Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect 2, the two most frequent contenders for Game of the Year 2010 awards across the gaming press, are fantastic titles and deserve the accolades…but I’ve put them down. Mass Effect 2′s ending was so anticlimactic that I don’t really feel inspired to go back unless there’s new DLC to pay through, and Undead Nightmare is giving me something to do with Red Dead Redemption but still isn’t compelling enough to keep the game in the drive of my Xbox 360.
For all its graphical bugs and quests that refuse to remove themselves from my active quest list even though I’ve completed them and other eccentricities, Fallout: New Vegas continues to hold my rapt attention after clocking 89 hours on my first character. I have to wrench myself away from the Mojave Wasteland to play titles for reviews, and it’s been weeks since I regularly played games online with my cadre of teammates. Looking back on it, I wish I’d given New Vegas one point over Red Dead when I voted in Kill Screen’s High Scores list for the best games of 2010.
I’ve been asked to review New Vegas for an independent gaming outlet, but after writing this column on Bitmob, I had to decline for the immediate future so as to stick by my guns. I know the ending to New Vegas is the ending, that there is no Broken Steel-type DLC coming to extend the game past the main, narrative arc, and so I have no intention of rushing through to the end. I’m enjoying myself too much to even think about.
In many ways I feel that New Vegas is superior to its predecessor, Fallout 3. I find the companion characters more compelling. The Courier’s actions and choices feel much more tied to larger consequences than those of the Lone Wanderer’s. Playing in Hardcore mode forces me to pay more attention to the little things. I have to think harder about the weapons I carry due to ammo having weight. The vastly-expanded crafting mechanics give scavenging increased meaning and importance. New Vegas is across the board more engrossing, and how better to assess the relative value of a role playing game?
Gameplay should trump all other considerations when it comes to reviewing titles in my opinion, and the combat in New Vegas on Hardcore is extremely unforgiving. I’m properly afraid of Deathclaws. Even at Level 25 and wearing power armor I don’t go rushing into confrontations with multiple enemies. When I hear the breathy call of feral ghouls from the darkness of a Vault, I’m often genuinely concerned. Combat drugs are a necessity more than a choice, and God forbid I’ve left my companions behind to run solo for a while. I think just as carefully about my sidekick’s armor and gear as I do my own, and I’ve had to re-load an auto save dozens of times because I didn’t pay enough attention to their health and allowed them to get killed by not jumping in with a quick dose of stimpacks.
I can’t speak to how New Vegas plays on any mode other than Hardcore, but I also can’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to play at that difficulty. Whereas I coasted through Fallout 3 like a deity towards the end of the game, there are portions of the map in New Vegas that I have absolutely no intention of ever setting foot in until I’ve max’ed out my level and have my skill in at least one category of weapon up to 100.
When I think about which titles from 2010 grabbed and held my attention in the most complete fashion there’s no contest, and that’s why I’m naming Fallout: New Vegas as my Game of the Year.