Hands-On: Fallout New Vegas
The darkness fades and my vision begins to clear. As the echoes of Ron Pearlman’s voice fade from my ears, the first things I see are my bound wrists, followed by the open grave that spoils the dessert earth. Before me stands a man who could easily blend into any image of the Rat Pack. His black and white checkered jacket makes him stand out from the 2 bandit thugs on either side of him. As they argue back and forth, he stops them, telling them that unlike a convict, a real man looks someone in the eyes when he kills him. This man, Benny voiced by Matthew Perry, apologizes for having to kill me and informs me that it’s not that I’m unlucky, but that I was set up from the start. As he says this he pulls a silver-white poker chip from his pocket while leveling the pistol. Then he shoot’s me in the head and darkness engulfs me once again.
At QuakeCon 2010 the event that I was anticipating more than anything else was the opportunity to get my hands on Fallout: New Vegas. After being escorted into the press area, I was handed a controller and given free reign over the X-Box 360 version of the game for about an hour. Afterwards, I got the chance to talk about the upcoming title with Associate Producer Theresa “Tess” Treadwell from Obsidian Entertainment. It seems as though every reviewer to get his or her hands on Fallout: New Vegas has covered the same parts of this game over and over again. By now we all know about how players start out in the town of Goodsprings, being patched up by an old vault dweller named Dr. Mitchell, and how the town’s being threatened by a group of outlaws called Powder Gangers. So I’ll do my best to avoid being redundant here.
As your character comes to in Dr. Mitchell’s office he checks you out and gives you a couple of tests to make sure everything’s working fine as he did just spend a couple of hours digging a bullet out of your skull. So the tasks of choosing your character’s face, traits, abilities and tag skills are all disguised as psych tests and medical exams. I actually thought this bit was a lot less tedious and a bit more realistic than the same sequence in Fallout 3. Dr. Mitchell informs you that he had to do some reconstructive surgery to repair your face and then passes you a mirror to double check your work (ie: decide what your character’s face looks like). The whole process from start to finish takes around 10 minutes or so, a great improvement on Fallout 3’s hour long starting area/intro. Optional traits, missing in Fallout 3, make a comeback in Fallout: New Vegas. As in earlier games, players can choose up to 2 of these and what they give they take from elsewhere. A trait may add extra points of intelligence while taking away an equal amount of strength.
After making my character, I immediately proceeded to rob the poor old man blind. As he waited for me at the front door, I stole a fortune in medical supplies and weapons from his home. As I left, Dr. Mitchell mentioned that someone over at the saloon might have work for me if I wanted it. Then the game gave me the option to play in either normal or hardcore mode. Since I didn’t have a whole lot of time, I pussed out and went with normal difficulty.
As in Fallout 3, the moment I stepped outside I was blinded by the intense sunlight. Unlike Fallout 3 though, as my vision began to clear what I saw wasn’t a desolate hellhole, but a small desert farming community. Some buildings looked salvaged, but others looked new and farmers were tending their fields. A pair of shiny new motorcycles sat out before the town’s saloon and in a nearby pen grazed a buffalo with giant ram horns (a Big Horner). Rather than going with Bethesda’s interpretation of the wasteland as being dead, empty, and devoid of any growth or renewal, the world of Fallout: New Vegas is one of life and rebirth. That’s not a bad thing as the events in New Vegas take place 203 years after the nuclear war that almost destroyed the world. Though even Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics depicted a world in which mankind was rebuilding and surviving, so it’s more likely that Fallout 3 just missed the point by making it seem as though the war had only occurred 50 years earlier.
As I explore the town I learn about the Powder Gangers and as every article I’d read about Fallout: New Vegas so far has mentioned them as well, I avoided that quest line entirely. After doing a few quick combat tutorial quests with a local girl named Sunny Smiles, I bid Goodsprings adieu, and wandered off into the desert. 5 minutes later I died horribly.
