11/05/2010 17:49 | By Nik Taylor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Fallout: New Vegas - preview

The follow-up to Fallout 3 shifts the action to an apocalyptic Las Vegas. We take an early look.

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Raoul the ghoul in Fallout: New Vegas (© Bethesda)

Until now, our only glimpse of Fallout: New Vegas has been an all-too-short trailer; a quick teaser of the new world to which Bethesda's immensely popular RPG is moving.

At a recent demo, we got the chance to see a little more. On show was an hour of gameplay, starting with the player's traumatic arrival into the game world and then belting through a few early missions in various new locations.

What we saw wasn't radically different from Fallout 3; this, after all, is a follow-up to our adventures in the Capital Wasteland rather than a full-blown sequel. But for anyone who loved that earlier slice of post-apocalyptic action, there's plenty to look forward to.

It looks as though fans of the first two games in the series will be well catered for, too. Obsidian has taken over the development reins, and the company is home to some of the brains behind Fallout 1 and 2. As a result, the Nightkin, geckos and dum dums are among the creatures that are returning to the Fallout universe - we reckon there will be plenty more, too.

Starting out
Fallout 3 began with the birth of your vault-dwelling character. That's turned on its head in Fallout: New Vegas, which starts, instead, with your character's death. Ambushed, shot in the head and left in a ditch by a pair of bandits, things look grim until the intervention of an apparently benevolent robot named Vic, which finds you and delivers you to Doc Mitchell, in the small town of Goodsprings.

Using the Vit-O-Matic to choose your stats in Fallout: New Vegas (© Bethesda)

So begins the game, with a neat intro that - with your features rearranged and your memory absent - gives you the chance to choose your looks and starting stats. This character creation stage took ages in Fallout 3, but it's gone on a crash diet for New Vegas. You can be out mutant-hunting within 10 minutes of first switching on the game.

It will be worth spending a little time deciding on your specialist skills, though. Your weapon skills will be useable straight away, with low-level weapons to be found for any speciality early on. For instance, while an explosives expert might have waited a while to get hold of any serious ordnance in Fallout 3, here we see the main character lobbing around sticks of dynamite within a few minutes.

Go hard or go home
Skills set and face sorted, the doc then equips you with a vault suit and a trusty Pip Boy and it's time to hit the road. As you leave the surgery, you're given the option of taking on the game's new hardcore mode - a tougher challenge which ramps up the gameplay to make combat more tactical and the issue of item weight more pressing.

The grenade machine gun in action in Fallout: New Vegas (© Bethesda)

Stim packs no longer work instantly; instead they heal over time - ditto Rad-Away packs. All ammo has weight, making your choice of weaponry far more important. And you will need to carry water with you at all times, to avoid the risk of dehydration in the hot desert.

Playing hardcore is optional - you can switch back to normal mode at any time, should you wish, though that will cost you the special achievement for completing the game's main storyline at the tougher level. It should prove a useful additional challenge for those that found Fallout 3's combat a little too straightforward.

Taking in the scenery
Heading into the great outdoors, it's immediately noticeable that things don't look quite so ruined as they did in Fallout 3's depiction of DC. There's blue sky to be seen and there's even the odd living tree. Vegas was apparently not such a tempting nuke target as Washington, and so the area got off a little more lightly than the Capital Wasteland.

But while the landscapes may be different, the game screen itself looks thoroughly familiar. The colour of the HUD has changed from lurid green to burnt orange; that aside it's 'as you were'.

A quick tour of the Pip Boy uncovers an interesting change, however. Weapons can now be modified - a nod to the PC modding community that got stuck into the weapons in Fallout 3. The minigun, for instance, can be improved with a high-speed motor and a stabiliser. Grenade launchers can be upgraded to give them machine-gun-speed delivery. Melee weapons have a boost, too, with each packing a special power attack.

The Helios 1 death-ray in Fallout: New Vegas (© Bethesda)

Locations-wise, we got to see a number of dusty areas in the desert surrounding Vegas - though not, sadly, Sin City itself. Glimpses of the Stratosphere Hotel and McCarran Airport in the distance could be had, but those areas are apparently not yet fully built.

What we did see included Primm, a tumbleweed-strewn outpost with a couple of casinos and a rickety (though still-standing) rollercoaster. Primm, like Goodsprings and many other areas in the game, is based on a real-world location. There's also Novac (named after the broken No Vacancies sign at the front of its central motel) with its giant Dinky the dinosaur statue. Dinky is hollow, and can be climbed inside to reach his mouth, which has been converted into a handy sniper's nest. Then there's Black Mountain, a super-mutant base, and Helios 1, an energy plant which houses a giant super laser that can get you some seriously bad karma, should you choose to use it for nefarious ends.

If you've played Fallout 3 and its accompanying hours of DLC to death, New Vegas looks just the ticket. While there's nothing we've seen so far that looks revolutionary for the series, we're expecting a strong follow-up to an excellent game. There should be plenty more to see at next month's E3, ahead of the game's autumn release.

See the first screenshots from Fallout: New Vegas