Entropic Crusader

Home of sci-fi and fantasy author, Benjamin Matthews

I often hear people who clearly have no clue what they’re talking about complain that New Vegas is too linear, or that there’s nothing to see or do, especially from Fallout 3 fans. To this I reply: did we even play the same game?

The world of Fallout: New Vegas is carefully designed to provide a first time player with an optimal experience, by gently funnelling them in a particular direction down south from Goodsprings, around the bottom through Nipton, and back up past Novac towards Vegas in a rough horseshoe shape. But at the same time, an experienced player can easily sequence break this and take a shorter path by running north from Goodsprings, or across and up via Sloan, among others.

So let’s analyse the path set out by the game. You kick off in Goodsprings with your ultimate destination visible on the horizon: New Vegas, specifically the Lucky 38’s tower. This gives you a visible goal to aim for and, in the event you’re knowledgeable enough with the game, you can easily set out north and head straight there with a little care and attention, assuming you’re interested in not being murderlised by Deathclaws and Cazadores.

Goodsprings is the tutorial area, which provides an interesting and multi-layered quest to get you started, and allows for any play style; kill everyone, side with the town, side with the Powder Gangers, plus a few combinations of these (take over first, then kill the Gangers, for example, or even ignore the quest entirely and come back later).

This introduces you to the idea that there are many ways to complete quests and that you can play pretty much as you like. Plus it gives a first-time player the knowledge that skill checks are a thing.

Next, you’re prodded south towards Primm. This is important in that it’s the first hint a new player receives that the NCR is overextended and having trouble keeping a grip on things. The Powder Gangers are holed up here and the NCR is effectively unable to do much about it without the player directly getting involved.

Again, an experienced player can take a route through Sloan instead, meet more unlucky NCR people, and potentially sneak past the Deathclaws to bypass a large portion of the southern half of the map. Obsidian ensured that players of different experience levels have alternate routes and options, even if they take a little bit of skill and knowledge from previous play-throughs to take advantage of.

Moving on, we arrive at the southern end of the map where we can take a detour to learn more about the NCR at the Ranger Outpost, as well as important details on caravans via Cassidy, Ranger Jackson, Major Knight, and others. The enormous statue of the two Rangers is there to pique the player’s curiosity enough to make this brief detour.

Around this area you also run into a couple of the gangs (Viper, Jackal, Scorpion, etc.), plus the minor confrontation between Tomas and Jacklyn as they fight over possession of a star bottle cap necklace. This introduces you to The Legend of the Star quest in the event you’ve not found any of the special caps yet, as well as potentially triggering the random Malcolm Holmes event.

Nipton is up next, giving us our first look at the Legion and introducing them as a thoroughly nasty faction,. But they’re also non-hostile unless you attack first, so a cautious player isn’t likely to mistake them for just a band of marauding raiders like the previously encountered Jackals at the Nipton Road Pit Stop. And if they do make that mistake, it’ll be a fairly brief one that teaches them an important lesson.

Again, you have options to head off the beaten track and take alternate routes to bypass a degree of walking and combat, though you’ll need knowledge of where the nastier enemies spawn in order to do so. And just beyond here we turn back north and are confronted with a new situation; an NCR trade caravan moving through an area with several Legion patrols.

This introduces new players to the faction conflict between these two sides in the event they haven’t worked it out yet—by meeting Ranger Ghost, for example. It also hints that this is a helpful gameplay mechanic; sticking with caravans provides protection against enemies you might not want to face directly and risk faction reputation hits by attacking.

A brief jaunt past Ranger Station Charlie informs us as to the existence of these locations, and that they’re important to the NCR’s hold on the region, providing intelligence and keeping tabs on the various groups vying for power.

Novac is the first relatively major settlement after Primm, and the first in actual working order. Like the statue at the Ranger Outpost, the giant dinosaur and thermometer are designed to hook the player’s interest and keep them moving in roughly the right direction (they’re also based on a real location). Victor is also here to say hi and make sure Vegas remains in the player’s mind, assuming you don’t miss him, which is entirely possible if you approach from the wrong direction.

