The desert feels desolate enough and the towns sufficiently empty and lacks good loot. I did complain about the game feeling empty, but I guess it's suppose to be this way since it makes sense that you find more stuff lying around in Fallout 3 because it's located in a major city.
Enemies are more vicious and tougher, it seems wiser to avoid them if possible.
I'm at the small settlement of Novac. New Vegas is probably a quest or two away.