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A Sinful First Look At Fallout: New Vegas

Find out what Obsidian is doing with the hallowed RPG franchise in its new follow-up to Fallout 3.

Bethesda may have shipped a Fallout game with the number 3 on it in late 2008, but it's hard not to think of Fallout: New Vegas as a more direct sequel to the two hallowed Fallout games Black Isle Studios made at Interplay all those years ago. Bethesda's game established an entirely new dimension of the Fallout universe with its story set in and around the sundered capital of Washington D.C., but it's New Vegas that finally revisits the geography and overarching fiction--if not the specific characters and storylines--last seen in the first two Fallout games.

Understandably, that continuity is there in part because many of the guys making New Vegas at Obsidian--including Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, and Josh Sawyer--are the same ones who made Fallout what it was back in the day. More than that, though, over the last decade those guys have had a lot of ideas percolating in their heads about the events that might still be taking place on the West Coast of Fallout's blasted nuclear wasteland. So if names like the New California Republic, Caesar's Legions, and the plasma caster warm the cockles of your nostalgic heart, New Vegas ought to feel a little like coming home to you. 

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Of course, those things won't mean much to players like me who started the series with Fallout 3, so it's fortunate that New Vegas is built right on top of the graphics engine, RPG mechanics, and even user interface of Fallout 3. That means you can expect to see the same quest structure, dialogue trees, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, and general feel and flow that you're already used to from Bethesda's game. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Obsidian is simply building new content and mechanics on top of the firm base that Bethesda already established.

Anyone who put dozens of hours into Fallout 3 and was still left wanting more (myself included) ought to be fine with that. But what are those new elements Obsidian is bringing to the table to set New Vegas apart?

A Little Country-and-Western Twang


I liked the regal sort of feel in Fallout 3, seeing all those iconic national monuments and tongue-in-cheek references to American history, but being out near the West Coast, New Vegas has a different tone altogether. Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland is now replaced by the Mojave Wasteland, a distinctly more arid expanse with lots of cacti and scrub brush spread around, not to mention new enemy fodder like oversized mutant geckos. The residents of the Mojave have a more down-home vibe to them, too. The people you'll find in places like the sleepy little town of Goodsprings (where you start the game) like to spend their time hanging out in saloons and doing mercenary work, like the cheerful gun-for-hire Sunny Smiles, who will serve as your initial guide after you're attacked for your cargo and left for dead in a shallow grave at the beginning of the game.
  
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There seems to be a reverence for midwestern Americana at work in New Vegas. Aside from the tumbleweed feel of Goodsprings, a couple of the other towns Obsidian revealed during the demo I saw featured things like an old amusement park--where you fought bandits right up and down the tracks--and one of those gigantic roadside dinosaurs (Dinky the T-Rex, in this case) that you'd see off the interstate while driving across the desert. Dinky just happened to be the home base of a group of local rangers who were running their operation from within his metal frame, so stuff like this isn't just for window-dressing. But it does add a lot of personality, and some of that trademark Fallout humor.

Major Mechanical Updates


Show of hands: who used companions in Fallout 3? I didn't. Did you? Obsidian wants you to use them in New Vegas, though. They're encouraging you to make friends by giving you the companion wheel, an easier and more immediate way to give your buddies orders about how to behave, outfit them with weapons and gear, and tell them to heal themselves. I'll be honest, I really like to lone-wolf my way through Bethesda-style open RPGs, but if you do want to enlist aid in New Vegas, it looks like the wheel will make it a lot more pleasant to do so.

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The designers are going to greater lengths to give the companions personalities and back stories. The one I got to see was Raul, a feisty ghoul being held captive by a cross-dressing super mutant named Tabitha, who was herself protected by the nightkin, a stealthy breed of super mutant that can turn itself nearly invisible. Whether or not you enlist Raul's help--and he did seem quite capable with a firearm--in typical Fallout fashion, it was possible to more creatively solve the nightkin problem by using a radio broadcast to pit the super mutants against each other rather than blasting your way blindly through every last one of them.

There's also the reputation system, which tracks your standing with specific groups like the residents of Goodsprings and the New California Republic. This is separate from your good/bad karma and will determine how those groups react to you (hostilely or as friends) and even what kind of missions will be available to you. Obsidian gave an ironic example where the townspeople might fear you so much they'd actually tithe you with money and gifts when you passed through town, just to avoid your wrath.

On the flip side, the NCR or the slavers of Caesar's Legions will probably attack you on sight if your rep falls too much, when they might have given you quests or sold you items otherwise. Some missions will let you raise and lower your rep according to your decisions. One quest involved a solar power plant called Helios One that let the player decide which faction to shunt power to, which will have obvious effects on what those groups think of you. Later in that mission, the guy driving the demo took control of the power plant's massive super laser and incinerated a few encroaching NCR troops who were getting too close. I doubt that did much to raise their opinion of him.
    
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How about perks? Obsidian won't talk about them yet, which leads me to believe they're doing something more unique than simply importing all the level-based bonuses straight from Fallout 3. I can at least tell you that this game appears to be doing a lot more skill checks during dialogue than Fallout 3 did, and more of your skills besides speech and barter will come into play during a lot of those checks. Now, a high level in just about any skill might provide you with a different dialogue option in the right circumstance.

New Vegas has a ridiculous arsenal of new weapons, including a grenade machine gun, but you can tweak those weapons one step further with a new customization system that lets you bolt on modular enhancements like bigger magazines and scopes for better zooming. While I personally want as much VATS as I can get in a Fallout game, Obsidian is trying to make the real-time gun combat feel more responsive and satisfying in New Vegas. 

A Mode For The Hardcore


I will not play Fallout: New Vegas in its new hardcore mode, but some masochists will relish the challenge. Hardcore mode makes a lot of little tweaks to the way healing, encumbrance, and other core mechanics affect your character. More specifically:

  • Healing takes place slowly over time, not instantly
  • You can't heal disabled limbs with stim packs; you have to visit a doctor for that
  • Thirst will become a severe issue
  • Ammo has weight and will add to your encumbrance

I had no problem with the challenge level in Fallout 3, so this stuff frankly sounds anathema to the sort of experience I want to have in New Vegas. But since the Bethesda style of role-playing focuses so heavily on your own individualized experience, letting you explore and adventure the way you want to, I can see how this kind of extreme realism might be highly appealing.

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When I tell you that New Vegas looks like "more Fallout 3," let me clarify that more Fallout 3 is exactly what I (and I know a lot of other players) wanted New Vegas to be. Obsidian claims that the Mojave Wasteland is equivalent in size to the Capital one and that this game will have roughly as many quests as Fallout 3 did, so you can presumably expect to spend plenty of time plowing through the game's stable of content. (There are no plans for DLC in the works at the moment.)  With a new location, a bunch of gameplay enhancements, and the tried-and-true free-wheeling RPG formula from the previous game, a big heaping helping of more Fallout is fine by me. 
 
Hey, check out a chat I had with Josh Sawyer, a Black Isle veteran and one of the head honchos on New Vegas.  
 
  
Brad Shoemaker on Google+