After hours trekking across the wasteland, swatting away bloatflies and squashing hordes of ghouls, the end is in sight. Or at least Hoover Dam is. It's the intimidating final stage of Fallout New Vegas, and no matter your path until this point, you'll have to pick a side and fight an explosive battle to irrevocably change the fate of the Mojave.
A fate that is reported, rather than told, through a series of end slides - before you're taken to a save from before the battle. Ah.
It's a slightly frustrating ending, particularly when post-game content is so often used in RPGs to display the impact of a player's decisions. Even in Red Dead Redemption 2 (not an RPG), you can still find special encounters in the epilogue depending on whether you helped certain people in the past. It's possible to leave a tangible mark on the world, and it shows your decisions went beyond the moment to have long-term repercussions.
This is perhaps why the lack of post-game content Fallout New Vegas - which to me boasts some of the best narrative design in any game - feels like such a missed opportunity. Yet this abrupt ending wasn't Obsidian's intention. Post-game content was part of Obsidian's original plan for Fallout New Vegas, and had to be cut mid-development due to time constraints.
As a result, plenty of files for the post-game were left floating around for others to find - and fans have long been reading them like tea leaves to guess at what could have been. Some have created mods to allow players to explore the world even after the final battle of Hoover Dam. Most recently, a modder named Kazopert went above and beyond by creating the "Functional Post Game Ending" mod, which introduces additional NPCs, decorations, adds in the cut lines and removes others so the dialogue is compatible with each ending.
FPGE is probably the closest we've gotten to seeing a playable version of Fallout New Vegas's post-game. And just to be sure, I asked Fallout 2 and New Vegas writer Chris Avellone exactly what Obsidian's plans were for that content.
"The loss of post-game content was a big hit in many respects," Avellone told me over email. "It didn't feel like a compromise - it felt more like a surprise."
Back in the Beta stage of Fallout New Vegas's development cycle, the project was, in Avellone's words, "showing a lot of bugs and optimisation problems". Adding further complexity wasn't going to help matters, and despite plans being in place for post-game additions, not much work had actually gone into making the content. In some areas, in fact, no work had been done at all. It was at this point the decision was made to cut the post-game in its entirety.
"Designing post-game content is not hard to do if you're keeping it in mind with each NPC and quest as you're designing it (like doing a Karma check, faction check, or just another global reactivity check, which we had to do anyway) - sometimes all it needs is a post-endgame line," Avellone explained.
"But if you haven't planned for it throughout your design process for your areas and characters, it can be a lot of work to go back and add later on. And while some designers had planned for it - for example, our lead writer had lines for Mr. House in place for post-game reactivity and Strip Securitrons - not all areas had post-game design work."
Surprisingly, the additions planned for the post-game were actually fairly minor, with "minimal reactivity to the events of Hoover Dam". Some characters were to get special lines, and a few NPCs would spawn with specific post-game dialogue - but Avellone said the main intention was to allow "players [to] keep wandering the wasteland, explore the 'dungeons' and fight random encounters".
This also means those theories about special post-game quests - inspired by the discovery of mysterious quest files such as 'Viva Las Vegas' - are sadly incorrect. To Avellone's knowledge, nothing was planned "beyond reactive barks and a few potential NPC spawns in places to account for whichever faction was in charge of a certain area.
"Most of the focus was on 'how can we make this work after Hoover Dam' which wasn't an easy question to answer in each instance, especially with the existing amount of bugs (particularly optimisation issues) and the fact that lack of reactivity in faction-controlled territories required a good investment of work to make them feel minimally correct," he added.
Something that did make it to the final version, however, were the game's end slides - which were always part of the plan and remained unaffected by the post-game cuts. Similar to Fallout 2, the original idea was to show the player the slides before allowing them to explore the world afterwards with new content. Funnily enough, Avellone said even Fallout 2's end slides nearly got the chop, thanks to "pushback" against that as well.
"The lead designers thought about canceling that content, but that time, we were able to make it happen," Avellone stated.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine how Fallout 2 and Fallout New Vegas would have wrapped up without those end slides.
Despite getting the chop at the Beta stage, this wasn't quite the end for the endgame content. Obsidian later considered introducing it in a more round-about way: via the game's DLCs. This was partly inspired by player feedback and requests on the forums - but this route brought its own problems.
