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So the time between selecting (start game) and arriving at that trademark (the world is my oyster) moment is much less trying, but better than that, it's a much more attractive sort of mollusc. I was blown away by the ruined desert landscape of Capital Wasteland for the first ten minutes, after which I got a hankering for something different to look at. Having escaped the devastation of a ground-zero hit, New Vegas delivers a much more varied and interesting environment.
The few interiors I saw, inside a mountain communications base and a military facility, deviated markedly from the endless corridor feel of subways and blasted urban ruins. Outside, the horizon is dotted with intact landmarks, thriving vegetation, and dramatic rock formations. The two towns we visited, both open to the wider environment rather than locked into their own cells, were like real world small towns in close proximity sharing certain design similarities, but each with a distinct look of their own.
VATS has received tweaks as well, including special moves for melee weapons. You may have already seen the maneuver we saw, (Fore,) which liberated a bandit's head from his shoulders with a surprisingly-sturdy nine iron.
The RPG elements have been tweaked as well. New Vegas contains more companions, and a new command wheel which aids in control. Plus, on top of the Karma system, which rates your goodness or badness, a reputation system keeps a more detailed record of your interactions with the game's factions. What you do to please one faction may piss off another, and your decisions in that regard will affect your progression.
Stepping outside for the first time is something of a revelation, especially if you played Fallout 3. New Vegas looks marginally improved, with more realistic characters and detailed environments, although the scenery is much different. Instead of wandering through the ruins of Washington D.C., you explore a massive desert full of man-eating and huge geckos, mutants and mean people; you'll also encounter dust storms and tumbleweeds. You'll snipe enemies from the mouth of a wooden Tyrannosaurus Rex and poke around a dilapidated roller coaster. Then there's the New Vegas strip, where a whole mess of new wonders and dangers await.
For now, though, your journey begins in Good Springs, but before you enter this ambitious world, you need to make a decision. You can either elect to play the game on a standard difficulty, or opt to enjoy the new Hardcore Mode. Choosing the latter, as expected, makes things more difficult. Instead of being able to stock up on bullets, ammo has weight, so you can only hold so much. In addition, you won't heal over time, and will need to see a doctor to treat your wounds or carry supplies to dress them yourself.
Pretty much every possible sub-genre of sci-fi was referenced in Fallout 3 and its various DLC, but one thing missing was a Gears of War-style satellite laser weapon. New Vegas fixes this oversight with the Archimedes II orbital cannon which can be fixed by realigning an array of mirrors at the Helios One solar energy facility. From our vantage point in the control tower we could see men on the surface below before a series of medium explosions hit the ground, followed by a triangle of Predator-esque targeting dots. The resulting devastation caused by the beam-weapon made the Hammer of Dawn look like a laser pointer and you'll be able to call on the Archimedes cannon at various points throughout the game.
Humans, ghouls, super mutants, oversized geckos, dogs and even the Brotherhood of Steel are all back in Fallout: New Vegas; in addition the series longstanding group the NCR, or New Californian Republic, are back, and there are now two generations of super-mutants running around. At one point at the mutant camp on Black Mountain we were shown how players will be able to get the two types to fight each other. Broadcasting on the mutant's radio channel and posing as a first-generation '˜dumb dumb' you'll insult the second-gen super mutants to cause fatal in-fighting between the group, leaving you to pick off the survivors...
Obsidian has introduced another dynamic to Bethesda's Fallout universe which old-school RPG fans will relish, the ability to upgrade weapons on the fly. Not happy with the standard Kalashnikov rifle? Simply switch on your Pip Boy, go into the inventory and mod away. New components such as scopes, extended magazines, stabilizers and silencers can all be found in the wasteland. One devilish creation we witnessed was a grenade-spewing mini-gun, which was just as destructive and amusing as it sounds. Orbital weaponry also makes an appearance, allowing players to access the American defence array and rain down destruction on any would be attackers. Obsidian really are rewriting the handbook when it comes to weaponry.
From the handful of characters that we met there was still the freshness and originality which we experienced whilst playing Fallout 3. Be it discussing qualifications with Mr Fantastic, an arrogant power plant engineer who bluffed his way to the top or economics with Ringo, a village loser who hides from loan sharks in the ladies toilets of a local bar, they all made an impression.
You will be given complete freedom over how you want to go about playing the game, so, whether you want to embark on a few tutorial-style missions or plough head first into the larger missions, it's always your choice. One of the missions shown involved helping a man named Ringo fend off a group of attackers by getting other residents on your side in order to engage in a gun fight. Situations like this will also make use of your Tags. The Barter skill will allow you to be more convincing whilst something like the Explosive skill will allow you access to things like dynamite in order to make your life a little easier.
The locations are plentiful and varied. Primm a small town encircled by a rollercoaster based on a real-life place. No Vac under threat from Caesar's Legion, home to Dinky the Dinosaur and amusingly titled due to a few letters falling off of a '˜No Vacancy' sign. Black Mountain a dark and dangerous place filled with mutants. There is also a location known as the Helios One Solar Energy Plant. Occupied by the New California Republic, Helios One was built during the pre-war years by Poseidon Energy (from Fallout 2) and currently isn't fully operational. You can choose to help get it up and running and divert power to the NCR, or you can spread the power out across different locations, or you can choose to use the Archimedes II orbital laser to turn against the NCR.
In Hardcore mode ammunition has weight, you need to carry water to stop yourself from dehydrating in the Mojave wasteland desert, and healing occurs over time. So, rather than recover hit points instantly after using a stimpack, as was the case in Fallout 3, it'll take several seconds. Chris suggests this will drastically change combat, and it's hard to argue. In Fallout 3 spamming stimpacks was an almost full-proof way to survive any scrap. Hardcore mode sounds rock hard, and that's sure to please fans. Some complained that Fallout 3 became something of a cakewalk after the halfway point because you simply overpowered the environment. If nothing else, Hardcore mode should prevent that happening in New Vegas.
It is out in the Mojave wasteland that we get our first glimpse of Obsidian's post-apocalyptic Nevada desert. "We wanted to maintain the ruined feel of Fallout, but at the same time the whole setup in Mojave is that the nuclear warheads did not hit this area as much as they hit the Capital Wasteland," Chris explains. So, the sky is blue rather than overcast and caked in ash. Iconic Old West vegetation sprouts up from the blood red ground (vegetation you can use to scavenge with your survival skill for various recipes). Twisters whirl about willy nilly. Big Horners - mutated big horner sheep - amble about much like the Brahmin from Fallout 3. But juxtaposing the Wild West twang is Fallout's retro futuristic Fifties Americana. It's BraveStarr meets The Jetsons.