Fallout 3 is my favorite console game to date. So it was a forgone conclusion that I would buy Fallout: New Vegas. The main reasons I like these games are for the things that no other game has: Wide open exploration and open ended RPG elements, in an environment that's *not* in a fantasy genre, oh for fuck's sake is that too much to ask? Fantasy's never really gunned my engine. I lost interest in Dragon Age very soon into the game because of this. Also, the games are long. They're very involved. You can spend a total of 100 hours exploring, interacting, and doing quests. If you need non-stop action to keep your attention, you won't like these games. If you need stomach-high crates and walls to greet you in a room so you know where the firefight is going to take place, you won't like these games.
There are good and bad things about these games, unfortunately. I've heard different problems from different people who seem to have completely different experiences than myself. I purchased Fallout 3 for the PS3, so I picked up F:NV for the same platform. I heard people were having trouble with load times, even with the game installed on the console's HD. I can say I've had no issues with the load times. They're comparable to those from Fallout 3 and really aren't longer than a few seconds. I honestly haven't had a load time longer than perhaps seven seconds, and those have to do with entering very large areas. Most structures only have load times of two or three seconds. Some people say the game is "boring" because you walk around a lot and explore. But I love exploring, so I'm biased. I love a game that gives me a huge area to walk in and instills in me the human desire to see what's over the next hill, or to find out what that odd looking structure on the horizon is.
If you liked Fallout 3, you'll like New Vegas. The terrain causes the game to seem less open than F3, since there are considerably more mountains to block an otherwise unobstructed path to wherever you want to go. You won't be able to dive into the big city right away, and you'll be roaming the desert, building up experience and getting a reputation along the way. The effects of Karma seem to be reduced. You'll get notices for Karma loss or gain, but it doesn't seem to have much affect beyond that. Otherwise, there are various factions and townships in the Mojave Wasteland that will hold you at various levels of esteem based on your behavior toward them. Other than this, everything about NV is roughly the same as everything about F3, with a few minor tweaks here and there.
You don't have to go through a childhood phase first, or a growing up phase stuck in a vault, which was one of the more boring parts of F3 to get to before being "let out" to play in the real game. You're a character with history, already, shot and left for dead, but saved by a mysterious robot and a helpful town doctor. The starting tutorial missions are very brief and well disguised, and you can pretty much plunge right into the meat of the game from there.
Hardcore mode is an optional setting that makes the game just a little more realistic. I say "just a little more" because it's still a video game. In hardcore mode, ammunition has weight. So dragging around two thousand rounds of your favorite assault rifle ammunition, as you could in F3, is actually detrimental. You also have to keep your character hydrated, fed, and rested. This is actually a nice touch, since in F3, the only benefit to a bed was the ability to gain extra experience by being "well rested". Otherwise, food and water were nothing more than a way to regain lost hit points if you were out of stimpacks and didn't mind the radiation. Because I'd stockpile stimpacks and had a very cautious approach to battle, I could ignore all food and water throughout F3. Hardcore mode is a little misleading, however. It's not hard. Food and water, even purified water, are very plentiful, and your need for food and water don't really stack up as quickly as you might think. The New Vegas area is less devastated than DC, so there are actually water springs that aren't irradiated. People are even growing crops, so you can pick up fresh food like corn and apples, and pick things off of wild plants and eat them without picking up radiation. I've only had my perception statistic degraded on one occasion by forgetting to sleep. But otherwise, finding bedding isn't difficult either. In hardcore mode, treatments, such as Rad-Away and stimpacks, only heal over time, instead of instantly. This may change the way some people fight with a huge cache of hot-buttoned stimpacks being pressed constantly while charging ahead into machine gun fire to deliver that deadly blow with your power fist. This hasn't really changed how I fight, since I tend to level up stealth statistics early, and give my character a high perception trait, so I almost always see my enemies first and can plan how combat will be initiated.
I'm not sure if I'd count "iron sight mode" as a good thing or a bad thing. Since Fallout is, at its heart, a dedicated roleplaying game series, adding the ability to aim with iron sights seems like a cheaty way to get around the character's stats and skills. There were areas where hitting a gentleman at range with a hunting rifle would have been a matter of chance in VATS. But I could score consistent hits with the iron sights, pretty much killing the hapless target due to the surprise attack bonuses.
Normally when you read up on a game you're playing and enjoy, and read up on a list of "known bugs", they are obscure things that you may never encounter during your personal gaming experience. Rest assured, you will encounter bugs when you play F:NV. That's just the way it is. It's very disappointing that they carried over all of the problems with F3 (it had problems, despite how awesome it was), seemingly without even trying to address them. The game's engine is prone to certain bugs concerning the terrain. When exploring mountains, there are places where you can get stuck inside the terrain. There are times when the game will just freeze. It's rare, but it's happened twice in my 40 hours of play. Save often. There was one time when animals would shoot up into the sky after being attacked. There are places where creatures are "stuck" inside terrain and obstacles, unable to attack, and unable to be attacked. These were all things I encountered in F3, and I would have imagined two years later the issues might have been addressed. It's disappointing that these things still plague a fantastic game. I'm wondering if they can be debugged, or if they are integral to the game engine being used. These kinds of things are inexcusable when they are almost definitely going to be encountered by everyone who plays the game and they have been known issues for years, now. There are many more mountains around Vegas than there were out in DC. As a result, there are small cliffs and terrain features that feel more restricting than the DC map from F3. There are whole mountains you simply cannot get over. You have to go around them. I wouldn't mind this, if they weren't sometimes misleading. There are terrain features that indicate pathways up to the tops of hills in some areas. The same pathways exist on non-passable mountains, too, and when you take them, you simply hit an invisible wall. That seems very sloppy.
How bitter can I be about these things? They could be common and unavoidable issues in a game that gives you a gigantic map where you can roam in almost any direction and encounter parties at completely different times. Few other games give you anything close to this option. When I play a game like Gears of War or Halo 3, I feel like I'm sleepwalking through it, because, well... I am. And the reason is because F3 raised the bar on how interested I can get in a game that tells me to plan where I'm going to go and how I'm going to fight and interact with other people. How hard is it to put together a game like Gears of War vs F:NV? It's not an excuse for everything, but it does give me a greater tolerance for manually saving my game every ten minutes.