Critically acclaimed and commercially successful: Bethesda's runaway hit Fallout 3 reached both rare plateaus in 2008. So when the development team said it was handing over the next installment in the Fallout universe -- Fallout: New Vegas -- to Obsidian, some diehard fans were wary of the future of this beloved franchise. We played the hands-on demo at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 (E3) and from what we saw, Fallout: New Vegas does not disappoint. We also spoke with Chris Avellone, Creative Director of Obsidian and Senior Designer of Fallout: New Vegas, about this highly anticipated sequel.
Fallout: New Vegas takes place a few years after the events of Fallout 3 with a completely new main character and story. This time your character is trying to find answers and maybe some revenge after he or she is shot in the head and left for dead in the Mojave Wasteland.
New Vegas seems to have everything we loved from Fallout 3 with a lot of new features and an all-new setting: a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas and the surrounding desert. The Mojave Wasteland will be roughly the same size as the Capitol Wasteland from Fallout 3 and has about the same number of locations.
The entire look of the game is brighter and more vibrant than in Fallout 3. Since Vegas didn't suffer a direct nuclear hit like D.C. did, there's less desaturation in colors and the environments are more vivid. The Hoover Dam is also still functioning and supplying power to the bustling New Vegas Strip.
Gambling at the various casinos on the Strip can be a fun way to make some money if you're feeling lucky. The casino games will include blackjack and roulette. The game will also have radio stations with DJs and 40's and 50's era music.
For those who miss the expansive wasteland of Fallout 3, the Strip is just a fraction of the world of Fallout: New Vegas. The Mojave Wasteland will provide players with vast open areas to explore.
Playing the demo, the similarities to Fallout 3 are numerous as, at first glance, the game's graphics and gameplay seem almost identical to its predecessor. But when considering the scope of the vast open-world experience of New Vegas and the relatively short period of time since the release of Fallout 3's final DLC, it's to be expected that the graphics would be at a similar level as those of the previous game. The gameplay however, has improved in New Vegas with the addition of some new features.
The demo we played at E3 was in two parts. The first part was set on the New Vegas Strip, complete with bright lights and casinos. The second part of the demo revealed the new reputation and faction system and companion wheel as we embarked on a mission for the New Republic of California. The objective of the mission was to attack an outpost held by the NCR's enemy Caesar's Legion.
The New California Republic and Caesar's Legion are the two main factions in the game. There will also be several minor factions in the game in addition to these main factions. As the story progresses, your character will have to manage his or her reputation with the various factions in the game to open up missions in the storyline.
While playing through the quest in the demo and attacking the members of the Caesar's Legion, we saw a message on the screen that our character was now "hated" due to the effects our actions were having on our reputation with that faction.
"So basically, we have the positive karma and negative karma options just like in Fallout 3 and throughout the entire Fallout series," Avellone said. "What we did is for every faction in the game [you have] a certain reputation in terms of how you've acted toward them. So if you kill a lot of people in Caesar's Legion, you start getting shunned by them, hated and then vilified and they will attack you on sight."
Avellone also explained how the reputations system will tie in to the entire game. "You can have a positive reputation with a faction, a negative reputation, or you can have a mixed reputation with a faction if you've been doing a lot of good things and bad things so they are not really sure how to feel about you," he noted. "And all of those things cause different reactivity, open up new questlines, changes the encounters you'll have in the wasteland and some will affect the end of the game as well."
There will also be ways to get around a bad reputation with a faction if your character is stealthy enough. "For stealth characters, you can actually take armor from one of the factions and put it on and you can infiltrate factions that hate you as long as you avoid certain members of that faction. Like dogs can always sniff you out. Lieutenants can always tell when you're not wearing the armor in a certain way or the insignia is not in the right place and they can spot you," Avellone said. "But the good thing is you can usually scout out an encampment and figure out what those patrol patterns are."
No longer the "Lone Wanderer", your new character in Fallout: New Vegas can meet up to seven companions, though only one human or humanoid companion can follow the player at a given time. Obsidian has stated that each companion will have their own storylines and quests and will grant the player abilities and new perks.
Fortunately, time around handling party members should be an easier feat with the help of the game's companion wheel. The companion wheel will give players the ability to quickly and easily control their companions with eight specific commands given via selection on a radial dial menu: open inventory, use ranged attacks, keep distance, back up, talk to, wait here, use stimpack, and be passive. The companion wheel will be extremely helpful for combat situations. The very specific commands save time and avoid having to go through a dialogue tree just to manage a follower's inventory.
Another improvement to the companion system is that your party members are no longer experience point thieves. "If a companion in your party ends up killing an enemy for you, you will still get that XP," Avellone added. This is a welcome bonus since the level cap in New Vegas will be 30.
New Vegas will also feature new weapons. One of the several new weapons is C4, which we tested out in the demo on a trio of geckos with very satisfying results.
For those who love VATS, it will still be a big part of combat in New Vegas, but gamers will also have the option of aiming shooter-genre-style down your gun's iron-sights.
In the demo we were also able to test out iron-sight aiming which worked really well and felt completely natural, making combat more fast-paced and providing yet another option for players.
The biggest addition to the combat in Fallout: New Vegas are weapons mods. We didn't get to see them in the demo, but Avellone did discuss them in our interview. "We actually looked through the mod community to see what people were developing, what people were really excited about and one thing we noticed was there were a number of mods people actually set up where they'd do the weapons and then do attachments for weapons and people really loved it," he explained. "So we said, 'OK, is there a way we can use a system like that for New Vegas?'"
There will be mods for a wide array of the weapons in New Vegas from pistols to grenade launchers to machine guns. Most of the weapons mods will be available to the player in shops throughout the wasteland, creating an incentive to visit merchants and purchase the mods. (Or just shooting the merchant and stealing the mods if your character is evil!)
Each weapon mod will be specific to one type of weapon and will add a bonus or improvement to the weapon without diminishing any benefits of the weapon. There's no trade-off for using them so they can only positively impact the weapons they're used on. "They can do things like increase the number of bullets, increase the rate of fire, add scopes to weapons that didn't have them before like one of the pistols you get early on," Avellone said. "Once you put the scope of you can start zooming in on targets and that's really cool."
A big part of the Fallout series is customizing and improving your character, so it's no surprise that S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats make a return in New Vegas, as do traits and skills. Avellone confirmed that just like Fallout 3, this game will have collectibles, including books and snowglobes (instead of bobbleheads). These will grant the player in-game bonuses though not the same bonuses that books and the bobbleheads gave in Fallout 3. He also told us that there will be a ton of perks just like in the previous game, but he couldn't go into any specific perks during our interview.
New Vegas will also contain challenges that the player can accomplish. "We also have a challenge system set up too in the game," Avellone said. "So not only will you get perks for various achievements and things you do in the game, you'll also have challenges like how many quests you complete, how many headshots you do, how many limbs shot, and it encourages you to try out weapons just for the fun of it."
And for those Fallout 3 veterans, New Vegas will have a hardcore mode. This mode aims for survival and realism. Everything you carry has weight to it, including ammo. Stimpaks will take effect gradually, so you won't be able to just rely on them for an instant fix. You'll also need to manage your water supply to prevent dehydration and rest regularly to avoid exhaustion.
With everything we loved about the previous Fallout and all the new features Obsidian has added to this latest installment of the franchise, Fallout: New Vegas will welcome gamers to a new wasteland when it's released in mid-October.