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This quest for your shooter and cargo takes place across the Mojave Wasteland, a chunk of the Southwest United States that is geographically as large as the Fallout 3's Capitol Wasteland. Instead of a grim and bluish-grey urban apocalypse, you wander a wasteland that features more color saturation and an honest-to-god blue sky. The Mojave Wasteland is filled with such quirky places as the aforementioned Goodsprings, the tiny town of Primm (based on an actual town on the border between Nevada and California) whose most notable feature is the abandoned rollercoaster, or the settlement of Novac (a community built around a giant dinosaur/tourist trap called "Dinky the Dinosaur"). And of course, there's the allure of The Strip itself, which (according to the teaser trailer) seems to be doing just okay post-apocalypse, as it still features functioning power/electricity and gambling.
But besides the new aesthetic and feel, New Vegas also introduces a few tweaks and changes to the gameplay. For one thing, Sawyer wants skills to feel more meaningful. Urquhart points out that, yes, the skills were meaningful in Fallout 3, but he thinks that New Vegas makes their importance more visible. For example, Speech is no longer the main skill for navigating dialogue -- pretty much every skill will now be useable during dialogue depending on who you're talking to. One early quest has you marshalling the townsfolk at Goodsprings to fight off some powder gangers, and Speech isn't the only key skill at play. You can't convince the old prospector, Crazy Pete, to join if you don't know your Explosives well enough. And the town merchant, Chet, won't get involved if your Barter isn't high enough. Sawyer points out that Barter was underutilized in Fallout 3, and for New Vegas, it's a valuable skill for any negotiation that involves numbers or rewards. One nice tweak is that you'll be warned of possible skill failure. If Crazy Pete requires you to have at least 25 in your Explosives skill and you only have 17, then the Explosives dialogue option will be in red -- a nice and obvious "get better at this or you will fail" visual warning.
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.
Your interactions with the people of Goodsprings range from the friendly (Victor the robot) to hostile (Joe Cobb and his crew). While trying to make friends and forge alliances, you'll gain an understanding of the impact your character's customized skills have on your dialog choices. For example, while trying to score some dynamite, a chat with Easy Pete at the saloon went swimmingly, thanks to the demo character's high explosive skills. Similar success came from a chat with Chet, which capitalized on the barter skill.
Not long after rounding up a makeshift posse and securing the dynamite, we got a look at Fallout: New Vegas in combat. As previously noted, the VATS system from Fallout 3 hasn't been greatly changed, with the exception of adding in melee attacks, which Obsidian demonstrated with the help of a 9 iron golf club. Queuing up the "fore" attack in VATS, our hero sliced the head off one bad guy, lobbing dynamite and unloading a modified pistol at others.
We only saw the dialogue checks several times during the demo, but it appears that in certain situations, barter (and possibly other passive skills) can be used in a similar capacity to speech and you can rely on the skill you have higher points in when another doesn't cut it. Interestingly, the game will also show how many points you have in a specific skill area versus what you need to pass the check in the dialogue tree. Seems like it will make the game less punishing for those who don't pump points into their speech skill (fools!).
The other exciting change involves killing things! Though using melee weapons in VATS is nothing new, this time around you can target specific body parts, which may finally provide a reason to use the ninja perk. There's also the ability to mod weapons. That can mean adding mags, damage, scopes (and most standard upgrades you can imagine) to your arsenal. All modified weapons will change in appearance to reflect the upgrade as well. Now where can I find a silencer for this Fat Man?
After taking care of the Gangers, your reputation in Goodsprings improves. (The "Karma" system doesn't play as big of a role in New Vegas as it does in Fallout 3, but you can still monitor your rep on your Pip-Boy.) Next stop: Primm, which features a huge roller coaster as part of a decrepit casino called Bison Steve's. You can actually walk along the roller coaster's tracks, climbing up to a point that gives you a great view of the town -- especially if you want to snipe bandits or lob grenades.
After blowing up a few bandits with a grenade launcher from atop the roller coaster tracks, the demo pilot headed into the town of Novac (named after a very old neon sign reading NO VACancy) where the locals make money by salvaging equipment from a defunct rocket base nearby. There's a large, artificial dinosaur here, named Dinky, that serves as the town's gift shop where you can buy items. You can also venture up inside Dinky's mouth and peer out over the horizon, a la Pee Wee's Big Adventure.