A Search for Meaning - Fallout: New Vegas
So I’m starting something new, which, if there’s some good feedback, will hopefully become a series here on Pixel Judge. The style I’m aiming for here is a little strange. I’m aiming for a review of a game that does not focus on how pretty it looks or how smooth it runs, instead, looking at the story/stories within the game, trying to bring to light some meaning from it - something that we can learn from the game as it unfolds us as both individuals and as a culture. It goes without saying that these could end up being filled with spoilers, so if you haven’t managed to play the game that gets covered - and care about avoiding spoilers - may want to give this one a miss.
Who will you be?
What I write will be what I see within the game’s experience - what I have learnt about myself, and what speaks to me about the world we live in. It’s subjective, and possibly will give some hint about the man behind the screen-name. I’m discussing these games as an art form, and since so much of how we interpret art is what we bring to the experience, everyone will see things differently. If what I say doesn’t match up with what you see in the games I write about, go ahead and say so - I’m aiming for discussion here. So without further ado, the game I’ve chosen for this trial run is Fallout: New Vegas.
Fallout takes place in an alternate, technologically advanced, US, where culturally society never reached too far past the sensibilities of the 50’s. The Cold War never ended, and in the second half of the 21st century both sides launched enough nuclear warheads to destroy civilisation within two hours. Humanity (at least in the US) survived by sheltering in Vaults, and emerged to build a new society. Life is harsh and rugged and there aren’t many people that do more than barely scrape by. The world is filled with advanced technology that very few people still understand, and there are a lot of things and people that would kill you as willingly as they’d look at you. And into this world the player is thrust, playing the role of a courier who has been ambushed while on a delivery.
It's a very long story.
New Vegas, the fourth official major game in the series, opens with a few lines from your ambusher about the game being rigged, and you getting shot. Later, you wake up having been rescued by the people from the nearby town of Goodsprings, and create your character. After a short tutorial, the townsfolk give you some information about the men who tried to murder you, and ask for a helping hand in dealing with a criminal group that has been terrorising the town. You deal with the bandits one way or another, and then move on to the next town on your target’s journey. This leads through a string of events that follow a pattern of ‘you enter a town, and ask where the people you’re looking for went. You’re told that the town has problems of its own, and that they’ll help you if you help them.’
New Vegas offers you the chance to build any character you want to, and almost fully explore how that character would react in a number of different situations. The choices you make in this early section have a direct and immediate effect on the people around you; Goodsprings either becomes a ghost town or a town at peace; Primm has protection and law again, and different goods for sale depending on how that quest is completed. And you start to develop a reputation you’ll cultivate throughout the game. This section also introduces many of the big players in the Mojave, particularly the biggest two - the NCR and Caesar's Legion, allowing you to learn more about those that become a major part of the later portions of the game, and determine how they fit into your character’s worldview. Are you going to be a kind and generous person that puts others first, genuinely seeking to improve people’s lives, or will you be a cold-hearted bastard that’s only out for himself? Perhaps you’ll end up as something in between. By the time you make it to Vegas, you’ve probably got a good grasp on your character.
A conflict of ideologies.
One of the more standout sections is the quest you are given in order to get the information you need from the town of Novac. In short, you’re asked to clear a number of feral ghouls (humans who were unalterably changed by radiation, and subsequently became mindless monsters) from a factory complex that the locals used as a scrap mine for trading. Upon entering, you also find the monsters known as Nightkin (super mutants that specialise in stealth), who are completely hostile to the ghouls, as well as a number of ghouls who engage your services as helpers, asking you to kill or drive off the nightkin, and assist them in gathering the necessary parts for the rockets they are preparing (their goal is to make it to the moon). Along the way there are a number of different options for completing the quest - sabotage the rocket engines, mess with the flight path to cause a collision, assist the ghouls to reach their destination, or simply gun them all down when you see them - each affected by different skills, and each reflective of the different ways you can build your character’s personality. Would you go out of your way to improve the lives of the Ghouls as well as the people of Novac, or would you simply revel in the ability to misdirect and sabotage their hopes and dreams in an effort to achieve your own goals faster?
The four major quest lines for the latter half of the game are exclusionary, and each is tied to a specific faction of the wasteland: the New California Republic, a democratic faction that bases their values after Old World America, and seek to bring those ideals to the rest of post-nuclear America; Caesar’s Legion, a faction of slavers and warmongers that base their structure and ideals on Ancient Rome, who seek conquest and Empire the same way their namesake did; Mr House, the ruler of New Vegas, an Old World genius that extended his life through the use of technology, and seeks to rebuild the technological powerhouse America once was; and the Anarchist route, where you reject the other three and push for a completely independent Mojave Wasteland. The tasks you undertake push the agendas of the faction you have sided with, bringing them closer to the final confrontation where the future of Vegas is decided. Here the game widens in scope, there isn’t so much of an immediate payoff for the things you’re doing, but the actions will serve to make the final confrontation easier for your faction, and whoever they aren’t directly opposed to.
