The human brain is a fascinating thing.

I have never really "gotten" the Fallout series. I have been told Fallout 1 and 2 are brilliant games, but I always fell down at the dated visuals, and I didn't enjoy the post-apocalyptic setting.

Maybe that has something to do with being a city slicker and enjoying the comforts of urban living.

So, I let Fallout's "reinvention" at the hands of Bethesda pass me by, being too busy playing League of Legends (at the time) to notice 3, New Vegas, 4, and 76.

Although I don't feel bad about missing out on 76. Sheesh, what a mess.

But then I discovered (widely known?) content creator HBomberGuy, and his hour and a half video essay on the brilliance of Fallout New Vegas:

Listening to Harris Brewer with breathless enthusiasm about his favourite game got me through a lot of pre-CanCon painting sessions. And every time I listened to it, the seed planted in my monkey brain grew.

Then, one day, I found a copy of the "Ultimate Edition" for $8 on some niche site monitored by the IsThereAnyDeal algorithm, and my fate was sealed. I was going to pop my Fallout cherry.

First, I followed the extensive bugfix and performance improvement guide on Viva New Vegas, and turned my computer into a cruise missile with the number of mods I installed:

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(Editor's note: I also installed a mod which delayed the DLC from appearing until you found it in the game world, because as per usual, post-game DLC absolutely destroys the fragile original experience.)

It took me about an hour and a half to do. And I still had fast travel break on me at least twice.

But with HBomb's video ringing in my ears, and the dopamine of trying something new pumping through my body, I dived into the game.

And here is where the troubles began.

Because I had watched that video so many times, my expectations for New Vegas were very high. I had unwittingly spoiled carefully crafted plot developments, and my experience of the game became fast travelling from place to place, trying to recreate the iconic moments shown in the video.

New Vegas had to work that much harder to impress me.

And do I think it succeeded?

I... just don't know. But I think it might have.

A conundrum for me, is if watching that HBomb video set me up to not enjoy the game as much as going in blind. But conversely, I'm not sure if I would've tried Fallout New Vegas at all had I not watched his video. After all, I've known it's an excellent Fallout title - arguably the best of the Bethesda era - for some time.

Even at the conclusion of my first playthrough (more on that later), I am still not in love with the post-apocalyptic 50s-inspired setting. There's something about the aesthetic, and the presentation in New Vegas that gives me a sense of emptiness that I just don't like.

Every population center you travel through (that hasn't been exterminated by the legion) is devoid of people, save for a handful of generic NPCs. Even in the New Vegas strip, arguably the most desirable part of the wasteland, it can feel very lifeless.

There's a part of the game where you enter a "newly renovated" casino building, billed as a raucous gambling den - and yet, when you step into the lobby, there's three or four people at the tables. And the rooms are still filled with broken furniture.

I'm not sure if it fits the bill for cognitive dissonance, but my gosh it comes close.

I also didn't love the combat, but I think part of that was my insistence on using guns, which aren't interesting, particularly in a weird science setting like Fallout, which has all sorts of cool weapons. So chalk that up as an own goal.

I did like the depth to Fallout's weapon systems. Weapon mods and different ammunition types are here, along with ammunition crafting, and being able to repair your favourite guns (Breath of the Wild, take note.)

However, on reflection, I think I massively overweighted the importance of combat. There are long stretches of the game where you don't fire a shot, and rely on your soft skills - barter, speech, science and lock-pick.

Even the final action sequence, a fight across the Hoover dam, was a breeze, and I caught myself wishing I had invested in soft skills earlier.

For example, on the Vegas strip, you have to resolve two power struggles at Gomorrah and the Ultra-Luxe. In both story threads, the game plays like a puzzle, with 20s film noir themes, rather than an action RPG. There's barely any combat, but the intrigue draws you in - it is easily the best part of the game for me.

The longer I wandered the wasteland, the more I realised that being a murderhobo does just as much to ruin the game as watching a breakdown of the game's mechanics. You're not supposed to shoot first, and the game takes every opportunity to remind you that's what you should be doing.

In the first ten hours you meet the two major players - the New California Republic (NCR) and Caesar's Legion - and the circumstances in which you meet them tell you a lot about who they are as factions.

You find the NCR struggling to protect an independent town, and you encounter the Legion, immediately after raiding a town and murdering all of the inhabitants.

