New Vegas. So where to start with a game that is so huge, I have serious doubts about fitting it onto the page? The obvious place to start is with the story, which you are literally thrown into right from the off. I've been trying to work out whether New Vegas' story line is 'better' than Fallout 3's central plot for some time now, and to be honest it's a close run thing. While the main story is far more streamlined (read: shorter), and less important to follow than the ‘Where's my Dad gone?' plot of Fallout 3, it is far more compelling - a twisted tale of revenge and murder which has you running far and wide between desert outposts and the ruins of decaying cities on a mission to get revenge on the man left you for dead.
Fallout is about a series of adventures rather than a singular quest, and New Vegas has hundreds of intertwined sub-missions for you to complete, ranging from the basic ‘go here and get this' to epic life or death battles between warring factions who patrol the wasteland. The plots of the individual side quests often over shadow the main story line, dealing with issues such as drug abuse, rape, loyalty and oddly enough a zombie space religion. In a sense, Fallout 3 players know exactly what to expect here. You'll walk the vast expanses between towns, half purposefully and half just exploring, taking on odd jobs and bigger missions. There is no rigid way to play New Vegas - follow the main storyline, or wander off into the wasteland to explore, and ignore it entirely. It's a tailor-made gaming experience where everything can be done at your own pace and in your own way.
This RPG element remains important whether you choose to play in hard-core mode or not - New Vegas relies heavily on the strategic distribution of skill points as a means to help you progress throughout the game. The fact is that you'll close off options to yourself right from the very beginning of the game, whether you mean to or not. You can get by as a nuke-launcher-wielding hard-ass with a Strength stat of ten if that is how you want to play the game, but you'll never see all the hidden dialogue options, and getting the most of the wasteland's technology is beyond your reach. Far from being a hindrance, you'll be forced into playing in non-conventional ways, and discovering the full breadth of options that New Vegas offers you take time, effort and sheer determination, meaning your investment is continuously rewarded when something goes right. If an epic character building RPG isn't what you are looking for, fear not - New Vegas feels far more like a shooter/action game than previous outings in the franchise.
Overall, the Mojave Wasteland is similar in size to Fallout 3's map, but jam packed with far more areas to explore- from irradiated holes in the ground which have nothing more than a long abandoned safe just waiting to be cracked open, to the vast Hoover Dam, epicentre of the war between the NCR and Caesar's Legions. Aside from the familiar burnt-out cities and trailer parks which have come to define the bleakness and horror of post-apocalyptic America, the centrepiece of New Vegas is (surprise surprise) the New Vegas strip - a wonderfully distorted and dark version of its real-life counterpart. Vomiting drunks, voluptuous prostitutes, down and out gang members and a selection of fully playable casinos make it far more vivid and memorable than the decaying US capital of the last game.
Beyond the main plot, New Vegas focuses on the war between the New Californian Republic army and the slave driven legions of Caesars Army. Missions have you siding with one faction or the other, and gaining their respect, adding another layer of depth to the myriad choices you'll have to make throughout the game. This essentially means you can't be liked by rival groups at the same time - tough for those wanting to unlock all the missions and rewards in one play through, but more reason than ever to start again once you finish the game. By presenting no clear "good" or "bad" factions, rather a moral grey area, New Vegas lets you blindly fumble between the lines of loyalty and morality. It comes to a point where losing your hard earned ‘accepted' status with a faction really hurts, compounded by the obvious bias towards becoming hated by each faction - did you off one friendly NCR Ranger just to score some cheap weapons and a couple of caps to complete your only mission for the evil Legion? You better hope his gang doesn't hear about it (spoiler: they always do, and they now hate you for it). New Vegas understands that sometimes you must do awful things for a greater cause, or choose the better of two bad options.
Unfortunately, New Vegas is far from perfect. Familiar problems, such as regular crashes and glitches mean you will have to reload your games, or power off your system completely, once every 3 hours or so. Not so bad when you save regularly like a good little gamer, but utterly demoralizing when you realise last time you saved was four and a half hours ago when your best equipment was a jumpsuit and a tyre iron. In reality however, if you do practice safe gaming, this is nothing more than an annoying niggle that interrupts the flow of your game.
Fallout: New Vegas isn't the Fallout 4 many had hoped it was, but truthfully, it never claimed to be. What Fallout: New Vegas is, is a huge, engrossing, incredibly well written and morally ambiguous adventure which has that "just one more mission" feeling that leads to entire evenings and weekends lost exploring the last wasteland.