Our adventures in New Vegas starts with a murder – your murder – shot and left for dead in a shallow grave outside of GoodSprings, Nevada. If it weren’t for a robot named Victor, you would have never recovered. Nursed to health by the local Doc, it isn’t long before you wake up primed on revenge. This sets the stage for the next 50 plus hours of game play as you run all across the Mohave Desert in search of a wise guy in a blue checkered suit, the last thing you saw while looking down the barrel of a gun.

Fallout New Vegas does not continue where its predecessor left off. This isn’t an expansion or even a part 2 of the storyline. While New Vegas takes place chronologically after our previous adventures in the Capital Wasteland, the Mohave Wasteland sports all new characters, all new storyline, and a whole new futuristic post-apocalyptic world that is now stuck in a Dean Martin 1950’s era after nuclear destruction forever changed the land.

Anyone familiar with the Fallout universe will feel right back at home, snazzy music and all. New Vegas plays much like the original Fallout 3. We also have strong cameo appearances from the New California Republic (NCR) from Fallout 2. The NCR controls much of the Mohave Desert west of the Colorado River as a very loose governing military entity. Years of gangland struggles in the area have been quelled by the NCR, and save for the New Vegas strip, the NCR pretty much polices the entire area and protects the citizens from thugs. Having previously won a great battle at Hoover Dam, a huge electrical source for the Vegas Strip and the pivoting point of our current story, the NCR is preparing for another huge unavoidable showdown with the largest gang of thugs from the east… Caesar’s Legion.

The Caesar, through a reign of brutal terror, has united much of the eastern tribes and gangs under his banner. Genocide and Crucifixions a la the Roman Empire are tools used by this leader to ensure absolute devotion and loyalty. Caesar plans to bring back the age of mankind to a world destroyed by its own creations, and his fanatics typically won’t stop to ask where your loyalties lie.

Whether you support the NCR, Caesar’s Legion, or one of the other many factions of New Vegas, all have a huge impact on the storyline and how it progresses. As the player, you are free to choose the morally high ground, or you may wander into the shades of gray that could lead you to running your own robot Empire. The decisions are up to you, and through dialogue and action, the player in Fallout 3 builds his reputation. It all climaxes into one big final showdown at Hoover Dam for the fate of New Vegas and the Mohave Wasteland.

The graphics in Fallout 3 are clearly top notch, if only slightly dated. Using the same engine employed by Bethesda Softworks in the original Fallout 3, there are no huge leaps in the graphics department. However, Fallout 3 will make use of whatever video power you can throw at it by cranking up the draw distance further and further. My GTX470 struggles even still on the maximum settings all the way up at 1920×1200. The usual tweaks to reduce shadows and water reflections seems to help a lot, but sometimes even the sunlight as it reflects across the wasteland can put a damper on frame rates.

For newer players to the series, Fallout is a shooter meets roleplaying game. In fact, your decisions throughout the game also affect how much of a shooter or how much of a roleplaying game Fallout 3 really is. You have the choice of spending your attribute points on various character stats like Guns, Explosives, Energy Weapons and the like. Or you can focus your points on attributes more suitable for role-playing, like Speech, Medicine, and Survival. For new players, it is strongly recommended that you pick up Speech and maximize it early on so that you can take advantage of the various dialogue triggers that become available if your skill is high enough. Else, you are forced to just kill everyone, and that typically equates to failed quests and poor storylines.

Either way though, you can murder your way through the 30 levels, and provided you don’t kill a key character or three, you should be just fine wandering around the desert, gun in hand. For the extremely hardcore player, Obsidian Entertainment has added a “hardcore mode” this time around that really challenges the player with Fallout’s own version of realism. For example, if you don’t excessively hydrate while wandering the desert, you may die. Likewise, if you are careless with drugs, you will quickly become addicted. Also, no more pausing the game and using Stimpaks to bring you back to full health. Find it unrealistic to be carrying so much ammo? Well, you will quickly start to appreciate your melee weapons when bullets start to weigh you down. As if the desert couldn’t think of enough ways to kill you, now you can torture yourself throughout the entire adventure. And if you manage to drag your way through the entire wasteland while on hardcore mode, you will be rewarded with a pretty lame bonus. I won’t spoil it for you, but for your first trip to the New Vegas Strip, I surely wouldn’t bother.

Some of the other familiar gaming systems are back, including the SPECIALS attributes system, the V.A.T.S. auto-aiming system for players that don’t really like the shooter aspect of the game, and of course we have the famous perks system, which gives all kinds of unique, some even supernatural, bonuses. My favorite is the one that increases the chance an enemy will explode upon death, but there are also much more useful ones like perks that increase the amount of equipment you can carry, or just plain increase your damage output under certain circumstances. Additionally, the Karma system is back, but it is relatively useless as the Reputation system from Fallout 2 also makes an appearance in New Vegas. Your reputation with the various factions that roam the Mohave greatly affects the storyline and the outcome of the game. There are certain benefits to siding with or against just about every group in the game, which encourages replayability, or at the very least, it makes you want to save your game often.

The first few hours or so of New Vegas starts you in the small wasteland town of Goodsprings. A riot at a nearby prison has ended with the inmates taking over. They are now the self-proclaimed Powder Gangers, and they are using the prison as a base of operations. The NCR is severely outmanned, especially being spread so thin fighting Caesar’s troops in the east. This is where you have your first opportunity to help out, or be a hindrance. Do you side with the NCR and help retake the prison, or do you stage the assault on Goodsprings and help the Powder Gangers expand their territory? The decisions you make will have a lasting impact on the game, so be sure to choose wisely. If you retake the prison, the NCR will no doubt have a series of quests for you to complete to further the story and rebuild the facility. If you choose however to side with the Powder Gangers and take over Goodsprings, you will end up murdering every single person in the town, including the good doctor that nursed you back to health. As a reward though, the Powder Gangers will have a number of quests for you to help them expand and solidify their position south of the Strip.

It can easily take a casual player 30 hours before stepping foot inside the New Vegas Strip. Sure, you can make a b-line right for the Strip and skip all the preceding content, but as players of the previous Fallout games are aware, you do not rush the main storyline. Fallout games are wider than they are deep. This means there are a ton of side stories to explore and unique places to visit, but if you are dead-set on completing the game in the quickest time possible, you can hunt down your killer and finish the game in less than 30 hours. If the game takes 60 hours on average for the first play through, this suggests that half the content in the game is optional. So if you aren’t interested in helping the Kings, a group of gangers in Freeside that have all adopted the speech and mannerisms of Elvis, or if the Boomers and their huge missiles just plan scare the crap out of you, don’t bother visiting them. A bit of a warning though, the Mohave Wasteland was made to be explored. Do yourself a favor and don’t rush the experience. It is worth it.

Fallout New Vegas is easily Game of the Year! It is available on X-Box 360, PS3, and the PC. There have been reported stability issues on the console systems, but having downloaded my copy from Steam, it has been a rather flawless experience.

Graphics: A- A
Gameplay: A
Story: A
Enjoyment: A
Replayability: A-