I said before that the choices you make have an effect on the world around you, and your general stance with people is decided not by how good or evil you are on a moral level, but by how your actions have affected the factions that they pay allegiance to; soldiers and towns of the NCR will like you if you help the NCR, while members of the Legion will despise you for it; or the people who live in Freeside will appreciate it if you help to make their life better, but dislike thefts and random violence within their homes. The end result of this is that the most evil bastard that ever walked the earth can still be adored by many as long as what they do is of benefit to them, or the living embodiment of the saints themselves can be hated because their actions did not serve a particular group.
I’ve always held that art is defined by its ability to make us evaluate ourselves, to stir feelings that cause us to challenge what we hold dear - what we would sacrifice when push came to shove. And, for me at least, New Vegas hits all the right points - would I sacrifice people’s freedom for the sake of order, or would I give over an entire area to an iron-fisted (but urbane and civilised) dictator in order to regain the technical knowledge of the past? Would I consider my needs above the needs of others, and simply rob those with practically nothing to resupply ammunition and medical supplies? Would I doom an entire people group to advance my goals and the goals of my employers? Would I be willing to kill in order to save my own life, or the life of another, even if it meant killing an innocent in the process? These are questions that New Vegas - and games in general - allow us to ask, and if we think about them enough, to answer in a way that can either change or reinforce how we think about ourselves. The search for meaning in New Vegas is the search for a greater understanding of who we are as individuals in the face of global disaster, and personal turmoil without physically suffering through those things, and I can honestly say that the ideals I hold dear - ideals like personal liberty, and the right of others to live their own lives - I hold even dearer having considered their alternatives in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Mojave Desert.
Posted 09-07-2013, 13:07
The results are in.
Fr33Lanc3r my good man, we want more of this series
Posted 06-07-2013, 22:36
See, you don't need to GRIND. You're supposed to experience the game, not rush through it. You don't NEED to pick up everything, to sell everything and to get every coin there is. That's not what New Vegas is about. The first time I played the game, I only played for maybe 20-ish hours. Then I just stopped, because there were other games out that I "had to" play, and I didn't find time to pick up New Vegas again. Still, even though I didn't completely finish the game and everything in it, I still felt like I had a rich experience. I think that's how you need to play it. Not go looking to complete every arbitrary achievement and get the best rewards all the time. Part of the beauty of the game is that you sometimes end up in situations where you are given three options - one demanding X number of points set to a certain stat, one demanding X number of points set to a certain other stat, or simple combat - and you're forced to pick one of them because you're not "strong" enough to do it any of the other ways. Next time you play it, if you play differently, then suddenly you'll get a completely different result in the same situation, because you encountered the situation later/earlier, or with a different build. Wiki'ing and googling everything is tedious, and takes away a lot from the experience. You won't feel like you can "relax" with the game.
Project Nevada is a mod that doesn't ruin anything, it only adds to the experience, enriches the world and so on. Oh, and it fixes that awful yellow tint.
Posted 06-07-2013, 18:15
@Jenssen I don't have the time to grind my way through the game. I consider that a time saver as otherwise I'd have to pedal fourth and back to pick all the items for some moneyz. Also even 150kg wouldn't help me as my last character had a few tons on his shoulders :P
@Fr33 As for mods I use only mods that fit well within the setting of the game. That might be some game aid's, texture improvements or items that fit within the canon. But you wont find me wearing a space marine armor in the wasteland.
Posted 06-07-2013, 16:13
To be truthful, I really don't use mods either....I prefer to stay as close as possible to the experience the developers intended...but if it's not clear that I play games primarily to experience the stories by now, I'm probably not saying it often enough...
Posted 06-07-2013, 16:09
@Jenssen: Fun fact, I didn't take those screens...I shamelessly stole them from JC's review....
Posted 06-07-2013, 10:25
Ah, looking more closely at the first image, I can see you're already using Nevada, Freelancer. That's one of the armors providing the vision modes. For the rest of yas:
Posted 06-07-2013, 10:20
Simon, you damn cheater. Get the DLCs, then you have a 50 level cap, and there's at least two perks that allow you to increase your inventory.
Also guys, getting the Project Nevada mod is ESSENTIAL! It makes it easier for you to get killed by a well-placed shot, but it also adds a lot of cool stuff. Not only a bunch of new weapons and armors, but also night vision and THERMAL vision to some of the more advanced helmets. Shit's tight, yo!!
Posted 06-07-2013, 04:18
@Bobfish: And that's why I prefer a melee/unarmed build...I can just leave all the ammo behind if I wish to. Or sell it, those implants don't pay for themselves...and neither do the awesome GRA unique weapons.
Posted 06-07-2013, 04:01
That's why I like wight increase mods. I like carrying the whole world on my shoulders. Literally.
Posted 06-07-2013, 02:58
I tend to only loot in the early stages,. After a while, with the way I play, I end up with far too much junk. Especially in Fallout. I get to the point where I'm not even bothering to pick up ammo anymore.
Sneak attack criticals yo