In Novac, you’ll be given some directions—in the event you help Manny out with the ghoul problem at the REPCONN test site—to Boulder City. This is an interesting one in that it’s entirely optional and a little out of the way. If you simply wander past Novac, you might miss Boulder City entirely if you don’t know it’s there. But that’s okay, because as usual Obsidian accounted for this in a number of ways, allowing you to sequence break at your leisure.

Leaving Novac, you’ll immediately notice the large HELIOS One power station, again providing a landmark to interest the player, with the Black Mountain radar array beyond this. Most importantly, the power station—assuming you can talk your way inside—gives some information on how important power is to control of the region, setting the stage for the Dam Conflict later on. You also get a brief introduction to the Followers.

If you head to Boulder City next, that’ll be your first real introduction to the Khans, beyond the one where they watched as you were shot in the face, anyway. And again, you’re given the choice of a peaceful interaction similar to your first meeting with the Legion at Nipton.

To reinforce this, if you choose the option to try a peaceful solution with the Khans, you’ll enter the area where they’re holed up and have to walk over to talk to Jessup and gang. However, even if you chose the peaceful option with the NCR guy before entering, if you keep your weapons drawn the Khans will open fire. You need to holster your weapons, then walk over to actually complete the peaceful route.

It’s a nice little detail that caught me out on my first play-through of the game. Know why? Because at that point I hadn’t played the originals. In those, if you approach settlements with your weapons drawn, things can go south pretty fast. That’s not normally the case in 3, 4, or New Vegas, so it’s easy to be caught out by this particular quest.

At the 188th the player can meet Veronica, giving them a primer and intro to the Brotherhood of Steel remnants. Additionally, the Lucky 38 tower is once again brightly illuminated on the horizon, keeping the player’s destination firmly in mind. A bit further up the road, the player runs into the Grub ‘n’ Gulp Rest Stop, where they can learn the importance of fresh water in this world; such an important commodity that Fallout 1’s main cap currency was backed by the value of water.

We’re closing in on Vegas itself now, but first you’re likely to spot the imposing walls of McCarren airport. This is probably enough by itself to interest the player, but more importantly it also has the enormous and visibly intact monorail exiting it. An astute player might wonder if perhaps this could be used for anything (it’s a free ride into the Strip, if you’re not aware, assuming you can get past the guards)…

And lastly, the trip around the urban areas surrounding Vegas provides insights into several other important pieces of information in this world, such as the Gunrunners, who manufacture and sell most of the guns in the region, including bulk orders to the NCR.

The Crimson Caravan compound has you meet up with Ringo, but also gives a new player some knowledge of this organisation’s role in supplying the NCR’s various communities and the problems they have with raiders, problems the player will learn the Legion doesn’t suffer from, because the Legion actually secures its caravan routes. And the entrance to Freeside introduces the Kings and the initial hook into the brewing hostilities in Freeside itself, not to mention the Mormon Fort.

There are a few other locations of interest a player might accidentally stumble upon in addition, depending on where they wander and what catches their eye (the Boomers’ air traffic control tower in the distance towards the northeast for example), but the horseshoe-shaped trek covers all the really important things.

With some forethought, care, and attention paid to the layout of their world, Obsidian constructed a map that perfectly funnels the brand new player in such a way as to provide not only level-appropriate challenges, but also the maximum possible information on the world while they do so. Even better, experienced players can easily sequence break and cut straight through to Vegas if they so choose.

Compare this to Fallout 3’s completely undirected world where you start effectively dead centre and can go anywhere you please, which results in a situation where the whole world has to be the same no matter where you roam. Enemies need to scale with you, quests can’t have specific level requirements, and the general aimlessness means the narrative—such as it is—feels equally lacking a solid direction.

I’m not entirely ragging on Fallout 3’s approach here, even though I do feel New Vegas handles its world far better. There’s something to be said for simply picking a direction and walking, soaking in the atmosphere and just exploring whatever you happen to find, which is really where Fallout 3 excels. But I personally prefer a more directed, narratively-driven world, and New Vegas delivered that.

Regardless of your thoughts on the game itself, I hope you can at least appreciate the incredible amount of detail and thought Obsidian put into their world.

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