I had noticed an object off in the distance and after a long walk it turned out to be the Yangtze Memorial (a large iron cross on a dais). The memorial was old and weather beaten, but the hand painted signs around it proclaiming “Danger, Deathclaws ahead” were quite new. I didn’t really care if my character died or not, so I wandered off in search of deathclaws. What I found was a giant scorpion. Confident in my fighting skills after killing off a coyote and a gecko, I entered VATS and started firing upon the chitinous beast. As each bullet hit a small red shield appeared next to its health bar and it appeared to take no damage. As I franticly ran backwards, I fired until my rifle was spent and then until my pistol ran dry as well. Finally I pulled the laser pistol I had stolen from the old doctor’s house and as I ran down its batteries I noticed that all of my efforts had only knocked the scorpion’s health down by 5%. Then, with a single trust of its stinger, I died again in the desert sun. As the game reloaded to the last autosave, I checked my watch and yes, it had only been 5 minutes since I first left the town. Later on, Theresa explained that in Fallout: New Vegas, certain creatures, such as the giant scorpions, had thick natural armor, and in order to bypass it players would need to either use special Armor Piercing rounds, or deal enough damage to actually break through the armor (a daunting task). Additionally, the owner of the general store in Goodsprings mentioned the existence of “surplus ammunition”. While cheaper than normal ammo, he warned that it’s use might damage guns, requiring that they received more maintenance than usual (basically they reduce a weapon’s durability faster than regular ammo).
As strange as it sounds, my character’s swift and brutal death made me feel optimistic about this game. One of the things that I hated about Fallout 3 was how easy the enemies were to kill. The first time I played the game, I wandered into the DC ruins and ran into a pair of Super Mutants. One was armed with a minigun while the other was carrying around a missile launcher. As a level 1 character, I was fairly sure that within the next few moments my ingame avatar would meet a rather sticky end. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that even though my strongest weapon was a single shot rifle, with VATS I was able to kill both of the Super Mutants without taking much damage I the process. Fallout 3 was not a difficult game and there was never a point where I felt worried for my character’s life. After playing Fallout: New Vegas for only 30 minutes, I found myself fearing the wasteland and the horrors it conceals.
On my second trip out of town, I decided to follow the road rather than wander across the desert like a damned fool. Not too far out of town I ran across some rather new looking railroad tracks. In Fallout: New Vegas, the growing New California Republic (
Until Fallout 3, the Fallout game had always contained a certain amount of mature sexual content. Fallout had brothels and a quest where you had to talk down an angry john in order to save a girl’s life. Fallout 2 let players get married (gay, lesbian or straight), pimp out their spouses, and even become a porn star. Though in Fallout Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel these themes were more story based than interactive. While a bit risqué at times, the depiction of sexual content in Fallout games was never actually pornographic. Instead sex was treated the same way it is in the Fable games. Intimate interaction was initiated and then the screen would go black for a second or 2. With Fallout 3, the team at Bethesda decided to completely avoid those themes. To quote Emil Pagliarulo at the QuakeCon “Building Immersive Worlds and Stories” panel, regarding sexual content, they “didn’t want to do it…it would be goofy, cheesy and set the wrong tone.” However, sexual themes are a major part of the post apocalyptic genre and some classic movie titles like A boy and his dog center around them entirely. With that in mind, I asked Ms. Treadwell if Fallout: New Vegas would see the return of these mature themes to the Fallout series. Her response was that so far the folks at obsidian hadn’t shown off any of that content but to a certain extent, yes that sort of content would be present in New Vegas. While Fallout: New Vegas will have more mature content than Fallout 3, it won’t be quite as much as we saw in Fallout 2.
I was never a big fan of Fallout 3, and I feel that in many ways it failed to live up to it’s predecessors. However after getting my hands on Fallout: New Vegas I can’t help but feel optimistic about this game. What the folks over at Obsidian have produced has little in common with Fallout 3 aside from the software engine it uses. Fallout: New Vegas looks and feels like the sequel Fallout 2 deserved, and i can’t wait until it finally ships this October.