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Fallout: New Vegas is a game I want to like. As a sequel to 2008ʼs Fallout 3, New Vegas has shoes to fill. Fallout 3ʼs strongest aspect was its environment - have you ever wondered what a post nuclear war world would be like? How would you survive as a scavenger in a city that had been reduced to rubble? Fallout 3 captured this experience so elegiacally that it was easy to spend complete weekends submerged in the world. Sadly, Fallout: New Vegas is not nearly as fun to explore, and this has made all the difference.

It is impossible not to compare Fallout 3 and New Vegas, partly because they are so similar aesthetically (the graphics, or, the way the game looks, are the same) and they play largely the same. Both New Vegas and Fallout 3 are role playing games about surviving in a dystopic American wasteland post-nuclear war. At first glance both look like a first-person shooter such as Call of Duty or Halo, but Fallout is hardly about shooting. Embedded into each game is a deep role-playing system built on exploration of a huge map.

Fallout 3 takes place in Washington DC while New Vegas takes place in the Mojave Desert, right up I-15 and into Las Vegas. In both games youʼre allowed free reign to explore these areas, meet people, complete quests, level up (strengthen your character, whom you create), and scavenge the wasteland. Itʼs a formula that works when there is a rich world to explore - the essence of Fallout 3 was that you would always wonder what youʼd find a little further down the road, what crusty gem could be hiding amongst a mess of dirty crates and shelves.

In retrospect, Washington DC was a prime location for Bethesda (Fallout 3ʼs developer) to pick. DC is so dense with recognizable locations and names that it can feel familiar to almost every American. Even if youʼve never been there (and in 2010 I find it more likely than not for someone to have visited DC at least once) the landmarks are universal. We all know what the United States Capital building looks like; we all recognize the beacon of the Washington Monument. They are functional landmarks that unite America by their presence. I explored every nook and cranny of the Capital Wasteland because combing the crumbled remnants of our nation was inherently interesting.

New Vegas fails here. Las Vegas has its share of landmarks, but none that hold the weight of our Capital city. New Vegas is extensive, covering Vegas, its strip, and surrounding cities like Primm, but itʼs significantly less dense. You will have to walk far stretches before you find something genuinely worth exploring.

The experience of scavenging has been enriched through the added mechanics of recycling ammo, plant picking, but these mechanics are undercut by a dearth of valuable finds. The best parts of foraging and scavenging, be they digital or reality, are the moments when youʼve found something rare and valuable under a veneer of waste. This “eureka” moment comes too seldom in Vegas, and it sabotages the playersʼ commitment to exploration. Itʼs just not fun.

Even the strip, the geographical and narrative epicenter of New Vegas story, feels synthetic and empty, a husk of the comparatively rich National Mall we explored just two years ago.

I spent over 150 hours playing Fallout 3, and I welcome the famine of women that admission that will bring to my life. I am not ashamed of any moment of that time spent. Fallout 3 gave me a place worth exploring rivaling the real-life Capital itself (a place in which I have spent extensive time). There is something about the atmosphere that was distinct, complete with its own self-deprecating tone and mid 20th century motif that made every dusty corner an archaeological dig.

In short, it is probably informative for some people to examine all the incremental additions in New Vegas over Fallout 3, and in those terms New Vegas is an improvement. But when push comes to shove the most telling aspect of New Vegas for me is the moment-to-moment experience of inhabiting the game world. And New Vegas, offers nothing worth remembering. It begs for the inordiante attention that Fallout 3 captured so deftly while shucking the very feeling that made it so easy to settle in.

A sense of discovery fueled everything I did in Fallout 3. A search for that sense of discovery has fueled everything Iʼve done in Fallout: New Vegas. If I could only suggest one of the two, Iʼd pick Fallout 3 over New Vegas every time. Vegas, as it always has, will leave you feeling empty, broke, and annoyed.


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