Fallout: New Vegas is a drastically different game from when it was released in Fall 2010. There is a robust offering of mods (including Nexus Mod Manager, which saves me from much of the tedium, confusion, and danger of modding) that has made exploring the Mojave Wasteland more beautiful, more intense, and much more meaningful.
I got a new PC this year, one that allows me to finally play Skyrim. However, as much as I enjoy Skyrim, I kept feeling there was something missing. It had everything it should need to get me hopelessly addicted and lost in its world, but that wasn’t happening. Then I realized that the feeling I was chasing was what I got from playing New Vegas, so I jumped back in. And of course, now I’m hopelessly addicted to New Vegas.
This post focuses on gameplay changes and some mods that are integral in making the game the way I want it. There are tons of other essential mods, such as performance mods, graphics mods, and tweaks. I don’t have a lot to say about them, so I’ll just refer you to GophersVids NV Mod Clinic (updated for the Ultimate Edition), which should be your first destination when modding New Vegas. He explains how to mod your game and highlights some excellent and essential mods.
Without a doubt, the strongest aspect of New Vegas is the setting, the Mojave Wasteland. Much of my enjoyment of the game comes from how connected I feel to the wasteland, through its landscape, people, and objects. Hardcore Mode, which isn’t a mod at all but included in the game itself, is vital to how in-game objects bring the setting to life.
Vanilla New Vegas: Carry food and water to heal, until you are stocked up on Stimpaks.
The most notable changes in Hardcore Mode are Hunger/Thirst/Sleep and bullet weight. Hunger/Thirst/Sleep adds a rhythm to the in-game days, as well as adds value to the way that edible and potable items contribute to the setting—it makes you notice how rare these vital resources are. It adds a new measure of wealth by adding value to food and drink that can’t be measured in caps. Early in the game you may be scrounging for food and water (if you’re not willing to steal). It’s a big deal when you stop to eat on a long adventure—”wulp, I guess it’s Blamco Mac ‘n’ Cheese and this piece of corn tonight.” Later in the game you come to take for granted the mundanity of coming home after a finishing your quests and grabbing another Gecko Steak from the fridge.
Vanilla New Vegas: Take All, sort into “Ammo I Use” and “Ammo I Sell.”
Like food and water, bullets become a more integral part of the setting when you’re more conscious of how you use them and how much you can carry. I can no longer carry every bullet I find in my constant rummaging across the wasteland, and any extra ammo I carry means less loot I can pack out.
Ammo weight, I hope, makes me fight smarter, making me think about how I use each gun. I need to make my shots count, both in accuracy and weapon/ammo choice. It also works as a long-term measurement for how rough a particular excursion was; more bullets used typically means tougher fighting, for various reasons. And if I was sloppy with my shooting, I’m going to notice it after the battle when I have less ammo than expected.
Vanilla New Vegas: Stand still and shoot until everything is dead; if health gets low, pause and heal.
While the above are the most notable changes of Hardcore Mode, the most important is healing over time. This simple yet drastic change means that Stimpaks no longer mean “Insert Coin to Continue Playing” when your health gets low. Now, you have to manage to not get shot long enough for the Stimpaks to have an effect. More on healing later; first we have to make sure there’s the necessity to heal.
When I mentioned the rarity of food, drink, ammo, and healing items, I’ve got Jsawyer to thank. Hardcore Mode does not reach its full potential without this mod. Sure it makes the game harder, but the reason I love it is because it makes the game harsher. You’re fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—should it really be easy?
It’s got many many tweaks (rundown of the initial features here), but two that enhance Hardcore Mode are drastically reduced health and carry weight. Reduced carry weight balances out the rarity of essential items, but also makes deciding how much to carry much more significant. Again, this all contributes to a feeling of being more rooted in the setting, more like a part of the world.
Before Jsawyer came along, I used XFO to do many of the same things. I like what Jsawyer does better, but the lovely thing about XFO is that it’s entirely modular and I can keep what isn’t made redundant by Jsawyer. And these few remaining XFO mods are the core of how I prefer my New Vegas gameplay.
