It’s very difficult to judge open-world, open ended role-playing games like Fallout: New Vegas when playing them in anything other than the ideal setting. Single player RPGs are by and large solitary experiences, perfectly suited for long sessions on the sofa, with the more you put into the world – the more exploring you do, the weirder the things you try – the more you get out of it.

This bears repeating now because the setting of the Fallout: New Vegas pods – at the back of the noisy, busy and brightly-lit Bethesda booth (and then later in a downtown LA club) was hardly conducive to enjoyment. To compound the issue, the demo was fairly linear, with an ever-present staffer hovering over your shoulder telling you what to do and where to go next; and thereby completely missing the point of Fallout. Certain quests were not available, or hugely foreshortened; the easiest way to progress was to select the conversation option “press demo” that had been shoehorned into various dialogue trees. All in all, not a very Fallout experience.

However, this only makes the opinion I formed during my brief time with the game even more impressive. The short version – it’s brilliant. It’s perhaps unfair to compare two games on the same engine but with a two year gap between them, but if the demo area represents the overall quality, New Vegas will not only match its predecessor but surpass it – and by quite a long way. The colours are brighter and the textures more detailed; the game looks fresh and crisp. The weird waxy faces both Oblivion and Fallout 3 suffer from have been replaced by something that actually looks pretty human. The quality of the writing is exceptional.

The demo took me into a casino, then jumped to a New California Republic base. After a brief fetch quest – where I got the chance to test a number of new weapons and enemies – I got the option of working for the NCR or another faction, Ceasar’s Legion. Choosing to go with the Legion, I was dispatched on a mission to assassinate a number of key NCR field officers, which I duly did. This provided an opportunity to see the factions system in play – it works, and works well, though the traditional RPG failures of instant notoriety and enemy omniscience are still present.

I also got the chance to see the new iron sights mode on weapons – which is great – and we discussed the customisation system. What’s interesting is that the developer has managed to massively improve the combat – withdrawing the total reliance on VATS even the toughest FO3 characters had – yet still retain their artistic vision. This is a hardcore game, a traditional RPG that will go as deep as you want or need, which is to say, deeper than Fallout 3. The cause of this is partly the people working on it but also partly because Obsidian had a head start – it’s been a short development cycle but they didn’t have to build or tweak an engine, and all the systems are in place (your character still has a Pip-boy, a fact they elegantly explain away by making the doctor – who saves your life at the beginning of the game – a former Vault-dweller).

The best thing about Obsidian‘s head start is the familiarity it gives the user; all the controls are the same, all the systems for health, travel and inventory, all the basic underlying principles of the game-world that would otherwise have to be learned. In this sense it’s an expansion, but the size, setting and massive improvements make this so much more. If you liked Fallout you’ll love this, and if you didn’t, well, there’s a good chance you’ll love this anyway. I haven’t seen as much as I want to of the game, but to be quite honest I won’t have seen as much as I want to till I pass the 150-hour mark (the map is of a similar size to Fallout 3’s, but there is more stuff to do in it). This is definitely one to watch… though I’m sure you knew that already.

Article supplied by the XCN.