Preview: Fallout: New Vegas

There is a lot of pressure on Fallout: New Vegas and Obsidian Entertainment. With Fallout 3 proving to be a firm favourite among gamers, is New Vegas always going to be compared to its predecessor or does it have enough additional material to allow it to stand out from the crowd?

There has been lots of talk about New Vegas feeling more like an expansion game rather than a full retail release and it’s easy to see why these opinions have formed. It’s created using the same engine as Fallout 3, it features exactly the same textures, the menus and interface are also exactly the same and the general game play appears to have no additions to it either. So, with that in mind, the story, characters, weapons, mods and enemies is where New Vegas will need to excel.

You actually begin the game dead. You’ve been kidnapped. You’ve been shot. Twice. In the head. Oh, and you’ve been buried and left to rot. But, luckily for us, you get better. Aided by a robot named Vegas Vic (the reasons for his help are unknown but will be revealed throughout the game), you are pulled from the ground before being taken into the care of Doc Mitchell. This rather kind chap is responsible for pulling the bullets and shrapnel from your skull and bringing you back to health.

The intro/tutorial of the game will see you waking up in Doc Mitchell’s house where you will be given the chance to change your facial features, age (anything up to 60), create your name and choose your Tags and Abilities. These are done in much the same way as before except this time you will have a ‘Vigour Tester’ machine and the Doc’s Rorschach tests to help you out. The results of these can be ignored if you wish to just hand pick the ones that sound best for you. Fans of Fallout 3 will be more than familiar with such things as bartering and combat-related perks. And that’s it. You are now free to roam the wastelands and begin your game. Obsidian have kept this section short, allowing veteran players to get on with the story pretty quickly as well as letting newcomers get stuck straight in.

At this point in the game you will be given the chance to enter ‘Hardcore’ mode. If you accept, you will notice some big changes to the game including ammo now having weight, Stimpaks healing over time rather than instantly and the need to carry water to avoid suffering from dehydration. If you find this mode too hard then you can switch to the normal difficulty at any time, but, once you do, you will not be able to return to Hardcore. Complete the game on this more challenging mode and there will be a special trophy/achievement waiting for you.

Out in the Mojave Desert, in the town of Goodsprings, you will notice a few differences for the Fallout universe. While the ruined, post-apocalyptic setting stays the same, the sky will be blue and small amounts of vegetation will cover the landscape. Its slightly brighter environment is attributed to the fact that Las Vegas was not as badly hit by the nuclear warheads as Washington was.

You will be given complete freedom over how you want to go about playing the game, so, whether you want to embark on a few tutorial-style missions or plough head first into the larger missions, it’s always your choice. One of the missions shown involved helping a man named Ringo fend off a group of attackers by getting other residents on your side in order to engage in a gun fight. Situations like this will also make use of your Tags. The Barter skill will allow you to be more convincing whilst something like the Explosive skill will allow you access to things like dynamite in order to make your life a little easier.

The locations are plentiful and varied. Primm – a small town encircled by a rollercoaster based on a real-life place. No Vac – under threat from Caesar’s Legion, home to Dinky the Dinosaur and amusingly titled due to a few letters falling off of a ‘No Vacancy’ sign. Black Mountain – a dark and dangerous place filled with mutants. There is also a location known as the Helios One Solar Energy Plant. Occupied by the New California Republic, Helios One was built during the pre-war years by Poseidon Energy (from Fallout 2) and currently isn’t fully operational. You can choose to help get it up and running and divert power to the NCR, or you can spread the power out across different locations, or you can choose to use the Archimedes II orbital laser to turn against the NCR.

Enemies will present themselves in many forms, as they always do. One of the more fun elements demonstrated was the different types of mutants and how they interact with each other. There’s the 1st Gen Mutants – Fallout 1 fans will recognise them as the Master’s Army – smart, tough and strong, and then there’s the 2nd Gen Mutants – Fallout 2 fans will recognise them from the Military Base in that game – not as strong and very stupid; the 1st Gen Mutants affectionately call them ‘Dumb Dumbs’. If you can pit one off against the other, all you need to do is sit back and watch the chaos. But you will have to keep an eye out for Night-Kins – mutants who utilise Stealth Boys.

There are two main factions in New Vegas – the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. The Brotherhood of Steel have also been mentioned although their role was not discussed. Your reputation with each faction will directly impact your game as some people will not speak to you if you are too friendly with a particular group. Favouring one over the other will automatically determine who your big enemy is, or you can go solo and face off against both the NCR and Caesar’s Legion.

Companions also return in Fallout: New Vegas but with some new features which should make interacting with them a lot easier. To demonstrate these we were introduced to a friendly Ghoul named Raul who agreed to help out with destroying a few Super Mutants. In Fallout 3, companions were instructed via the dialogue system – New Vegas sees the introduction of the Companion Wheel. It’s a simple idea but brilliantly executed. It allows you to tell your companion to take Stimpaks or trade equipment among other things. On this particular occasion Raul swapped his pistol for a lead pipe and wasn’t overly happy with his new weapon. That in itself added another layer of personality to the characters and if you got attached to Dog Meat or Fawkes in Fallout 3, you can expect to get equally attached to someone in New Vegas. You can also access your companion’s inventory and equip them with armour, ammo or additional weapons.

Giving a Raul a lead pipe is somewhat mean, especially considering the amount of guns that are available. Weapons at your disposal may have different names, such as the Cowboy Repeater and the Varmint Rifle, but they don’t seem much different to the Repeaters and Rifles of the previous titles. However, different guns will come with different bonuses. The Varmint Rifle, for example, will add extra critical damage as well as extra damage to limbs. Weapons can be upgraded on the fly, too. Add a scope and extended clip to a pistol and your arsenal will become more impressive. There are several high-level weapons which will help you out in high-level locations such as Black Mountain. One such weapon is the Grenade Machinegun. Load it up with a reel of 30 grenades and completely obliterate any enemies standing in your way. The game also has unique weapons that have been designed to stand out from the crowd. The All-American Sniper Rifle, to name one, has its own texture and unique look to reinforce the fact that it is a special gun to own. You will also be given a helping hand in choosing the right weapon for the right situation – a red shield will appear on the screen to indicate that the currently-equipped gun isn’t fully effective.

Making its return is the VATS targeting system which works in exactly the same way as it has previously. The kill cam that comes with a VAT kill is also an option that you can turn on or off during open gun-play.

The overall map size and game play length of New Vegas is comparable to Fallout 3 so depending on how you choose to play you can expect many hours to work through.

Despite all its similarities to Fallout 3, New Vegas introduces enough tweaks and modifications to warrant the stand alone full sequel release. It is a shame that the game hasn’t made any improvements visually as the textures and modelling do sometimes make it feel like you are looking at an older game. But are graphics the be all and end all? I certainly don’t think so. With brand new locations, enemies, weapons, and characters, New Vegas looks set to offer another great instalment of Fallout and it appears to offer the same level of fun and enjoyment as its predecessor. That’s not a bad thing, is it? And remember: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Fallout: New Vegas is developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Bethesda. Expected release: Fall 2010. Available for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.