Fallout: New Vegas begins with a bang, leaving you shot in the head and left for dead in a shallow grave. But luck is on your side that night in the post-apocalyptic New West. You survive, thanks to a mysteriously chivalrous robot and a nearby town doctor. Tracking down the men who tried to kill you is just the beginning of the mystery. Before long, you'll find yourself drawn into a war over the future of the Mojave Desert and control over the Las Vegas strip.
There are several factions vying for control of the desert wasteland. Mr. House rules the Vegas strip. With his army of security robots, he calls the shots and maintains control over the casinos and dens of sin. The NCR (New California Republic) is a military faction, attempting to maintain law and order with their stockpile of pre-war weapons and supplies. And then, there's Ceasar's Legion, a powerful slaving organization that controls a vast army. They are assaulting the Hoover Dam in an attempt to wrest control over the largest source of electricity in the region from the NCR.
It'll be up to you to tip the scales to favor one of these factions as they wage war over the wasteland. Or you can decide to take everything and appoint yourself as leader of a better New Vegas. As you blaze trails through the game's main story, it's all too easy to get wrapped up in the side quests, but that's what makes Fallout: New Vegas so fun.
There are tons of smaller factions and tribes in the Mojave wasteland, and you can easily spend over a 100 hours playing the game as you discover all the gems tucked away in its expansive world. Do good deeds and earn the favor of various groups or be a villain and make the people fear your name. There are always new places to discover and new people to help (or kill).
Above: Gain favor with the NCR, for example, and you'll be able to call in support troops to aid you
The wasteland is a dangerous place, full of radioactive mutants, psychotic bandits, and feral ghouls. But this time around, Fallout: New Vegas lets you bring a companion along to share the burden. As you travel, you'll meet NPCs who will join you. Help them, and they'll help you with extra firepower and special perks that will make you stronger. You can also find non-human companions to help you fight, like an old Enclave battle droid or a mechanical guard dog.
The companion system works great and having someone watching your back in a fight makes wandering through the wasteland much less lonely. Each companion you meet comes with a set of side quests that reveal more about their back story and can change your standing with other factions in the game. Complete them, and you're companions will become more loyal and powerful. You can only bring one companion with you at a time. But later, when you settle down in the Vegas strip, you'll be able to have your spare companions wait for you in your hotel suite. It's pretty fun to visit your base and see everyone hanging out.
Above: When Cass is your companion, you'll get the Whiskey Rose perk, which will let you take extra damage when you drink whiskey
Veterans who played Fallout 3 should also consider Fallout: New Vegas' hardcore difficulty mode for their first play through. It's not for everyone. But we liked it a lot and for those who like an extra challenge, the hardcore mode really freshens up the game by adding lots of survival-themed restrictions, which make your treks through the harsh desert more realistic. Your character will get hungry, thirsty, and sleepy. So you'll need to make sure you have food items, water, and rest to prevent negative effects. Push your body too hard, and you may even wind up dying from hunger or exhaustion. Healing items, like stimpacks, aren't quite as effective either, and your ammo has weight, requiring you to make sure you only carry what you'll need to survive.
Fallout: New Vegas also adds several sweet tweaks to the weapon system. Special ammo, like armor piercing rounds and hollow bullets, are abundant - and you'll need them as you start encountering tougher enemies later in the game. You can also modify and customize all your guns with extra parts to make them more effective.
Above: Loading screens seem to last too long in the console versions
The cast of voice actors in Fallout: New Vegas is also mighty impressive. Ron Perlman reprises his role as the narrator, voicing the intro and outro scenes in the game. We still get goose bumps when he says, "War never changes." Fallout 2 players will also welcome the return of Marcus, the super mutant, played by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Michael Dorn. Wayne Newton also does an excellent job voicing Mister New Vegas, DJ for the Radio New Vegas channel. We'll take his old-timey voice over the howling Three Dog from Fallout 3 any day.
Fans of Felicia Day will be pleased that the star of The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog voices a companion character named Veronica. She's a scribe for The Brotherhood of Steel and has several awesome side quests. Also on the celebrity list is Hollywood goon-for-hire Danny Trejo, who voices companion character Raul the Ghoul. The zombified bandito voiced by the star of Machete also seems destined to be a favorite companion amongst fans.
Above: After Power Fisting a feral ghoul to death, Veronica watched as we had joyless video-game sex with a Vegas prostitute. Here's us the morning after. It was our most shameful moment in Fallout: New Vegas
Unfortunately, Fallout: New Vegas also comes packed with more than its fair share of frustrating bugs. The PS3 and 360 version of the game frequently hitches, bringing the game to a screeching halt with frozen screens. If you're not a frequent saver, you will be after about eight hours of playing. We experienced repeated crashes in all three versions of the game, which ended up with us losing all our progress. Not even key events are immune to the game's occasional wonkiness. In one play through, the game's final battle was interrupted by such as crash.
It also seems like scripted events, which require NPCs to move about, often unravel in unexpected ways. So, don't be surprised if an in-game cut scene finds one NPC giving an inspiring speech to the wall in one room while his audience stumbles about in the corner of another area. It's disappointing to see such a lack of polish in a high-profile game like this. But these glitches never stop the game from being fun, and patches are on the way. Earlier this week, just one day after Fallout: New Vegas released, Bethesda Softworks responded to player complaints about the game's technical problems, promising patches for all versions of the game.
Above: As frustrating as the bugs were, they never stopped the game from being fun