I have a simple goal in modding the combat of New Vegas: getting shot hurts. It’s funny how far vanilla New Vegas really is from that idea.
With fewer bullets at my disposal due to Hardcore Mode’s ammo weight, it makes sense to increase their damage. XFO’s brilliant weapon mechanics changes tie accuracy to character skill and weapon damage to weapon condition. It not only makes bullets hurt more, but means you’re going to have a hard time hitting anything without any skill, which is a big deal with a more limited supply of ammo.
Armor changes, which Jsawyer also does but I keep XFO’s because they add DR to some sets, make it so the type of ammo you use matters more. You need to be aware of ammo’s DT modifiers depending on baddies’ heavy, medium, or light armor.
Who’s shooting at you anyway?
Not the same baddies you remember from vanilla New Vegas. With Increased Wasteland Spawns, there are something like 3 to 5 times as many enemies per encounter. WARZONES creates even more places where you’ll encounter these 3-to-5-times-more-enemies. And with Modified Combat Values, those 3-to-5-times-more-enemies-in-more-places-across-the-Wasteland are going to be a lot better at shooting you.
The result is that the most dangerous and intense parts of the game are when I’m traveling to a new location. Someone gives me a new quest marker off in some part of the map I’ve never been? I have to plan for that now. I have to take all the ammo and heals I can carry. I’m going to have to go through crowds of nasty people ready to hurt me with their shooting.
If I’m unlucky, there will be Cazadors.
So getting shot hurts. Then what? Well, you need to stop getting shot.
So you run. You need time to heal and baddies have flushed you out of your cover. Sprint Mod is going to help you there; while it was originally a standalone mod, it’s now among the many enhancements in Project Nevada. While sprinting is an advantage that isn’t available to your AI-controlled enemies, it makes for very exciting escapes.
But sometimes you need to escape and the parts of you that got shot just don’t work that well anymore. XFO is also responsible for my favorite cripple effects mod (it’s actually not included in the latest download, but you can nab it from a previous version), which adds severe effects to injured limbs. Crippled legs slow you down significantly (down to 33% movement speed with two crippled legs), which is dangerous combined with the need to move to new cover in order to heal. Crippled arms make aiming much more difficult, while a crippled torso causes you to be stunned easily.
Where this all falls short is in healing injured limbs, because Doctor’s Bags and Hydras heal the limbs immediately. That means the player is able to pause, administer one of those, and then continue as if the limb injury never happened. What I’d like to see (and is probably beyond my modding capabilities), is for both Doctor’s Bags and Hydras to restore limb condition over time, like Hydras already do, but not heal the limb until it’s fully restored, rather than immediately upon use. That would at least force the player to play with the injured limb for a time.
What would be even better for restoring limbs and healing in general would be for healing to require in-game time, similar to Left 4 Dead. One second to use a Stimpak (I’m imagining the animation from BioShock or L4D’s Adrenaline animation), and 2 to 3 seconds for a Doctor’s bag (like the First Aid in L4D). It would mean the player has to find shelter during a fight long enough to heal and for them to take effect.
I don’t have those right now, but I can force myself to play that way. When I’m injured, I don’t pause and heal (or use my Stimpak hotkey) or tend a broken limb unless I’m in a position where it seems reasonable. I die because of it sometimes, of course. I’m making it hard on myself because I want recovery to be an important part of combat. I want near-death to be memorable. And it works.
Fallout: New Vegas is a great game. It was the day it was released (assuming you could play it—I was lucky to not have the technical issues I read so much about) and it’s even better now thanks to its modding community. It makes me think it’s best to wait a year after games like it and Skyrim are released, because they have so much potential to improve. It’s amazing how free I am to make the game the way I want it. Something about being a walking arsenal, stomping my way across the wasteland, didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t feel like a person living in the wasteland. Now the wasteland is alive and dangerous, but I can still master it.