Thursday, January 14, 2016

What I'm Playing: Fallout New Vegas

Okay, I know that I've already talked about this game before, in December 2015's Read Play Blog post (also, has anyone else signed up for the new Read Play Blog...whatever it will be? do you know what's going on? I'm super curious!), but I want to talk about some more SO I WILL.

I should begin by saying that for years I was convinced that Fallout was a shooter series. I guess it doesn't help that Half-Life, another scifi game with a nuclear-related name, is a shooter. (At least, it's a very different game from Fallout.) Or that the perspective from Fallout 3 onwards is first-person. So for years I had just put Fallout in the category of "hardcore brogamer shooty games that I won't like" and kept playing my platformers, RPGs, dungeon crawlers, hack 'n' slashers, fighters, and puzzlers.

But then I moved in with JV, my long-distance and long-suffering boyfriend of...13 years, now? Yeah, my math is right.

Now, we both like reading. We both like gaming. But for me, reading is my life's blood. If I go for too long without reading anything, I get depressed. Seriously: I get fidgety, I lose my focus, and I feel this general sense of malaise. Conversely, if I feel like shit, the quickest way for me to feel better is to finish a book. My most important possessions, even more than my jewelry supplies, are my books. Gaming, however, is a fun hobby that I can pick up and put down whenever. It's usually the first thing I drop when my schedule is too crowded, because honestly I can get along fine without it.

It's the complete reverse for JV. I don't think he could go for a week without a game, and his game collection rivals my books collection. It's taken a while for me to come to grips with the fact that I live with someone who isn't, to their bones, a reader, but I'm okay with it now. And presumably he's had the same journey about me and not being a gamer.

The good thing about this mismatch is that, from our deep love and understanding of our respective media, we can turn the other towards something they might not have picked up. JV is in the middle of Redshirts, for example: a book he loves but would have never known about or picked up if I hadn't recommended it to him. And I'm in the middle of Fallout Lou Bega New Vegas, a game I love but would have never given a chance if JV hadn't recommended it (and Fallout 3) to me.

This was a long story to say: if you, like me, were under the assumption that the Fallout games are whiz-bang shooters, you were wrong. If you are an RPG fan who likes exploring new worlds and meeting new characters, you need to give it a shot. It only looks like a FPS.

(That said, I won't be picking up any recent Elder Scrolls releases, anytime soon, even if they're essentially Bethesda's fantasy equivalent of Fallout 3. Not until they figure out how to work something like V.A.T.S. into the game.)

Anyway, on to Lou Bega. What am I really digging about it?

First of all, the graphics. But I already wrote about that, so I'll just say: I cannot overstate how much I prefer this look to Fallout 3.

Beyond the surface-level stuff, though, I really like your companions. In Fallout 3, your companions are automatically limited by your karma: out of the 8 available, 6 have specific karma requirements (2 good, 2 neutral, and 2 evil). The other 2 are karma neutral. To get to know all of the companions, you'd need three different playthroughs—unless you take the perks to reset your karma, but that would be kind of waste, I think. And personally, no matter how much I love a game and want to experience all of it, I have a really hard time taking the evil path. I'm not going to compromise my gaming experience to unlock extra followers. I'm just not that much of a completionist.

The Fallout New Vegas companions. 
In Lou Bega, none of the 8 companions have a karma requirement, making it possible to collect all 8 of them in one go. Some of them definitely have different faction allegiances and preferences, but since (so far) they seem to align with mine (fuck Caesar's Legion, essentially), I haven't seen what happens if you line up with a group they despise.

Using a hazy faction allegiance framework instead of a strict "where do you fall on the good/evil spectrum?" framework makes the characters way more interesting. That, and the fact that the companions develop over time. In Fallout 3, my only companion was Fawkes (somehow I missed out on Star Paladin Cross). You learn his background as soon as you meet him (if you opt to save/not kill him), and then that's about it. In New Vegas, people have complicated histories with different organizations and as you spend time with them, you can learn more about them, and even unlock quests specific to their storyline. Even if Fawkes is definitely cool (an erudite and philosophical Super Mutant!), he doesn't develop in the same way as, say, Cass does during her "investigate the caravans" quest. If I stop to talk to him once in a while, the only dialogue options will be about his strategy (and maybe the same backstory as he tells you when you meet him, I forget).

It's hard for me to pick a favorite companion. I've unlocked all of them except Raoul and Veronica—it feels weird to have even four people at my disposal, compared to just the one I had in Fallout 3. (I mean, I also had Dogmeat in Fallout 3, but he feels like a pet more than a companion.)

