[Note: The second page of this article contains spoilers for the ending of Fallout: New Vegas’ final DLC, Lonesome Road, as well as one of the game’s four endings.]
Despite the title of this piece, I will openly admit something; Fallout 3 is a hell of a lot more memorable than Fallout: New Vegas is.
There are a lot of reasons for that. Some of it lies in the nature of the world it sets itself in. Since its inception, the Fallout series has always been unique and attention grabbing. Aping the appealing visual stylings of classic 1950s science fiction and the disturbing tonal dissonance between the attitude 50s America had towards nuclear war and the reality of the war itself, Fallout was unlike anything else gaming had ever attempted as an industry. A lot of that also comes from that back in 2008, ten years had passed between Fallout 2 and Fallout 3, and the third game’s arrival had a similar shock-to-the-system effect that the original had, arriving in a slew of military shooters and brown colors.
But above all else, Bethesda just simply understood how to create places, events, and characters that instantly took to the imagination. New Vegas, at no point, musters an image as instantly iconic as Megaton, Rivet City, or Tranquility Lane, and no instantly memorable characters like Liberty Prime, Three Dog, or President Eden. In an industry where iconography and memorability matters as much as it does, that simple shorthand of Fallout 3 goes a long way. Especially since, mechanically, Fallout 3 and New Vegas are practically the same. Except Fallout 3 often actually just plays better.
I could simply lay my adoration for New Vegas at the feet of what it is: a genre mash of every single thing I love in fiction. The story of New Vegas is a science-fiction post-apocalyptic political western detective noir steeped in the iconography of 1950s Vegas, John Ford, and the Roman Empire. I can jaunt down a dusty Mojave road in a suit of power armor with a 357. Magnum, shoot an oncoming gone-mad helper robot, loot his metal pockets for microfusion cells, all to the tune of “Ain’t That a Kick in The Head” by Dean Martin. It may not be as instantly iconic as Fallout 3, but it hits every joy-puke synapse in my brain.
But the thing about that kind of adoration is that it is surface adoration, like the iconic nature of Fallout 3. Ultimately it helps, but it’s not the reason you enjoy your stay in a place. Enjoyment comes from a deeper satisfaction in an open world RPG, especially a Fallout game, and as hard as I try I cannot find that deeper satisfaction in Fallout 3 while I can in New Vegas.
Of course, that it is more or less a direct sequel to Fallout 2 probably has something to do with that. New Vegas is another chapter in the story of Western American civilization, one that started with the Vault Dweller and continued with his grandson/daughter, the Chosen One. The New California Republic has its roots in the actions of the Vault Dweller in The Hub, and it grew as the Chosen One did in Arroyo.
Those two games share something in common; they are effectively re-enactments of eras of American history that have already gone by. Fallout 1 revisits the American Revolution, with the fledgling free states of The Hub and Shady Sands up against the empirical Master and his quest for Unity. Fallout 2 takes a trip through the War of 1812, where the former masters of a land, The Enclave, come and annihilate the capital/origin of a state (Washington D.C./Vault 13), the end of which opens an era of peace…sort of. Like the best Fallout games, New Vegas is a re-depiction of a specific time in American history – the difference is that New Vegas is the darker part of our history, the part where we expanded West and acted a lot like the empire we defeated once.
This era is the period of American expansion, and specifically the era of Andrew Jackson’s Manifest Destiny. This is the least talked about dark time in America’s history, where we forcibly removed of hundreds of thousands of Native American tribes into places where we could control them via a new “Reservation” system. It is no accident that the various groups of people in New Vegas are referred to as tribes; it is because New Vegas directly deals with how we dealt with them, and the factions at play represent different aspects of America, then and today. The Legion is the power, fittingly coming from the East, that justifies its actions by saying they are necessary because they are superior; they are America under Jackson. The NCR is the cheap copout of now, saying that this needs to be done for the betterment of all–modern America. And House is the truth in the middle; that it’s all just for personal glory, in the end. There’s a fourth option, which I hold to be the correct one, but I will get to that. Promise.