Warning: spoilers for Fallout New Vegas lie ahead…

The Fallout series is set in various locations around the former USA, a couple of centuries after civilisation ended in a nuclear apocalypse. For New Vegas (the fourth in the series), we focus on the Mojave desert. At its heart lies Vegas itself, miraculously largely untouched by the destruction that ravaged the rest of the country. Around the city are small towns populated by hardy, self-reliant folks. The Mojave is a dangerous place, afflicted by radioactive monsters and marauding tribes of raiders, but society is slowly rebuilding itself. The question is, what direction will this progress take? A return to the economy and governance of yesteryear, or something else?

Three major actions are pitted against each other, each working to a very different ideology As you work through the game’s main quest line, you can choose to support any one of the three, gaining their favour but potentially earning the enmity of the others. Alternatively there’s a fourth “screw you all” option. In the grand finale, you decide who will finally control New Vegas and the Mojave.

First there is the New California Republic. The nearest thing around to a present day nation state, it boasts core features of pre-war civillisation such as a market economy and a democratically elected president. As it expands into the Mojave it brings infrastructure such as irrigation and the railway to improve peoples’ lives. It also deploys soldiers to defend against the many threats that exist.

So life under the NCR is certainly more secure and stable than independence for small towns in the desert. Still the new citizens grumble about onerous tax burdens that they must pay to have the soldiers watch over them. They also question just how well it can administer and protect its outlying territories. While it the NCRs the most benevolent of the major powers at first, when you look more closely the NCR is revealed to be over-stretched, inefficient and corrupt.

Meanwhile Mr House, the enigmatic current ruler of New Vegas itself, seeks to establish the city as a beacon of technology and prosperity. A steady flow of travellers, spending money in his casinos, bolsters his wealth and resources. Meanwhile his army of advanced, pre-war robots keep the streets safe and quiet, and make the city a difficult target for would-be invaders. House is a cold, intellectual autocrat who has no time for the messy democracy of yesteryear. Yet he is not a cruel despot. He has no desire to interfere in people’s lives, so long as they obey the law.

Then there’s Caesar’s Legion, modelled after the armies of ancient Rome. The Legion has conquered dozens of primitive tribes, discarded their cultures and absorbed them into itself. Young men are forcibly conscripted, and put through a gruelling training regemin that turns them into highly proficient soldiers. At the same time, they indoctrinated to be totally loyal to Caesar, living only to uphold the ideals of the legion and expand its territories. Women are also enslaved and put to work in support roles. Worse, they are used as breeding stock, providing the next generation of Legionaries and slaves.

The Legion controls much of what was once Arizona, New Mexico and Colarado. Now, it’s pushing into the Mojave, standing in direct opposition to NCR ambitions in the area. It has attacked several towns, razing some to the ground. Many unfortunate souls have been carried off as slaves; both a source of labour to help keep the Legion fighting, and a means to terrorise the population. Ultimately, if the Legion can capture New Vegas, it will be Caesar’s Rome. From there he can gather the strength and resource to attempt an invasion of the NCR itself.

The Legion generally eschews advanced technology, and generally favours simple and proven weapons. Most legionaries either wield swords and axes, or carry basic firearms such as bolt action rifles. Their signature armour, gives them a resemblance to their namesakes of antiquity, but seems to be mostly built out of sporting gear.

You might think the better equipped NCR forces hold a significant advantage. However, Legionaries are devastating when they can engage their enemy at close quarters, thanks to their physical strength and ferocity. Meanwhile, superior discipline means they never falter, and obey any order regardless of risk. Also, for all its shows of brute strength, the Legion will readily use guile and underhanded tactics. For example, they destroyed one NCR base in the Mojave by sending infiltrators to irradiate it with nuclear waste.

At face value the Legion seems utterly repellent. It’s hard to see why you might want to support a marauding army of slavers, unless you’re actually playing as an outright villain (which doesn’t interest me). There’s just a glimmer argument in their favour, when we’re told how safe their territories are. Apparently the raiding the plagues other regions has been totally suppressed. Unfortunately, we never actually see Caesar’s domain for ourselves. The game map shows us only the Legion’s military camps, on the edge of their territory.