ED-E is probably the most useful one. Because there is more of an emphasis on crafting in New Vegas, it's really handy to have a floating workbench following you whereever you go. Especially because I have a preference for energy weapons—energy weapon ammo is hard to come by, so I recycle everything.

Fun fact: JV pronounces ED-E as "Ee dee ee." The quest you get after you fix ED-E in Primm is called "ED-E My Love," which I recognized instantly as a nod to Grease as well as The Teen Queens and The Chordettes. References JV missed.

The first companion I picked up is Boone, who has kind of a typical tragic past backstory, but I appreciate his burning hatred for Caesar's Legion. Anytime I'm going to fight Caesar's Legion, I make sure to take him with me:

"I'm going to shoot any Caesar's Legion members I see. I hope that's not a problem."
"That sounds like a solution to me."

Lily is a more compelling and interesting character, with a more unique tragic past backstory. Story-wise, she might be my favorite. But Cass is pretty great, too. Arcade Gannon is maybe the least interesting, but he's the only companion who also packs energy weapons, making him pretty invaluable in combat—despite being a scientist and not a fighter by trade.

So there are a lot of companions who add a lot of content and a lot of different fighting tactics, because when you have them around you get their perk! Lily boosts your stealthiness, Boone helps you pick out far away enemies while aiming down sights, Arcade raises the effectiveness of your healing items, and Cass gives you a recipe for booze (and also makes you better at handling booze).

Overall, companions have a lot more nuance in New Vegas. (That's not even getting into the companions you temporarily pick up for the DLC quests! But I haven't started any DLC quests yet so I can't really say much about them.)

The other thing I really like in  Lou Bega is the crafting. In both Fallout 3 and Lou Bega, there is a lot of stuff you can pick up. Some poor soul out there, I'm sure, has diligently picked up every piece of junk and scrap in every location. Just because. And while scattered pots and burned books in a house do a lot for atmosphere, there's not much point in making them something you can pick up. Sure, you can craft some custom weapons, but that's about it. In New Vegas not only can you make weapons, but you can also make a variety of consumables, ammo (either recycle it or make it from scratch), armor, and poisons. Every random piece of junk you find (or almost every) can probably be used to craft a fairly useful item. Duct tape, scrap metal, scrap electronics, WonderGlue, and a wrench? Weapon repair kit! Sensor module? Upgrade your regular StimPak to an AutoStimPak! Surgical tubing and buffalo gourd seed? Snakebite tourniquet! It's cool that all of this stuff finally gets some use, and it's also cool to have alternatives for supplies if you find yourself low on caps.

There are some things I miss from Fallout 3. The radio in New Vegas is great but there's no replacing Three Dog. Which is why I'm bummed he won't return for Fallout 4. What are you doing, Bethesda?! And while I appreciate the attempt at realism in a video game, sometimes having healing items heal X points over Y seconds instead of immediately upon use really fucks with my chi. There's also an esoteric damage versus DPS thing going on with the ammo (piercing armor versus doing lots of damage) and it just seems needless. I just ignore it and shoot things with plasma until they're green puddles of goo!

For those of you who haven't played a Fallout game yet, or are on the fence about it, let me try to sum it up: it is, first and foremost, an RPG. There's combat, and the default presentation is first-person, but it's an RPG, and a story-based one at that. You'll be surprised at how much shooting you can avoid if you have enough skill points in Speech or a high enough Intelligence score. And even when the combat turns up, you always have your trusty V.A.T.S. to help and you nearly always (not right at the beginning) have a companion or two at your side. You don't have to be great at shooters to enjoy Fallout. I suck at shooters and I love Fallout!

It's also not a game that's particularly fun to watch, either—so don't assume that because you didn't like watching someone else play it, you won't like playing it yourself. Personally, I get really terrible headaches watching someone else play a first-person perspective game. I can watch Saints Row and GTA San Andreas for ages, but anything more than five minutes of Fallout and I have to get up and do something else.

It supports a lot of play styles, too. Do you really, really, really hate shooting? Then don't! There are numerous melee weapons available. Hell, you can even bareknuckle box your way through the whole game, if you want. It might be a lot harder, but you can at least try.

You'll noticed that I only talked about Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas in here. There's a whole history of games I haven't gotten to yet, so if the first-person perspective really isn't your thing, you can try one of the first two, which are very RP-y. Tactics is much more action-oriented, as is Brotherhood of Steel—both of which are isometric rather than first-person. There's something for everybody!

What are you playing right now?

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