Fallout New Vegas gameplay preview

Hands-on: A safe bet for RPG fans

Is that a cactus? Like, a real, living cactus? In a Fallout game? That was the first thought racing through our minds as we breathed
in a virtual lungful of fresh air in New Vegas. And that sky... there's something odd about it. Oh, yeah: it's brilliant blue, and not murky, East coast grey.

Fallout, you've changed. Well, in some respects anyway. With New Vegas, Bethesda (and new developer Obsidian) are walking a very smart, if safe, path. It's obvious from our first look at the game that, although the new Mojave Desert wasteland is clearly a brighter place to be than the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3, the core game has remained very much intact. You still navigate through menus via a PipBoy, you still level up and add perks to your abilities, and you still use VATS to blow the limbs off anyone dumb enough to mess with you. Sure, your PipBoy now has a pleasing rusty orange glow instead of a low-fi green, but everything else is as it was.

For us, this is the right move. Obsidian have kept Fallout 3's game mechanics intact because, aside from the complaints of a vocal minority, they worked beautifully well. This also means that, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the new developer is free to focus on what they do best - telling a story with style and panache.

Set three years after the events of Fallout 3, New Vegas puts you in the shoes of an unnamed courier making a delivery to someone in the Mojave Wasteland. Along the way, you're intercepted by persons unknown, shot in the head, and left to die in a ditch. You're found by Victor, a kindly robot with a cowboy-monitor-head, and rushed to the surgery at nearby town, Goodsprings, where the local doctor patches you up. After several weeks of nursing, you wake up in Doc Mitchell's office, where he runs you through some basic personality and memory tests.

Anyone who played Fallout 3 will recognise where this is going. Through this first playable scene you essentially build your character, just like being born in Vault 101. Mitchell asks you if he managed to reconstruct your face correctly after the shooting, so you set your features. You're then marched to a Vigour testing machine to set your base stats, and put through a genuinely funny psyche exam (word association, Rorschach pictures) before being ushered out into the wasteland. Like the GOAT test from the last game, you are free to reject the results of the tests if you don't think they fit the way you'll play. The whole sequence takes about five minutes, after which you're free to go about your business. No sneaking around shooting radroaches with an air rifle for the first hour...

And that's when we first saw the cactus. And the blue skies. And the not-so-messed-up town. In Fallout's world, the West coast of America wasn't as badly bombed as the East.

Sure, enough nukes dropped to devastate the population, but it didn't blacken the sky and kill off all plant life. There are still plenty of buildings intact too. The Hoover Dam, which looms over the Nevada desert in real-life, is still standing - handy, as it provides power, and in Fallout: New Vegas everyone is after that electricity.

There are three main groups here: the New California Republic, Caesar's Legion and (although not yet confirmed) the Brotherhood of Steel. During one part of our demo, we visited an NCR power-plant/research lab called Helios One. It's run by a chancer called 'Fantastic' who seems to have blagged his way up the New California food-chain. After some amusing dialogue (something painfully missing from the po-faced Fallout 3) you agree to help Fantastic increase the output of the factory (currently running at 3% efficiency under his leadership) and divert the power to the NCR's interests in New Vegas. Well, that's what you tell him.

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