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A producer who is working on the game with development studio Obsidian Entertainment told me I would be free very early in this game. As soon as I stepped outside of the game's few-minute profiling section I could go anywhere I wanted across the New Vegas landscape. This Fallout sequel is less linear than its predecessor, the developer told me. We gamers are expected to wander it and can pursue one of four main paths, allying ourselves with the factions of the game's violent Vegas-area West. We can take the path of the California Republic or of Caesar's Legion or one that has us side with the people of the vibrant New Vegas either with or without its leader, the charismatic Mr. House. There are about 2200 speaking characters to encounter in this game, the producer said, and all but one of them can be killed and will stay dead if you choose to be such a brute.
I had about a half-hour to play New Vegas, which is an eye-blink of time for a Fallout game. I had the opportunity to be trained in the gameplay or to wander. The training is optional. An early quest can bring us to a lady who will teach us how to shoot, using the returning probability-based VATS targeting system of Fallout 3, which pauses combat and lets the player select body parts to target. She also instructs us how to use the game's added iron-sights weapon view. Most of this will feel familiar to players of Fallout 3.
A little later, while our mutual enemies nurse their geysering stumps, Ben advises us not to try to sneak past the nearby robot "greeter" onto the Strip or we'll be toast. As if to prove this, a Freeside randomer sprints past the greeters and finds himself torn down. We're told we must pay 2000 caps or present a passport to make progress onto the Strip. Alrighty.
We need funds, then, and James and Francine Garret are happy to oblige if we're happy to oblige them and not just rack up debts in their pokey casino, which lies behind a nondescript plasterboard door off the main drag. James is all about keeping the punters happy, and enlists us to locate a few escorts to suit his clientelle's more exclusive tastes. To this end, we head our into Freeside to locate a cowboy ghoul, a suave man who can role-play the boyfriend role convincingly and, if you hadn't got the picture yet, a sexbot.
After loading up on "Luck" -- this is Vegas, after all, baby -- I leave the doctor's office to find the men who shot me and left me for dead. My pistol is fully loaded and I'm ready to deliver some frontier justice... but to whom?
I help a local resident of the charming post-Apocolyptic town of GoodSprings clean up some giant Geckos. I choose Boxing Gloves to try out New Vegas' improved melee combat instead of the obvious choice of a gun. Melee weapons will have secondary effects, so each time I landed a right cross on a lizard, there was a chance that I'd knock him back on his Gecko ass. I highly recommend boxing with Geckos, both for cardio health and video game fun.
There are a few other additions as well -- perks are back, along with "traits," which are returning to the series after being absent in Fallout 3. They're special abilities that come with a price -- "Good Natured" will boost your social skills at the cost of some attack damage, and "Wild Wasteland" will create some "interesting" encounters, both good and bad. Traits are optional, but they seem like they could both add some variety to the game, and make for some excellent replay value. Radio stations are back, but I only heard Mr. New Vegas playing some swingin' tunes for the desert denizens.
I couldn't tell you specifically why, but VATS feels better -- it feels smoother and easier to use. In the first title, I often found myself just playing in real-time, but in New Vegas, I much more instinctively pulled up the VATS system, both for the great camera views and to help me set up my shots. I used the new VATS against a faction called the "Powder Gangers," chucking dynamite and decapitating them with laser pistols in slow motion.