Another oldie I’m finally getting around to.
Like all of Obsidian’s catalog, Fallout: New Vegas is a beautifully-written game that should have been a visual novel. The RPG elements, the shootouts with random suicidal raiders, and the endless trekking through acres of samey wasteland and copy/pasted buildings full of useless garbage items so thick you stop paying attention to item pickups altogether, add nothing to the experience. The Hardcore survival mechanics were an interesting idea, but are rendered meaningless by the fact the wasteland is a veritable Eden of endlessly-replenishing food, to the point you’ll probably accumulate more than you’ll ever need just by wandering around the starting areas.
But in between the chaff, the story is, as per usual with Obsidian, exceptional.
The story presents extremely heavy and raw issues most media will only touch with a ten-foot pole of metaphors and abstractions, and with a nuance and sensitivity I’ve sorely needed. Fallout: New Vegas deals with real issues like drug addiction, foreign occupation, mental illness, and more. It’s extremely rare that a video game will present a moral dilemma I don’t immediately know the answer to, but the resolution of “Return to Sender” genuinely left me uncertain if I had made the right choice, or indeed if there was a right choice. Do we continue a forever war selfishly occupying a nation that hates us, or do we wash our hands of it and let it fall to monstrous dictatorship? A sobering thought that that question is just as timely now in 2022 as it was in 2010.
You probably shouldn’t have gotten positive karma for killing drug-addled Fiends, though, that was ooky. There was some jarring cognitive dissonance in Freeside having a really thoughtful plot about how drug addicts are victims who deserve support and compassion, then in the same breath tells you you’re a good guy for murdering Fiends — several of whom you find already dead of drug overdose! There really shouldn’t have been an objective morality system at all — the reputation system is better in every way and should really be a standard for games going forward — but I guess that was leftovers from Bethesda.
I thought it was nice that the story presented such a refreshingly optimistic view of a post-apocalyptic society, as well. So much post-apocalyptic media treats the breakdown of society as inevitable, that every one of our neighbors is secretly a monster only held back by the fiction of civilization. But that’s very much not true in real life, and it’s not true here either. The world may have ended, but people have rebuilt it, because it’s the nature of people to work together and help one another. (I also appreciated that there was only one group that was a misogynistic rape gang, with every other group being visibly egalitarian and disgusted with their misogyny. It is not actually a law of the universe that women must become chattel, thank you.)
I particularly enjoyed the companions and their storylines. All of them are lovely, well-realized characters and genuinely good people. I related extremely hard to Arcade Gannon, perhaps the epitome of mediocrity, and his resolution affirming it’s just as important to play a support role, even if it’s not exciting or popular. (I also liked that his hatred of the Legion was entirely on ideological grounds, rather than specific personal trauma like with Boone; it’s rare that characters are allowed to have purely political opinions.) And there is just something delightful about Lily, a sweet old grandma who can snap bad guys like twigs with her massive sword.
I actually felt the DLCs were the weakest part of the game (with the exception of Old World Blues, which was delightful), in large part due to their attempts to branch into other genres or go high-concept in a way that distanced themselves from the realness of the base story, I felt. In particular, Honest Hearts felt uncomfortably racist and imperialist in its uncritical portrayal of Christian missionaries being the good guys, and especially with its focus on preserving the Native Americans’ “innocence”. If all it took was seeing one guy execute their enemies to turn them militaristic, they weren’t all that “innocent” to begin with, guys. It was particularly awkward that none of the Sorrows themselves had any dialogue about the quandary. If it’s so important to their culture, we should have been able to ask their opinion instead of taking the word of the foreign missionary.
But seriously, how has no one cleaned up their trash in 200 years? Did the nuclear holocaust kill off all the janitors?