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Fallout: New Vegas Preview

By Matt Cabral, 5/4/2010

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Fallout fans new and old set the Internet ablaze with speculation when Fallout: New Vegas, the latest entry in the post-apocalyptic RPG series, was announced just over a year ago. Most of the chatter has come from the latter group, optimistic the series could return to some of its pre-Bethesda roots because its developer, Obsidian, is comprised of some of the members that worked on the first two Fallout titles. Not another expansion or even a sequel to Fallout 3, New Vegas is a spin-off that, on the surface, might disappoint these old school vault-dwellers; New Vegas looks and plays much like its Bethesda-developed predecessor. That said, though, a few key additions and tweaks clearly have the classic fans in mind.

I got a glimpse at some of these new goodies at a recent Bethesda-hosted press event, and came away impressed by the potential for New Vegas to please Fallout fans of all stripes. Again, a cursory glance reveals a similar-looking game; it's being built with the same engine, so environments, characters and their animations could almost fool you into thinking this was a massive Fallout 3 expansion. Despite the similarities, though, the new western-themed setting definitely supports its own unique flavor. Rather than the various shades of gray that painted the Capitol Wasteland in dreariness, New Vegas sports a sun-soaked, sand-covered world that reminds me a bit of Borderlands, without the stylized cel-shaded look.

Of course, it's not all sprawling deserts and blowing tumbleweeds, as the title also does a fantastic job of capturing the look and feel of its setting with plenty of eye-catching touches. Small towns are dripping with Old West-meets-nuclear winter touches, government installations have an affective Area 51 flavor, and Route 66-like landmarks, such as a giant dinosaur statue, keep things interesting. Additionally, a look-and-touch approach is being taken with these presentation-pushing structures littering the dilapidated landscape. That giant dino, for example, doubles as a sniper's nest, allowing squatters to sit in its mouth, take cover behind its choppers, and pick off wasteland wanderers with ease. There's also a town that hosts a rickety old wooden roller coaster as its centerpiece. And again, this is an item that can be traversed or used to complement your strategic combat options. Also, I didn't get to see these areas during my demo, but the developers are promising plenty of surprises on the Vegas strip and at Hoover Dam.

As with the look of New Vegas, the gameplay is both familiar and unique. Receiving some of the most significant tweaks is the combat. Real-time action and VATS are still on the table, but now the latter can be utilized fully during melee combat. I got treated to a quick sample of this when the protagonist picked up a golf club and targeted a bandit's head in VATS; this yielded a very gory Fallout 3-esque animation that sent the poor bastard's head flying in slow motion in front of a trail of blood. Upon witnessing this, I definitely had to stifle the urge to shout "Fore!"

For those who prefer cleaning up the wasteland in real-time, Obsidian's also adding an adjustable slo-mo cam to non-VATS kills, so everyone can now enjoy cinematic-ly paced slaughter. The most significant upgrade to the combat, though, is the ability to pimp your arsenal and have changes physically reflected on your weapons; larger clips, scopes, and modified ammo can all be toyed with to craft the ultimate mutant-killers. To display this, Obsidian whipped out a Grenade Machine Gun that's exactly as advertised and as awesome as it sounds. This map-clearing baby could potentially be New Vegas' answer to the Fat Man.

These combat upgrades are probably a good idea given the dangerousness of the wild west-meets-Mad Max environments. In addition to towering beasties called Mutant Nightkins and Geckos--both call-outs to classic Fallout foes--you'll encounter plenty of other creatures and humans looking to piss on your parade. Fallout 3 was well populated with its share of colorful characters that wanted you dead, and New Vegas is no different. Warring factions with various agendas and motivations will keep you plenty busy and often face down in the dirt, but so will the occasional wandering psychopath or hungry bandit. But on the plus side, you'll also run into friendlies willing to help you out and even fight by your side. New Vegas aims to streamline the process of commanding and managing companions by adding an on-screen wheel that allows you to make quick selections represented by cheeky Pip Boy icons.

On top of these various enhancements, Obsidian is hoping to please more seasoned fans with a new Hardcore mode. Selecting this allows players to breeze through the initial character creation menus and other tutorial-type stuff, while also giving them a much harder game to play through. Challenge-ramping changes include Stimpaks that slowly heal over time (instead of all at once), ammo and gear that adds weight to your character, and a heavy reliance on staying hydrated under the hot sun--yes, you can die of thirst in New Vegas.

While Obsidian was enthusiastic about showing of their new title and all its bells and whistles, they were quick to point out they've still got plenty of secrets to reveal. The story, which finds your character left for dead as the game starts, is something I look forward to hearing more about, as is a more intuitive karma system which will supposedly better reflect NPC's' reactions to you. The developer teased some features and barely hinted at others (they coyly dodged a question about Dogmeat's whereabouts in New Vegas), but they did leave me wanting more. They closed the demo with a literal bang, as the protagonist activated a solar-powered laser that rained death on enemies like they were ants under a magnifying glass. Uh yeah, I think that might be something I want to try out when the game arrives this fall.



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