Although Fallout 3 will inevitably go down in history as the classic in the modern Fallout games (it deserves to because it was awesome and it did spectacularly well at resurrecting the series) for me New Vegas took the formula and improved on it and gave us a stronger game. Where Fallout 3 was a lonely adventure, filled more with mutants than humans, New Vegas focuses more on the human element with you interacting with the various factions that have formed from the remnants of mankind as they desperately try to re-establish some semblance of civilisation.
This human factor, coupled with the fact that your motivation in the story begins as simple revenge, makes it easy for the player to connect with the story, to truly experience and understand the harshness and desperation of post apocalyptic life. Where Fallout 3 was cold and desolate, lonely and empty, New Vegas is desperate and violent, intoxicating and terrifying and you aren't always alone. When you are alone in the bottom of a half flooded mutant ridden vault it's hard not to panic from the fear of not being strong enough to get out alive, you are weak and alone, but then on the surface you can find a companion and blaze a trail through the world of New Vegas, feeling like you belong, like you have real power.
Of course none of this would matter if the game didn't handle well and look good. Thankfully it does both superbly well. The mechanics from the third game remain intact but have been modified and tightened up to provide a far superior experience to the one that you find in the games' predecessor. The graphics have also been improved. The world seems more varied this time around and the power of the graphics engine means that the harshness of the landscape can truly be understood. It also means that there is a strong urge to explore. You might see a tower in the distance and it's virtually impossible to resist the urge to go and see it, to see who or what is there, what it is and what you can find there.
In a way this is the game's single biggest strength. The story is fantastic and is gripping from start to finish but it's the desire to stray from the beaten path, to turn a quick play through into a session that lasts for well over a hundred hours that makes the game truly great.
Whilst there are many RPG franchises and whilst many of them are great none of them quite capture the same feelings that Fallout can give you, none of them seem so deep and enjoyable and although they are still highly playable there is always the nagging feeling that it isn't quite Fallout. Roll on Fallout 4.
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