There was a point while playing Fallout: New Vegas when I said to myself, "OK, this is going to be fun." Up until that point, I hadn't been sure. I enjoyed Fallout 3 (300 hours in and still counting), and all of the Fallouts that had come before, so there was no reason why I shouldn't have enjoyed this game, but yet, I wasn't sure. There was just something ... different.
In Fallout: New Vegas, you will play as a courier who's been shot and left for dead. Your mission: Find the men who shot you. That's it. Nothing so lofty as saving (or ending) the lives of all of the residents of the Capital Wasteland, or finding a water chip your family needs to survive. In New Vegas, as befitting a game set in the City of Sin, your objective is revenge.
Along the way, however, you will explore a wasteland as rich and varied as that of any other Fallout game. The colors are brighter, the mood lighter, but this is Fallout as you've always known it - perhaps better. You will encounter The New California Republic, who, having tamed California, have carried their humanist spirit east into the Mojave Desert. You will also meet Caesar's Legion, a slave army led by Caesar, a would-be warlord king.
As you search for the man who done you wrong, these two great forces (and others) will wage battle for control of the Mojave and the still-functioning Hoover Dam, arguably the most important piece of real estate in the world. You will travel to blown-out Western towns like Novac, built around a motel and a dinosaur tourist attraction, and Nelson, a town being overrun by Caesar's Legion. You will meet many people in your travels who will call upon you for help, but whether you come to their aid or not is up to you. You can barrel through this land on your own personal quest or you can take sides (any side) and make the Mojave Wasteland a better - or different - place.
What makes New Vegas satisfying is not how much choice it gives you as the player, but how much it limits you. You cannot, for example, trudge through the wasteland willy nilly without encountering some severe obstructions, whether those obstructions are impassable mountains or unbeatable creatures. You can explore, just within limits. You will need to be wary of your surroundings and cognizant of your abilities. Yet, even if you do nothing more than simply follow the main story, you will still explore a generous chunk of the wasteland, which makes the smaller side missions and random encounters feel more like gems in the rough that enhance your play when encountered, rather than missed opportunities you have to seek out.
Yet all of this is subtle. You won't feel this after only a few hours. What will hit you in the face like a ton of bricks as soon as you start playing New Vegas is the fact that this game has a sense of humor. This is as evident in the overt quirkiness of Novac's gigantic Dinky the Dinosaur as it is in the subtle touches that grace practically every element of the game. Gone is the dreary stodginess of Fallout 3, in which even the rare bit of humor added to the overall sense of doom. New Vegas, by contrast, seems content to let the misery of a post-nuclear wasteland speak for itself, and focus instead on the dark humor that makes living in that world interesting in and of itself aside from the archeological fun of seeing familiar places as they would look post-apocalypse.
The humor was what put me off, to be honest. Fallout 3 was many things - some good, some bad - but it was never hokey. I was afraid New Vegas, by contrast, with the injection of a vibrant sense of dark humor and awash with more colors than brown, would be hokey. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Step after step and encounter after encounter, the Mojave Wasteland astounds with its understated charm. In one corner of the map you may find a regiment of NCR rangers slowly turning to ghouls from overexposure to radiation although they don't know it. In another, a mutant driven to insanity by the thoughts of cows. In still another, the diary of a man who's lost everything, even the will to live. Even your own story, that of a hapless courier shot and left for dead for the trinket he was carrying, is tinged with multiple layers of interpretation. The game is in turns poignant, funny and desperate, and just enough of each so that all can be observed.