Following in the footsteps of any successful game can be a tricky task, especially one as much-loved as Fallout 3. However, that is the task that developers Obsidian and publishers Bethesda have given themselves. Much hyped, much anticipated - we get exploring the Mojave Desert in our Fall Out: New Vegas review. Is it more of the same or worthy of new-game status?
As there has been so much talk of the title already, if you've been following its progress you'll have an idea of the story and the setting, but for those unfamiliar we'll give a very brief recap. Set around 3 years after its predecessor, Fall Out: New Vegas is set in the Mojave wasteland, which can be roughly split into Nevada, the Mojave desert and Las Vegas. There are two main factions in the game: the NCR (New California Republic) and The Legion (a nasty bunch).
You are placed in the role of a courier, who after being shot in the head, is rescued and treated for his/her injuries. Cue your mission to find out who shot you and your entry into the game. Incidentally, this game is easily as big as Fallout 3, so on that basis alone you can be sure you're getting a certain amount of value for money, even if many aspects appear similar. There's also a huge amount of content and variation separate from the main plot, so exploration is still the name of the game.
One quick note on the storyline: we liked it and even preferred it to that of Fallout 3. The reason is straightforward - it takes itself far less seriously and rather than giving you a role to fit into (growing up with your father in a vault) there's far less to go on, which in turn helps to make the character yours. There's even a touch of the who-dunnit/mystery about the story (when you see the opening cutscene you'll see what we mean) - but to its credit, it never dominates proceedings.
The forming of your character runs very much the same as in Fallout 3, introducing variations on a theme; a Rorschach inkblot test, rather than the G.O.A.T. - however as you travel around the wasteland you'll notice lots of other little touches to both the environment and innovations in the gameplay mechanics that have been tweaked to produce something that's familiar and yet different enough to make you feel it is worth the purchase.
The first thing to strike you as you walk out into the wilderness, is what appears to be improved visuals despite the graphics engine used for Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas being the same. Seeing as the Mojave wasteland has not been affected by the nuclear devastation you'll also see clear blue skies, which in turn makes the surrounding area a lot more interesting - gone are the often dreary visuals of its predecessor and in its place (although still often pretty barren) is a far more vibrant world. And this vibrancy, to our mind, is the first improvement. Signs blow in the wind, dust clouds come and go and this all helps to create a far more immersive environment.
This change also extends to the society in which you find yourself, the characters you meet give the illusion of having a far greater interest in their town/settlement, meaning your actions feel as though they have a far greater consequence - which is precisely what they do have. This is due, in part, to the return of traits from Fallout 1 and 2 (bringing special abilities along with certain drawbacks. An example of this is the four eyes trait: plus 1 perception when wearing glasses, but minus 1 without) and also the in-depth reputation system.
Split into three main headings of good, mixed and bad, your reputation is refined further by sub-groups within these headings. When you consider the numerous factions within the Fallout world and the reputation system changing in relation to each one, it's clear that character development is at the forefront here.
This isn't the only factor that determines how you're treated by the various groups; find yourself meeting the wrong faction whilst wearing clothing of a rival group and a shoot-out is almost guaranteed. The new companion wheel also works well, making the interaction with your chosen buddies far less arduous.
Another excellent addition is the way the work benches, and now campfires, add to the crafting of weapons and ammo as well as chems. The detail is staggering and although initially a bit daunting it doesn't turn out to be too complex - just different. An example of this is the way guns can be broken down into constituent parts in order to make, perhaps more vital, ammo. There's even a designated position on the D-pad for changing ammo types without going into your Pip Boy, yes it's one less slot for a weapon, but vital for choosing the right ammo - such as hollow point or armour piercing - against certain types of enemy/armour. There's also weapon modding, which adds even more complexity to proceedings.
The degree to which you'll use the crafting mechanic is down to how involved you like to get into your games, as we found it's possible to get by without delving too deeply - still it's a very nice touch. Again it's all things we've seen before, just revamped, and for our part made a little better - nearly everything can be used to make your character and what he/she is carrying that little bit more personal.
So we come to the much talked about hardcore mode - enter at your own risk. The mode can be turned off and on at your convenience, but only if you see the game through from the very beginning in this super-hard setting will you get the reward. We at Pocket-lint probably aren't the best gamers in the world, but we're no slouches either and playing Fallout: New Vegas on normal is certainly a challenge, as you really do reap what you sow.
On hard it's a whole new level of tough, and it won't be for everyone. Things you probably already know about hardcore mode is that ammo has weight, stimpaks don't heal straight away, environmental factors play a larger part with H2O, Food and Sleep all being a consideration - all of which are monitored in your status bar - making surviving on a day to day basis that much harder.
What you might not be so aware of is how this affects the way you interact with NPCs in the game. Because just staying alive is that bit more difficult, you want to be absolutely certain about your actions before upsetting anyone - especially the NCR or Legion factions - as staying alive will become far more difficult.
Again this is where juggling your reputation with the various factions becomes a fine art. For our part anyway, hardcore mode led to a short life and a rather brutal death, however it's a great addition for those who want to go deep and get fully immersed.
However, it's not all great for Fallout: New Vegas. Although the graphics look slightly tweaked the character models are very similar and can look a bit dated - with combat looking especially clumsy at times - heads still fly off the shoulders of enemies when shot, making it look as if they've just had a fight with Connor MacLeod, rather than you and your hunting rifle.
A lot was also made of the third-person mode being tweaked; well if it has it hasn't been tweaked very much, as despite an added over the shoulder cam (you can't see the feet) it still looks shoddy and should be avoided - very poor as we were quite looking forward to it.
There's also been a bid to make the fighting slightly more FPS-esque by way of a down the barrel aim mode, which uses the gun's sights. This, although interesting at times, was a little difficult to use when facing multiple enemies and felt a bit clumsy, subsequently we ended up using VATS the vast majority of the time.
But the biggest issue whilst playing the game (on the PS3) was its tendency to freeze. Mainly happening whilst out in the open (presumably struggling with the new and improved vistas) Fallout: New Vegas suffered with pretty persistent frame rate issues, sticking on a frame for a fraction of a second before carrying on. This never ended in a full-on crash, but was irritating to say the least, and became very bad at one point when access was finally gained to the New Vegas Strip. We'd be interested to know whether you have the same problem, as this will no doubt vary between consoles, it looks like a patch of some kind is certainly in order.
Despite these grumbles, Fallout: New Vegas is thoroughly enthralling and if you were a fan of the first two games, and for that matter the third, this is pretty much a must-have title for you. It's a shame Obsidian, with all the problems it had with the previous Fallout 3, couldn't get it right first time, but we're sure with a few updates this should become another classic.
Is it different enough to call a title in its own right? If we're being harsh then perhaps not; the look and feel are still too similar to the last iteration, but saying that there's still a lot of new elements to discover. With the reputation system adding a lot to the character and the type of game you'll experience, we're sure there'll be a fair few of you who play this through more than once.
It has to be said that we haven't seen everything that the game has to offer (quite possibly bugs included), that would clearly take months - of which we don't have - however in our time with the game it remained as immersive as ever, and although very similar to Fallout 3, Obsidian has just about done enough to get away with it.
Still, for nearly £50, if you're new to the series you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of Fallout 3 instead - it's a cracker and will keep you going for months.