[Editor’s Note: British spellings have been preserved upon request.]
Hey there, FemHype crew! Welcome back to “The Room Where it Happens,” where we take a look at some of the best areas in games — ones that serve as a microcosm for what’s great about the worlds that they belong to. This time around, we are travelling to the Mojave desert of Fallout: New Vegas and, specifically, to Novac.
Early in the game, you — as player character the Courier — will learn that the Mojave is a place that can slalom between deadly and welcoming. You begin the game by being shot in the head, but recover in the small town of Goodsprings thanks to the help of the local doctor. The people there are friendly and will give you money, weapons, medicine, and training until you are ready to head out into the wider wasteland. The first stop on this journey is Primm, which has been overrun by lawlessness after its sheriff was murdered. Not long after that, you are likely to stumble across Nipton, the site of a massacre perpetrated by the horrific Caesar’s Legion.
You would be forgiven, then, for fearing the worst of the wider Mojave. But just beyond Nipton you will see a massive statue of a dinosaur on the horizon. (Permit me an aside here, dear reader: that dinosaur is inspired by a real giant dinosaur in the Mojave, which is a creationist museum claiming humans lived alongside T. Rexes. The more you know!)
At the foot of the dinosaur, you will find Novac. It’s small and run-down, its walls formed by the shells of prewar buses and old tyres with many houses boarded up, but it’s also a home to a community. It has a shop, a doctor, clean water, and security. There’s an old gas station where you can fix or craft items and a ranch with friendly two-headed Brahmin. You might even make a home there yourself in one of the motel rooms.
Novac is emblematic of the communities that have managed to carve a place out in the wasteland, characterising New Vegas as less desperate and more homely than other Fallout games — for better or for worse. Personally, I think it’s for the better. The theme of coming together and making the best of it for everyone is central to New Vegas, and Novac is a symptom of that.
But things are not all well in Novac. Way up in the dinosaur statue’s mouth, overlooking the road, you might meet Craig Boone; this will likely be your first introduction to companions. Able to accompany you through the game and entirely carry you in combat (figuratively, though he is also a good suitcase for all the junk you actually want carrying), he is also consistently brooding on his tragic backstory (it involves a fridged wife, of course). He will ask you to find out who sold his wife, Carla, into slavery so that he can kill them.
Wasteland justice leaves much to be desired.
This quest is one of the examples of New Vegas’ nuanced ability to solve problems your way. You can accuse at least seven characters without evidence and have any one of them killed. However, if you do this, a high speech check is required to prevent Boone from refusing to work with you or even attacking you. If you do want to find the true culprit with evidence, you can do this through pickpocketing a key to a safe, picking the lock yourself, or by passing a speech check with a character dismissed by others as insane.
Each of these requires different builds, a bit of exploration and planning, and has a different outcome. Moreover, it’s built around people and investigation (or lack thereof) rather than being a fetch quest with a few raiders to shoot on the way. Quests like these form the crux of New Vegas and thus, Novac houses one of the earliest. It serves as an introduction to choice, consequence, role-playing, and world building.
It also demonstrates that people in the wasteland are not all they’d have you believe. The true culprit is the seemingly friendly little old lady who runs the motel, and who is the de facto mayor of Novac, Jeannie May Crawford. Yet despite her benign exterior, she sold Boone’s pregnant wife Carla into slavery for 1,500 caps – about enough to buy a lucky revolver, but less than Mr. House will pay for a snow globe — simply to preserve the quiet of the town against Carla’s complaints that she disliked it there.
But this is Fallout: New Vegas; the serious is mixed right in with the jovial. Below Boone’s sniper nest in the dinosaur’s mouth is the Dino Bite gift shop, run by Cliff Briscoe. Here you can buy useful items or, inexplicably, over a thousand tiny dinosaur and rocket ship toys.
Why Briscoe is in possession of so many of these trinkets — which are, by the way, radioactive — remains unexplained. They are, in fact, useful in another Novac-based quest in which you carefully balance the needs of nightkin, ghouls, and humans, use stealth, speech, and/or combat to solve problems, and eventually send a bunch of religious ghouls to space.
Fallout: New Vegas is a game of hundreds of areas, each crammed with multi-dimensional characters, big and small moments of story, and different moods and atmospheres. Novac is an early example of a place that contains a microcosm of all that makes the game so great, and it’s simply one of my favourite places in a game world to be. To a certain extent, that rented motel room will always feel like home.