Okay, well, that sucks. This quest line stopped progressing. I guess the script bugged out, or there was no script to begin with. Where the hell did my companion go? He was right behind me just a minute ago. Ah well, I guess I'll load up a previous save. The game crashed again. No biggie, I'll just load it up again.
"The game needs patches, but it's worth playing right now."
Fallout: New Vegas is a game filled with deal-breakers. Crashes, bugs, glitches – you'll run into something that throws you off every twenty or so minutes while trekking through the wastes – but the game can get so involving, so rich in its scenarios and in its quest design, so engrossing with its exploration, so dripping with well-written prose, that it can get hard to stop playing. New Vegas needs to be played if you're a fan of RPGs of old and/or new. The game needs patches, but it's worth playing right now.
You take a bullet to the head. You wake up in a small town; a doctor's miraculously gotten you back on your feet. One question swirls through your head: Who shot you and why? It's a great kick-off to the main quest, because for the first few hours, it revolves around you. It's selfish but sensible. Instead of trying to force you to like a motive, like say, finding your father, Obsidian sets up a simple, interesting and personal reason to get you moving.
That's easily one of New Vegas's greatest strengths – its writing. It does come close to hitting the absolute highs that Bloodlines managed to achieve so often but never quite reaches it. Still, it's quite good with voice acting ranging from decent to great. Obsidian has always managed to craft great stories and characters, and their experience in storytelling really makes New Vegas a richer experience than Fallout 3. It's really easy to get invested in the world and in the conflict that surrounds you, because Obsidian's telling it so well.
The core conflict is a war for limited resources. The Mojave holds the Hoover Dam, and whoever has the dam has control over electricity and water. The New California Republic, with the annex-everything agenda, wants it. Caesar's Legion, a faction that enforces Roman societal philosophies and actively captures people to make them slaves, wants it. Mr. House, the enigmatic figure who runs New Vegas, wants it. Even you, the courier who took a bullet to the head, can want it and take it. It's such a compelling struggle, because it's so understandable. The world isn't at stake; no, people are fighting for this sector of the West, nothing more and nothing less.
You're in the middle of all of this, and who you side with and how you go about supporting a faction will affect the future of New Vegas forever. Quests constantly crisscross with one another, and at a certain point you risk cutting ties with factions you were building rapports with. It's made even more interesting with the morally ambiguous nature of each faction. Granted, no matter how Caesar's Legion spins it, converting civilians into slaves is pretty darn bad, but they're all written in a way that gives them context, a reason to exist, and reasons to either support or not support them.
Even outside of the critical path, plenty of side quests in the game offer opportunities to take different avenues and choices. Skill checks are littered everywhere, giving practically every skill some use. Barter, something that was pretty much useless in Fallout 3, comes up in skill checks often in New Vegas giving it as much use as good old Speech. Your expertise in explosives, science, medicine and so on are also constantly used, giving you a lot of flexibility in how you want to play.
For everything that's better in New Vegas, it also inherits a lot of the problems that Fallout 3 had. Gunplay still isn't good. You have the option to aim down the gun sights, and the weapons have been tweaked and toyed with to feel a lot more satisfying to fire, but there's still a clunkiness to it, and V.A.T.S. is still a win-button. Freeze time, click on the head, and then watch the slow-motion gore. Ammo types and mods expand on your options, but Obsidian built on top of mediocre shooting mechanics; only so much could be done. Even the Hardcore mode doesn't do too much to change up the game. Just bring a few bottles of refreshments and snacks. A bit more caution is required, but it isn't dramatically tougher.
The graphics engine still manages to render some striking vistas, but its limitation are just so apparent now, that I hope this is the last Fallout to use it. It can't, for whatever reason, animate anything with believability, and all its attempts to render a scene full of life falls flat. The most unfortunate example is New Vegas. For all its lights and glamour, it's always lifeless. The game requires a certain suspension of disbelief when it comes to stuff like this, because there's a huge disconnect between what you're told and what you see.
"Then there are the bugs."
Then there are the bugs. Characters clip and get stuck in the environment. I lost count of how many times something ran straight into the ground, with only half its body showing up. Path-finding issues are constant, the AI lacks any semblance of intelligence, and the list of problems could go on for another page. A few quests simply fail to progress, requiring restarts to get them going again. To resolve one of them I needed to install a mod. The game managed to randomly crash when loading a new cell a handful of times, and on occasion a companion would completely disappear from the game world.
These were all issues that I found either easy to overlook or bear, because when New Vegas was functioning the way it was supposed to, it was so good. Sooner or later, unofficial patches will take care of all the unsightly problems, but I still encourage you to play it now. If you didn't like Fallout 3 for specific reasons, like its weak writing, then you'll love New Vegas, warts and all. If you liked Fallout 3, you will find what you liked in New Vegas and possibly more. I can't think of a better RPG that has come out in 2010. Obsidian has made an outstanding game and someday, they'll crank out a product that isn't barely holding itself together, but until that day, New Vegas has so much of what makes RPGs so great – influencing the events and people around you, the joy of discovery and playing a role in a world that matters.