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Words: Will Nelson
Western RPGs have come a long way since the likes of Dungeon, Rogue, and the original Diablo. Few reach the dizzying heights of the title 'masterpiece' - games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic come close, but no other game leaves a mark quite like Fallout: New Vegas. On October 19th 2020, said video game is 10 years old, and it's still one of the greatest Western RPGs - well, one of the greatest video games, regardless of genre - of all time.
Fallout: New Vegas was a game made in strange circumstances, and it's still absolutely incredible. Bethesda gave the IP to Obsidian Entertainment (some of the staff there worked on the original Fallout games of the late 1990s) to make a spin-off using Fallout 3's Gamebryo engine in just 18 months. And despite that unenviable deadline, and the pressure born of it, Obsidian still built one of the best role-player worlds, with some of the best writing and most interesting characters ever committed to the genre.
With that said, it's almost impossible to pin down the one thing that makes Fallout: New Vegas so captivating. You play an amnesiac courier who was shot in the head, which admittedly sounds clichéd, but it allows the player to forge a path through a story that diverges at every given opportunity. The twists and turns the game provides are somehow perfectly married to incredibly interesting locales with plenty of good narrative reasons to explore them. You can go into a giant T-Rex-shaped store and steal the gun from Blade Runner, need I say more?
The game also easily eclipses Fallout 3, adding depth through the option to work with four major factions, or none at all, which makes the black-and-white nature of the series' Karma system something that requires much more contemplation. You're no longer deciding if something is just good or bad (a decision that's incredibly easy to make in the context of a video game, with no lasting consequences), but you actually have to consider how it will directly affect your character and the world around you, because there may be no coming back from that next decision. And while you might get that sweet anti-material rifle you've heard so much about next time you turn up, you could wind up six feet under... again.
Fallout: New Vegas is still loved a whole decade later not because of its janky shooting mechanics, or due to its relatively lacklustre graphics, but because of how it thrusts you into a world that's inherently interesting to explore - and the game then rewards your curiosity with stellar writing and new narrative directions. The Fallout franchise - before Bethesda turned Super Mutants into mindless brutes - has plenty of groups with complex ideals and goals, and New Vegas drops you into a hurricane of a conflict and says, "Do what you want." Side with an unsettlingly positive robot? Adopt a cyborg dog with his brain showing? Or just leave the Mojave in a worse state than when you arrived? Go for it!
The game lets you beat a vegetable-man to death with a golf club, but then - somehow successfully - asks you why you should've done that.
Fans were quite lucky, too, that the game had four thoroughly packed DLCs that bolstered the Fallout universe. Although we haven't had a chance to go back to the Mojave since, that isn't to say that there aren't massive opportunities for you to boot up the game and experience something new. People loved Fallout: New Vegas so much that they've made huge mods for the game, that include whole new maps and narratives. There's Fallout: New Frontier, and even a version of New Vegas made in Fallout 4. People may have too much time on their hands, but with these results I'm not complaining.
Not all hope is lost for a potential Fallout: New Vegas 2, though. Microsoft's recent acquisition of Bethesda now means that Bethesda and Obsidian are 'sister studios', so the sharing of the Fallout IP between them isn't something totally outlandish. In fact, Obsidian even teased the possibility of a sequel on their Twitter. Does this mean we'll all get the New Vegas 2 we salivate at the thought of? Probably not, but the dream's alive.
What could this hypothetical sequel offer? Would it even be a New Vegas 2 or just a different Fallout game entirely? We technically got that game in Obsidian's sci-fi RPG of 2019, The Outer Worlds, or at least that's the closest we'll likely ever get to the same excellent world building and writing, so really it's a matter of perspective. While we're as close as we'll ever be, New Vegas's director Josh Sawyer is currently working on an unannounced game at the studio - so yes, the dream's definitely alive, but it needs to stay alive for a good while longer.
The only real problem I have with Fallout: New Vegas - and it's a similar one to Majora's Mask - is that like myself it's the redheaded stepchild of the family, and so different to the first-person Fallout we know. But that's also why it's unparalleled in its excellence. For lack of a better term, the team at Obsidian caught lightning in a bottle, and the stars really need to align for us to get another game on the same level. You cannot predict what we'd end up with, just like last time.
With that said, there's something the Fallout franchise - and Western RPGs in general - can learn from Fallout: New Vegas. Players want to experience an incredibly interesting world that bends to their will, and changes with their actions. There were 65,000 lines of spoken dialogue in New Vegas - that's 25,000 more than Fallout 3 - and this perfectly illustrates just how many options the game actually has. It'll take plenty of playthroughs and exploration of the narrative directions to even get close to hearing them all.
Despite taking place in a nuked Las Vegas, the game still manages to feel alive a whole decade after release. It's one you need to play if you haven't yet, and New Vegas absolutely deserves all the love it still receives today.
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