Unfortunately, Fallout: New Vegas isn't technically capable of supporting these high ambitions. Simply put, it frequently breaks in some of the most phenomenal ways. You can't mention any given aspect of its design without also mentioning a related bug--and the more you explore and the more you do, the more the game buckles under its own weight. Your companion may not initiate a conversation with her elder, forcing you to reload a saved game or ignore the quest. A mutant for hire will respond to your request to continue the quest with the same dialogue that he delivers if you tell him you need more time. Scripting errors abound in which things that are supposed to happen never do, while in many other cases, inexplicable events occur that will boggle your mind. Locals will freak out and run around as if someone is brandishing a weapon and then stop and walk back to their assigned positions. A vendor might attack you unprovoked, even if you have a golden reputation in that town and are dressed in neutral clothing. Sometimes, it's unclear if you're unaware of a contributing factor or if the game is simply going bonkers. Not to mention frequent crashes on both consoles and corrupted game saves, which might cause you to lose progress. In addition, the longer you play, the slower the frame rate gets (on the Xbox 360), or the more noticeable the screen tearing and frequent pauses become (on the PlayStation 3). These are but a small number of the major bugs we encountered. Fallout: New Vegas is a technical mess.
If the constant bugs start getting to you, take out your frustrations on random dogs.
If you played Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which used the same game engine as Fallout: New Vegas, then you won't be surprised by some of the more minor foibles, although many of them seem exacerbated here. Characters get easily stuck on the environment and run in place, for example, while the environmental segmentation surrounding the Vegas Strip leads to more loading times than you encountered in those previous games. These quirks notwithstanding, Fallout: New Vegas evokes a great sense of place in which the postapocalyptic future meets the recent past. Your first glimpse of the neon-lit Strip at night will have you pausing to take it all in, after all those hours of traversing the bleak wastelands. This isn't a pretty game, exactly, but it delivers a world you can believe in and is consistent with Fallout lore. Swirling dust storms cloud your view, crumbling edifices demand to be scavenged for simple treasures, and spore-spewing monsters hide in tufts of green overgrowth. When you see an interesting building or installation in the distance, you're always inspired to check it out, and more often than not, there's something interesting awaiting you.
The audio also contributes to the grimness of your travels, though it shares some idiosyncrasies with Fallout 3. There are radio stations to listen to, and while the toe-tapping tunes evoke Vegas through and through, hearing the same small selection of songs gets old fast. The main soundtrack is improved over Fallout 3's, using twisted twangs to summon images of cowboys roaming the blighted wilderness, driving two-headed Brahman instead of traditional cattle. Many of the symphonic swells, on the other hand, would have been more appropriate in a fantasy game. But the sound effects usually scratch the proper itch, especially where combat is concerned. A sawed-off shotgun produces a lot of oomph, and the satisfying thwacks of a rebar club make it a satisfying go-to weapon. But while the guns and sledgehammers make a big impression, subtler effects, such as the deep rumbles that indicate a quest completed, are just as satisfying.
Slot machines have never been this foreboding.
The muffled splats you hear when you activate the Vault-Tec Automated Targeting System (aka VATS) also make an impression. Though you can aim down your iron sights, slow controls and stiff animations still make for slightly awkward real-time gunplay. Luckily, entering VATS and targeting your enemy's limbs leads to all the same rewarding, slow-motion splatters of blood and irradiated goo that made Fallout 3 such a brutal blast. The returning "bloody mess" perk may not have much gameplay significance, but it does result in limbs, heads, and other viscera flying through the air, which is often both gratifying and hysterical. Many of your creepy returning opponents are the usual suspects: supermutants, radscorpions, and the like. Others are new but equally enjoyable to fight, such as the nightkins, which are hideous mutants that cloak themselves using stealth-boy devices. You fight a lot of human enemies as well. Those battles might affect your standing with one faction or another and often pit you against named characters that might have had quests to offer or dialogue to deliver had you aligned yourself differently. As a result, some skirmishes have more impact than Fallout 3's less meaningful encounters versus nameless brigands.
When you aren't out fighting foes or questing for the greater good (or to the detriment of all humanity), you might want to try your hand at a bit of gambling. Outside of the casinos, you can play a fun little card game called Caravan with various individuals, which takes a bit of time to learn but might get you addicted to purchasing cards to add to your deck. Once you make it to Vegas proper, you can cash in bottle caps or faction-specific currency for chips and play some blackjack or roulette or maybe plunk a few coins into the slot machines. These games are much as you'd expect, but the slick presentation makes them enjoyable and addictive all the same. If you'd rather stay focused on more traditional role-playing tasks, you could always head to a work bench to create some ammo from raw materials or apply a weapon upgrade. Or perhaps you'd rather use a campfire to cook up some healthful items from the monster bits you've gathered. It's nice that the game gives recipe enthusiasts something to do, though the prevalence of weapons, armor, and aid items mean you can safely ignore these elements if you prefer.
This guy's got the right idea.
Fallout: New Vegas is an expansive and complicated RPG that encourages you to see and do as much as you can. This is an explorer's game, always lavishing new and interesting quests on you and giving you a lot of flexibility in how you approach many of them. It builds upon Fallout 3's mechanics in interesting and esoteric ways, making it a comfortable evolution to one of 2008's best games. It's unfortunate that it suffers from so many bugs and other inconsistencies. Role-playing veterans expect glitches in games this complex, but this one far exceeds tolerable limits for these kinds of issues. And yet as busted as it is, Fallout: New Vegas is periodically awesome and consistently compelling. If you've got the stomach for some technological lunacy, this is one gamble that will pay off.