The Murky Genius of Fallout: New Vegas

Eurogamer's Tony Coles has penned an editorial on Fallout: New Vegas in which he argues that Obsidian's spin-off trascended the Bethesda title it's based on thanks to its murkier moral and ethical dilemmas and its thematical maturity. Interestingly, considering the very divisive reception at release, Coles is particularly fond of Lonesome Road, New Vegas' final story-based DLC:

There's so much to reminisce about in Fallout New Vegas. Meeting Mr House, abortive stealth-killing runs through Caesar's camp, the climb to Tabitha's radio station, running the Boomer's gauntlet, slaughtering the Powder Gangers in their pissy prison, solving the mystery of the Ultra Luxe, finding Chinese Stealth Armor at the Hoover Dam. Getting a new brain for an ailing dog, freeing the slaves at Cottonwood Cove, seeing the BoS in hiding and crisis, Vault 22. The DLC was pretty awesome too - Old World Blues was a deranged jaunt for loot (and where New Vegas took a rare step over the plausibility line), Honest Hearts was quite the landscape and Dead Money was intense, but New Vegas's hardened soul found a crystalline summation walking the Lonesome Road.

Here, New Vegas's grand vista narrowed into a winding corridor of desolation and decay, with a huge moral choice at the end. War is all too easily trivialised in video games. Such is the reduction of consequence, the appeasement of players who never want to restart anything, and the chase for sensationalist set-pieces. The increasingly chaotic landscapes of the Lonesome Road, from ruined military base into a city that felt truly shattered, seemed to pull Fallout's key theme into sharper focus. The sheer finality of a global nuclear exchange was no longer a backdrop, but comes to the fore. It was serious business.

In Fallout 3, you get to set off a nuke in the early hours of the game, to serve a rich elite and as a side-quest easter egg. At the end of the Lonesome Road, you get to set off a nuke to serve your moral alignment - or explicitly chose not to. To me, the tougher combat and the ruined, isolated canyon (becoming progressively more illustrative of the effects of nuclear war) pulled me into pacifism in a remarkable way. It was story, game and environment unifying to provoke something profound - the belief that no nuclear weapon should ever fly again.