling by force, and to go back to it after New Vegas feels somewhat bland.

#3 Factions

In Fallout 3 , all quests were always open to the player, regardless of how they’d chosen to play. You could be a professional slaver, and everyone and their dog would still come running to you for help. This is a far cry from Fallout 2, where just joining the slavers required you to get a facial tattoo that would make you almost universally despised by the game’s quest-givers. Fallout: New Vegas  falls somewhere between these two, actions have a little more consequence than in Fallout 3 , but not so much that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, if you’re clever. 

The quests available depends largely on the player's reputation.

Increasing your reputation with a faction or town can earn you free items or discounts on the lower end, with regular supplies (and even support in battle) granted at the higher end. Conversely, low reputation can see you shot on sight or even have hit squads sent after you, as well as being unable to work for the offended faction until you improve your reputation. Also, some quests are locked until you gain a high enough reputation with the relevant faction, and the final part of the game requires you to pick a side and stick with it—at the expense of all other loyalties. This makes for a more mature and personalised experience, as it forces you to not only make difficult decisions, but to live with the consequences of those decisions. 

#2 New Crafting Mechanic

Before Fallout: New Vegas, if wasteland survivors needed supplies, their only options were to salvage, steal or barter for them. While functional, this simple system left you at the mercy of whatever weapons, ammunition and other items happened to appear in each location. For example, if you ran out of .308 ammo for your sniper rifle, you’d simply have to switch to another weapon until you came across some more. This tended to leave players either avoiding certain weapons altogether or otherwise hoarding their ammo through all encounters in case they needed it later.

The new crafting feature removes the need for hoarding items.

Fallout: New Vegas  overcame this problem with the introduction of crafting. Where Fallout 3 had only offered a handful of weapons that could be constructed out of certain items found lying about the wastes, Fallout: New Vegas allows players to make all kinds of things. Whether a tasty Deathclaw Omelette, some homemade Flamer fuel, a Weapon Repair Kit or your own stimpaks and doctor’s bags, opportunity abounds for players to turn seemingly useless bits of junk into exactly what they need. As well as giving new uses for existing skills (e.g., using Science to make advanced chems and Energy Weapon ammo), this also reflects the changing face of life in the wasteland, as new nations such as the New California Republic stop salvaging the old and start building something new. 

#1 Fallout: New Vegas feature: Hardcore Mode

Though Fallout 3  was, for the most part, an excellently balanced game, once you started to do well it all became a little too easy. Fights lost all peril because the moment your health dipped too low you could just pause the game, stuff your face with food—or better yet, any of the hundreds of weightless stimpaks you’d be carrying around—and unpause to keep fighting. To remedy this, Fallout: New Vegas features an optional Hardcore mode where healing items work over time, rather than instantly. This alone radically shifts the way you have to play, requiring you to think smart and plan ahead, rather than just wade into the fray spewing plasma.

Fallout: New Vegas features a new hardcore mode.

Hardcore mode makes other big changes as well. As with the first two Fallout  games, ammo has weight. This means that while carrying around a Minigun with 3000 rounds in your inventory might seem like a great idea, it won’t leave much room for anything else, such as the doctor’s bags that are required to heal broken limbs. The need to monitor your hunger, dehydration and sleep levels adds to the immersion, even though it means frequently having to stop whatever you’re doing to toss back a water or two. The need for a well-optimised inventory presses down on you, and when you get it right—carrying around just enough equipment, ammo, medicine, food and water to cover all your bases—that is when you feel like a true wastelander.

Owen Atkinson