And you can absolutely pick fights with both factions - you can make the mistake of pissing off the Legion and having hit squads of LARPers chase after you (which I did, frequently, and had to get used to fast travelling to get out of dodge).

But when you get to New Vegas, both major factions set aside the first ten hours, and tell you to meet with their leaders. A clean slate, and an invitation to organically broaden the scope of the game's story.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the message, and cruised the Mojave blasting people with the minigun I looted from a Nightstalker's corpse.

Or at least, I thought I didn't get the message, until I landed in Caesar's camp with a companion who wanted to speak with his gun - just like me.

As I chewed through legionaries, I wasn't shooting nameless, faceless goons. I was fighting people. With names. I entered Caesar's tent, and killed everyone inside - and was told, in sequence, about all the quests I never knew about, but had failed anyway, because I had shot first, asked no questions, and didn't let Caesar explain himself.

I could feel the game's disappointment in me that I hadn't let it tell its story.

Then I shot Benny in the back.

But Caesar's Legion are evil. Even without meeting Caesar, they crucify people, plant landmines under bodies, and practice slavery. The first time you encounter them, they've just finished burning a town to the ground. Of the factions you can support in the Mojave, they are not the option you pick if you wish to spread freedom and democracy.

But in the wasteland, things are rarely so black and white.

Much later, near the end of the game, I accepted a quest from a senior figure in the NCR, tasking me to go and exterminate the local Brotherhood of Steel Chapter. The game gives you a dialogue option to give peace a chance.

The game is telling you, through your own choice of dialogue, to think about what you're doing.

The NPC's response?

Don't even think about it. The Brotherhood is dangerous, and can't be trusted. Not even a second thought about the people you might potentially be gunning down without provocation.

And, lo and behold, as I entered the Hidden Valley bunker, and was asked to remove my gear, I said "no". Then I did my murderhobo thing.

I massacred an entire community of people who had the same right to exist as I did. I came to their home, shooting first, and this time, the game reminded me, every step of the way, that this was not right.

And as I returned to Hoover Dam, to report my successful genocide, the NCR gave me a pat on the back.

I felt wrong. I knew what I had done was immoral. And New Vegas knew that too. All without saying a word.

And the NCR don't stop at the Brotherhood. They told me on more than one occasion to destroy entire factions, because they present a threat, and were very sure negotiation was off the table.

The faction traditionally billed as the heroes, are perfectly happy sending you to commit genocide as an independent contractor. And to no-one's surprise, talking to those factions reveals a tapestry of complex motivations, often creating room for a peaceful solution.

Do you get it yet? Do I get it yet? Violence should be a last resort in a proper RPG.

It's the room for ambiguity, and presenting the world in shades of grey, that really draws you into the world. I was challenged to think about the decisions I had made, and that I was going to make.

Who deserved to control the Mojave? Why?
Did you do the right thing? Are you doing the right thing?

And yet, despite all this, I just don't know how I feel about New Vegas.

I think New Vegas is very similar to Undertale, in that it needs a second, or even a third playthrough to fully immerse you and tell you its stories. And cure you of your murderhobo tendencies.

My first playthrough convinced me that there was much more to see. I made many mistakes - including missing a huge chunk of story, thanks to exterminating everyone in Caesar's camp. But it left me with a desire to try again, plan ahead, and build a courier that isn't a murderhobo.

In fact, almost as if to remind you that you left plot threads unresolved, the game has a comprehensive epilogue.

I'm not even sure that the game being unable to cure me of my murderhobo tendencies until late in the game is its failing. At every turn, the player is presented with dialogue options that tell you there's more to the wasteland than violence. When the writers present you with lines telling an NPC that peace could be a chance - that's aimed at you, the player.

So consider this article a first impression, and a commitment to have another go at Fallout New Vegas in future, and soak up all of the game's story in its entirety.

Next on the chopping block to help in this fact finding is the Outer Worlds - Obsidian's next RPG, which I'm hoping will be able to tell me if it was me, or the Fallout setting.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

Critical Information Summary:
Review Platform: PC
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Cost (At Time of Publish): $8

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Regardless of what I think, however, there is certainly consensus amongst "the gamers" that New Vegas is one of, if not the best, role playing games. Whilst I'm not sure about that, I do think it is a title that invites you to play it over and over again, and really immerse yourself in the post-apocalyptic Mojave wasteland.