GamesCom: Fallout: New Vegas Hands-On

By Lee on September 2, 2010, 6:57PM EDT

Inheriting the reigns of the Fallout series is a double-edged sword at this point. On the one hand you have access to one of gaming's most-loved properties, the ability to build upon the revered work of Black Isle and Bethesda and the opportunity to follow-up one of 2008's best-selling, most critically lauded titles.

But on the other hand you have to keep both the hardcore and newcomers happy, stick rigidly to the blueprint set-out by other creative minds and live with the pressure of fervent expectation.

In the case of Fallout: New Vegas this task is made even harder by the technological limitations imposed on the game. Working on the same engine employed by Fallout 3, Obsidian have to create an entirely new experience while remaining tied to both the limiting aesthetic and dodgy animations of their predecessor.

What's more, they can't just get away with creating more of the same. Between the retail game and its DLC expansions, Fallout 3 offered a dizzying amount of content. Those that explored every nook, quest and cranny of the Wasteland must be few and far between. New Vegas demands something different.

So what have Obsidian done? Well, at first glance not a lot. The interface, your PIP-boy, the typefaces, the scrubby environment, those poorly animated characters. It all seems the same.

Indeed, it's only as you spend a little more time with the game that New Vegas' unique qualities reveal themselves. But the question remains, is it enough?

The demo we sampled recently allowed us to get to grips with the early stages of the game, introducing the characters and the world of New Vegas. It gave us a decent taster of what to expect come October.

Set three years after the events of Fallout 3, in the expanses of the Mojave desert, it's an slightly less bleak environment than the Capital Wateland. There's blue skies, for a start, and scrubby vegetation. It's hardly lush, but it plays along well with the series' Wild West subtext.

While Fallout 3 had you emerging from the claustrophobic confines of the vault into the wide-open spaces of the wasteland, Obsidian have taken a different approach. You are a courier, an everyday civilian of New Vegas society. Shot in the head during a seemingly routine delivery, you are left for dead, only to be rescued by a mysterious robot and taken to Doc Mitchell for treatment.

Mitchell, miraculously, brings you back to life and it's here that the character creation begins. This time around the doc will test your personality with a Rorschach test that provides suggestions as the skills you might take. Just like the school test in Fallout 3, you don't have to follow them, but it's a nice little twist on the norm.

With your character all sorted, dressed in a vault jumpsuit and equipped with a Pip-Boy interface, your next stop is the saloon at Good Springs. It's here you'll meet Sunny Smiles, the character that will offer all the tutorial quests.

At this stage you'll be offered to play Hardcore, the toughened difficulty mode Obsidian are talking up as one of New Vegas' key innovations. In this mode dehydration plays a factor as you'll have to drink regularly to keep yourself going, ammunition will weigh you down and stim-pack rejuvenation is slow and gradual.

It's basically a more realistic approach, one that should keep the hardcore roleplayers smiling. There's 100 achievement points up for grabs too, should you complete the entire game this way. Quite a challenge.

One of your first tasks around Good Springs is to hunt for Geckos. It's New Vegas' way of introducing the games' combat. While the VATS system of tactically pausing the action and targeting particular body parts remains identical, the actual real time shooting has been improved upon.

New Vegas has proper, down-the-sights aiming that feels much more responsive than in Fallout 3. You'll be spraying bullets around far less here, especially in the early stages. This is also because, rather than starting the game with poor skills and poor guns, New Vegas gives you decent equipment across the spectrum of weapons, pretty early on. As such, even at the beginning of the game you'll feel slightly more empowered.

The main quest to come out of Good Springs, revolves around the Bounty Hunter Joe Cobb. Along with his gang Cobb is holding the town to ransom. Defeating him, or joining him, gives rise to perhaps the most unique addition Obsidian have brought to the game, a reputation system.

So, for example, if you kill Cobb and free Good Springs from his clutches, you will become "Accepted," as "folks have come to accept you for your helpful nature." As such, the townsfolk's reactions to you will change accordingly.

This system feeds into the conflict at the very core of the narrative. As your reputation grows, be it good or bad, you will become part of a power-struggle between New Vegas' two main warring factions, the New Californian Republic and a group of slavers called Ceaser's Legion. Your choices will decide who your ultimate enemy is.

So there you go, a refinement rather than a revolution. Whether New Vegas provides enough to keep the formula fresh is largely down to personal taste. The additions and tweaks we've seen so far are thoughtful and considered, and genuinely welcome, but they're hardly a reinvention. Whether Obsidian's low-risk approach will pay off is yet to be seen. We'll find out next month.

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