"When we were doing the DLCs for New Vegas... [we] began to look into if there was a way we could continue the player's gameplay after Hoover Dam", Avellone recalled. In less than a day, the lead level designer produced a sample save to demonstrate how this would work, but the team concluded they simply didn't have the resources to make it happen. According to Avellone, a "good chunk" of the DLC resources went into fixing the main game after release, something that "definitely impacted [the DLC's] development" and left little room for constructing the post-game.
And, on top of that, there was the risk of simply creating more bugs.
"The core game already had a lot of crashes and bugs, and was already being extensively patched during the DLC, so even if we implemented it, we doubted we could address any bugs that resulted from the change," Avellone explained.
"We did examine all the logistic impacts of doing post-game content with limited resources. But it was clear we'd be putting the already shaky game stability at risk by looking by creating post-Hoover Dam option, even in a minimal fashion. The most we could manage was level-scaling for key enemies (like the Legate) with the introduction of the new level caps in the DLCs, since the additional levels made the previous boss fights too easy for the player.
"That said, we did look at potential minor additions where we could - including a reserved save game slot before Hoover Dam (which we were able to do), and looking into adding Ulysses as a companion you could take back into the main game from the DLC. But an evaluation of that revealed that it would likely break a number of scripts (companion weapon removal, teleportation scripts), and even scripts for the other DLCs that automatically removed companions from your party.
"I even offered to pay for one of the milestones myself to allow for additional polish time on existing content, but that was refused because they didn't want to extend the release date for the DLCs."
So, that was that. While the crucial reserved save game slot before the Hoover Dam battle was added, the DLCs went ahead without post-game content, and were firmly based in the time before the battle for Hoover Dam (something even Kazopert wasn't able to reconcile in his FPGE mod - he recommends finishing the DLCs before attempting the final battle).
For Avellone, the sacrifice of post-game content was "necessary and right" in order to improve the core game's technical problems, even if the cut came as something of a surprise. Still, it's a feature he'd liked to have seen implemented.
"While it's not always feasible in all games to include the ability to continue playing after the end game, as a designer, I feel pretty strongly about letting a player to continue playing, especially in an open-world game," Avellone said. "When designing post-game content in Fallout 2, it was a fun way to keep the adventure going... as well as resolve any last threads or quests you might want to pursue."
It's fun to imagine what the post-game would have looked like: which ending would have changed the Mojave the most, and which would have felt the most appropriate? Avellone reckons Caesar's ending is "ultimately dull without strong reactivity in the Strip, although the tone is appropriately ominous". The most interesting option, in Avellone's opinion, is independent New Vegas, "since it adds more drama (and another, solid faction to the Mojave) and was more feasible with the existing set-up.
"The Anarchist option ends up being too vague to be interesting mostly because it's so dependent on a wide range of player actions that the 'results' for the Mojave might be difficult to discern," Avellone mused. "I say this as someone who prefers the Anarchist path, so not that I'm opposed to that result, but it would have definitely required much more work than the other solutions."
Someone else who knows a little about the New Vegas post-game (or one imagining of it) is obviously Kazopert, who told me he believes the Legion ending with Lanius in charge changes the wasteland the most, the reason being "Lanius is a brute that kills anyone who opposes him".
"This is reflected [in the mod] by most unique NPCs being gone (killed/enslaved) whereas Caesar would allow them to go about their business." A fair observation.
Of course, the strength of Fallout New Vegas is that there's no 'right' ending - and thanks to the FPGE mod, you can get a sense of what sits best with you. At the very least, the mod has certainly impressed Avellone.
"Kudos to Kazopert for his mod - that kind of work and investment is not easy to do, and at Obsidian, we didn't have the manpower to make that happen," he added.
(Kazopert says it took him about a month and a half of "continual work each day" to create the mod.)
To me, playing through FPGE was a strange experience: the tense struggle for power and main driving force behind the story is suddenly gone, and you're left to roam without clear direction. It's a great visualisation of the different endings, but ultimately the wasteland feels emptier than before - particularly if you've already completed all the side-quests and DLCs. More than anything, FPGE makes you realise just how much work Obsidian would have needed to put in to make the post-game feel reactive and satisfying. As Avellone said, it was probably the right decision to sacrifice it for the health of the main game.
For now, it seems the closest we'll get to Fallout New Vegas's post-game is the FPGE mod and its lonely, melancholy tone. But perhaps that's the perfect end for a Courier destined to wander the wasteland.