It’s just another day in post-Apocalypse America and you’re just another courier delivering a package. Only this time you’re intercepted by a smooth-talking villain who steals your parcel, shoots you in the head and leaves you in a shallow grave. Against the odds, you’re rescued, healed and given the chance to seek revenge, as tumbleweed and dust devils scurry over a bleak desert landscape.
So begins Fallout: New Vegas, Obsidian’s brave and vastly ambitious attempt to top the 2008 videogame of the year, Fallout 3. If you were expecting a direct sequel then you’ll be disappointed, as the focus of the action has shifted from the nuclear-blasted Washington DC to the relatively unscathed California desert surrounding Las Vegas, but much of the world you inhabit will still be instantly familiar to the hordes of Fallout 3 fans.
The most important piece of equipment you own is still your Pip-Boy which monitors your body’s health, lists all your possessions and skills and provides a guide map when pursuing your quests. A slight modification has been made to the combat system so that as well as using VATS (the Vault-Tec Automated Targeting System) to aim at your opponent’s most vulnerable areas, you can also have heightened real-time gunplay using iron sights that have fluctuating degrees of accuracy.
There’s double the amount of weapons now available and new weaponry, ammo and medicines can be manufactured and traded along the way. As a further sign of the true depth of this game, the special skill cap has been expanded from 20 to 30 levels.
As with Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas has a vast map that spawns a myriad range of quests that will keep you engrossed for days: some of them (like the rocket-launching sequence) are almost long enough to be separate games in their own right. Obsidian is still using the previous game’s engine so character modelling in particular will often seem rougher and flatter than most contemporary equivalents, but the Mojave desert settings, desolate urban outposts and Vegas itself still look stunning under piercing blue skies.
A completely new element within the gameplay is the Reputation system which decides the moral temperament of your character. Kill, double-cross or steal from one of the many factions and you will earn their undying hatred whilst their rivals will applaud you as a hero. A stolen outfit may let you pass unmolested through some groups but will be seen as a red rag to others, and your choices will even decide which quests will be open or closed to you.
In addition there’s a new Companion Wheel that makes it easier to issue commands to your followers, who may greatly assist you in more dangerous missions. Melee moves have also been beefed up and an appropriately named Hardcore mode has been created for the fearless and almost certainly suicidal RPG/FPS fans.