Reading comments from Joshua Sawyer, director of New Vegas, it seems he would have liked to show us more of life under Caesar’s rule. There are civilian towns and settlements where life is quiet and productive. Unencumbered by bureaucracy and corruption, and always ready to deploy its soldiers, the Legion is effective in providing security and stability. There are reliable supplies of food, water and even electricity. Crime is unheard of.

Unlike the tribes that were consumed to build the Legion itself, or victims of recent expansion, these people are not slaves. However, Caesar’s civilians subjects have no rights, and no say in how they are governed. Whenever the legion makes some demand of them, they must obey immediately. No questioning of authority is permitted. The punishment for any transgression is swift execution.

The three factions represent different takes on questions of liberty and security, and it seems the Legion is meant to represent the effective and utilitarian imposition of order. Perhaps that’s the fastest way to re-establish civilisation amidst the strife of the times. Maybe some guy scrabbling for a living in the wilderness would say screw this, I have no control over my life anyway, at least the Legion will keep the radiers away.

I do think a story is enriched when the villains turn out to have a valid point or two. Still, even with this expanded context, I doubt I will support the Legion on any future replays. Whatever sort of peace they bring does not justify their barbaric methods.

Anyway, one person who harbours a particular vendetta for the Legion is Craig Boone. A former NCR sharpshooter, he now works as a guard at a dusty frontier town. He spends his days staring out into the wilderness, watching out for raiders, bandits and of course any activity from the Legion itself.

Like several other NPCs, you can recruit Boone to join you on your adventures. He’s a loyal companion and seems like a decent guy, but he’s also grim and taciturn. He speaks little of his past but clearly something about his experiences has traumatised him, leaving him a hollow shell of a man. There seems to be little motivating him to keep going, beyond his hatred for the Legion.

Over time, his story is slowly revealed. He has some harrowing memories from his time in the military, particularly a botched attack on a raider gang. Due to bad planning and poor communication amongst his superiors, Boone found himself witness to a massacre, where innocents were killed instead of the gang’s warriors. However, the greatest wound to his soul was the loss of his treasured wife Carla.

She was the one who brought calm and joy to his life, helping him to forget the horrors of his military life. After he left the army, they enjoyed a few years happiness together in Novac. These came to an abrupt, tragic end when she was taken from him by Legion slavers (in fact, sold to them by another of the townsfolk). Boone followed the Legionaries but was outnumbered and unable to save his beloved Carla. So instead, to save her the horrors of a life of slavery, he ended her life with his sniper rifle.

Back in the present, it’s quite possible for the player to enter the Legion encampment, the base for their expansion in the Mojave. Depending on your current relations, either you can simply stroll through the gates, or you will have to fight your way in. Beyond the orderly rows of tents, and the multitude of Legionaries, you will find Caesar himself in his personal tent. There’s the leader of this hateful regime, right in front of you, and there’s nothing to stop you from attacking him.

Well, you might want to stay your hand if you’re not ready. It’s a tough fight against Caesar and his well-equipped, elite soldiers. So you might want to wait until reasonably high level, and equipped with decent weapons and armour. An ally would be a good idea also, so it seems natural to bring Boone along for the fight. He, more than anyone you know, would love to see Caesar dead.

When finally the dictator falls, it’s a moment of real triumph. That monster, who has brought so much bloodshed and misery, who has used countless men and women as disposable tools to in his quest for power, lies dead in the dirt. Boone sums it up perfectly:

“Thumbs down, you son of a bitch”

This doesn’t actually effect the course of the game’s main quest at all. As Boone himself points out, Caesar had appointed successors ready to take command of the legion. Still, at least you’ve struck a symbolic blow against tyranny. Furthermore, for Craig Boone, some justice has finally been served. Where he goes from here depends on other choices you make; at the end of my game he re-enlisted and spent his career hunting slavers. Perhaps not a peaceful life, but a worthwhile one and amongst the most positive of the available options. It’s not like he was going to settle down to a life of farming.

There’s much I enjoy about New Vegas (and its predecessor Fallout 3): the open world that provides hours of exploration. The retro-futurism like something out of pulp 1950s scifi. The dash of humour, like the Elvis-themed gang operating out of New Vegas. Yet little stories like that of Craig Boone add some poignancy, amidst the roaming, questing and shooting. It’s a tale of personal tragedy woven into the broader picture of the struggle for power. On that day I brought about Caesar’s demise, I’m glad Boone was by my side.