Fallout New Vegas Preview: Playing the Odds

"I was the lead designer on Fallout 2," Feargus Urquhart, CEO and co-founder of Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian Entertainment, begins. "I was really disappointed myself to not actually get to make Fallout 3, but it's awesome we now actually get to play in the world that the internal team at Bethesda made."

"It's something that we've really been enjoying," he adds, something that becomes apparent as the presentation continues. Sure, Obsidian didn't get to make Fallout 3 proper, but the westward post-apocalyptic role-playing follow-up--set three years after the events of Fallout 3--is, according to Bethesda marketing VP Pene Hines, equivalent to it "both in game-world size and content-wise... in terms of how much there is to do, how many hours you spend playing and how much of the world there is to explore."

A Short Introduction
One of the main obstacles with any sort of follow-up is making sure to cater to both those that are new to the franchise and those that played previous entries to death. After all, those that played through Fallout 3 aren't going to want, as Hines puts it, "a forty-five minute tromp through a bunch of tutorials before they can get out in the world."

Thus, Fallout: New Vegas starts out with a quick character creation sequence--under the guise of a kindly old Doc Mitchell making sure that everything's in order following the events of the game's opening--and then, quite literally, opens the door to the world.

Those that desire further instruction or wish to follow the story need only make their way to the waypoint on their map. You're free to explore, though project director Josh Sawyer notes, "If you do go running out into the desert, someone comes running after you and is like, 'Are you sure just kinda run out without playing the tutorial?'"

Combat Tweaks
Obsidian has made several noteworthy changes to both real-time and Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) combat. For starters, a more distinct arsenal of weapons should see players swapping between their various armaments more often.

"There's a lot of different combination of weapons and ammo and things like that so you have a lot of choices, a little bit more than you rather focusing on one single weapon during a long portion of the game," Urquhart explains.

One such example is the addition of a red shield icon in VATS, which lets players know that their weapon isn't all that effective against that particular foe or part.

"Weapons that have a high rate of fire, they do a lot of damage with a lot of little bullets. If you hit a target that has armor, you'll see that red shield," notes Sawyer. "You're doing a little less damage per shot, you'll want [something] a little slower firing and heavier hitting. There's also stuff like ammo subtypes, armor-piercing ammo for shotguns."

In addition, certain weapons do better against certain parts of the body, for example, ones that work better against limbs but aren't that effective against the head--a change Sawyer hopes "will sort of shift things away from head targeting [in VATS]."

To increase the effectiveness of using melee weapons with VATS, these weapons now have special attacks that can only be triggered in VATS. One such attack--"Fore!"--saw our protagonist take a swing with a golf club and send the foe's head flying.

The team at Obsidian has also been tweaking the way real-time combat works.

"We really just wanted to make sure that the real-time [combat] stuff was improved a little bit." Sawyer says. "We've got sight aiming, so there's a little bit more connection to where your gun is shooting at. It's not taking anything away from VATS. People use VATS all the time, they really enjoy it, it's a good tool in the game and there's a lot of RPG stuff that ties into it. But we did want to make sure that if people do want to play the game real-time, it's as responsive as they'd expect. "

Weapon Mods
The ability to customize one's weapons marks another one of Obsidian's tweaks. "These were really popular in the PC modification community [for Fallout 3]," explains Sawyer, "so we thought it was a natural fit for New Vegas."

Such customization kits not only affect a weapon's attributes--providing more power, speed, ammo capacity, and such--but usually its visual appearance as well.

Another one of Obsidian's changes comes in the form of the Companion Wheel, which provides players with an easier way to manage the behavior and equipment of their computer-controlled companions, such as the ghastly fellow you see below. "One of the things that we're trying to do is make sure that the companions feel like they're helpful without basically replacing the player," Sawyer reveals. "We don't want to make it so that if you give them a weapon, suddenly they're as good as you. We want the player to feel like, "Hey, I'm really glad I have this companion" but they shouldn't feel like they have to constantly babysit them. You shouldn't be able to kind of sit back and be like "Oh, I'm so glad that Boone and Raoul are just murdering everything for me."

Hardcore Mode
Described by Bethesda as what will "separate the meek from the mighty," the optional Hardcore Mode of Fallout: New Vegas brings a new layer of strategy to the game.

Available immediately after completing character creation, the optional Hardcore Mode presents a much more unforgiving post-apocalyptic play style. Stimpaks no longer heal immediately, but over time, and they won't fix any broken limbs--you'll probably want to see a doctor about that crippled arm of yours. Furthermore, ammunition now has weight, which should make combat and weapon selection much more strategic.

Should you manage to complete the game in Hardcore Mode, you'll get some sort of special reward, though what that is remains to be seen.

Other Odds and Ends
Along with the above, players of Fallout: New Vegas can also expect a new Reputation System that outlines how respected or feared one is by the specific towns and factions based on their actions, a one-wheeled robot with the personage of an old-time cowboy sheriff, numerous references to the first two Fallouts including some familiar locales and characters, a weapon that rains laser fire down from the sky and much more.

However, one thing that Bethesda and Obsidian aren't talking about yet is downloadable content. "Much like Fallout 3, we put the focus on [downloadble content] after we finish the focus on content," explains Hines. "They're not even in alpha yet in terms of getting everything into the game. We're not worried about what comes after."

Developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Bethesda, Fallout: New Vegas is expected to release on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Fall 2010.

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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