I'm only a mere videogame reviewer. Filled with youthful enthusiasm, it's true, but I understand my place in the world. Despite my many excellent ideas for games that are yet to be made, I know they'll go to the grave with me. Because, while I make a lot of noise about games, I don't actually own a publishing house or even a development studio. So how can I craft the games world into what I want it to be?
Sadly, I can't. The world will never know the joys of "Wigan: Cyborg Assault" or "Daleks vs. Dinosaurs vs. Capcom". Nevertheless, once in a while I make a fuss about a game and a sequel appears that neatly answers my gripes with a great big "How ya like me now, buster?"
Fallout: New Vegas is one of these rare gems. Let's face it, Fallout 3 was an instant classic two years ago, and I had very little bad to say about it. I moaned a bit about the low level cap and the way that you could make yourself a bit too comfortable. Et voila! 10 more character levels are available and a hardcore mode that forces you to constantly think about where your next meal is coming from.
Of course, that's not to say the problem has altogether gone away. Pretty early on you'll have plenty of money and plenty of supplies. In hardcore mode (which should really just be called ‘normal mode' as opposed to ‘rather easy mode') you'll always have to worry about keeping hydrated - and, to a lesser extent, fed and well rested.
So when I realised my Fallout prayers had been so completely answered, I was understandably well disposed to the game from the off. Enter Squeejo - a constantly drunk hardman with fists like hams and a notable lack of social skills. Because Fallout lets you play pretty much whatever you like.
Well, sort of, at least. Because when you get down to it, there's not a great deal of personality in the dialogue trees, and most of the character comes from those you're interacting with. The cast are all new characters, although there are a couple of nods to the early games in the Fallout series for those in the know. There are new factions to backstab, new towns to shamelessly plunder and plenty of new NPCs who will give you jobs to do as soon as look at you. So business as usual.
And that, my wasteland chums, is precisely where we're at here. Sure, there's a big bag of new weapons, a couple of small game tweaks and some new companions with their own strengths, weaknesses and uniformly mysterious backgrounds, but underneath it all you're looking at Fallout on a new map. With casinos.
...which is a good thing! We love Fallout, and it's a great world to lose yourself in for weeks at a time. We all know the rules by now - don't doggedly chase down the main plot when you can wander off the beaten track for the sheer heck of it; talk to everyone you see and promise to do whatever they ask, regardless of whether or not you actually intend to; amass as much useless stuff as you can then sell it all in one go to the nearest trader. The feel of wandering over the hill just to see if there's anything there is still as much fun as it was in Fallout 3, and fans will feel right at home. The main plot line trundles along well enough, although after a dramatic and interesting opening you're immediately plunged into the low-level world of vermin exterminating and message delivering.
The crafting system has been expanded, allowing you to cook up all manner of delicacies (and synthetic drugs) at any campfire you come across, so long as you have the right skills. I would have liked to have seen this system taken further really - making your own ammo is pretty cool, but making your own armour would have been cooler. Not to mention your own beer. Simple things, but I felt there was room there for improvement. Of course, this is Bethesda we're talking about here, so we'll be neck-deep in great mods in no time.
Remember when Fallout 3 was first released and it was really buggy? Somehow, New Vegas is just as CTD-prone as its predecessor. Not to mention getting stuck in the scenery. If it's built with the exact same engine as Fallout 3, shouldn't they have solved these little niggles by now? I had a whole conversation with one guy who was half-embedded in the ceiling of his office, constantly falling. Strange.
The casino experience is fun and diverting, although I couldn't shake the feeling that there could have been a little more variety here and there. Outside of the swanky casinos everybody plays Caravan, a rough-and-ready collectible card game using regular playing cards. It's a little tough to get the hang of at first, but once you've grasped the idea it's startlingly easy to beat everyone and amass a fortune very quickly. Still, it really helps with the immersive atmosphere and the feeling that everyone in the Mojave loves a bit of gambling.
Fallout 3 is a top game, and this is just another huge chunk of the same. That's a double-edged compliment, of course, because there's not a whole lot of real innovation here. It's more of a refinement of what makes the Fallout experience fun.
Bethesda are inching their way inexorably toward perfection.