As I mentioned in the first part of my preview, the first time I played the public demo of Fallout: New Vegas at the Bethesda booth (despite having a press pass, I did not manage to get in on the behind-closed-doors demo of the game), instead of doing the same quest in Freeside as everyone else, I decided to venture outside and explore some new places. Unfortunately, when I tried to do the same the next day, a Bethesda employee approached me and told me not to leave Freeside, so I won’t have any details on other interesting locations in the second part of the preview. On the plus side, this also means that you don’t need to beware of spoilers here.
During gamescom, I also managed to meet up with J.E. Sawyer himself, who for most of the event was in the Bethesda business booth, giving 50 interviews over the course of the three days. Alas, he did need to go outside once in a while, so I was able to have a quick chat with him too.
Josh explained that me seeing Damage Threshold only on the leather armor, but Damage Resistance on the Vault 21 jumpsuit was a bug – DR is actually gone entirely from the game in its current build and DT is the only damage-reducing armor stat now. However, at least on the PC, those who want for the armor to be more like in Fallout 3, with DR only, or like Fallout 1 and 2, with both DR and DT, will be able to adjust it accordingly in the GECK, as both stats are supported by the editor. I also noticed that in the inventory the Damage field for weapons now alternates between damage per shot and damage per second.
I wanted to try out the Hardcore Mode, but I was not able to due to one simple fact – for the purposes of the demo, my Courier’s inventory was filled with thousands of rounds of ammo for various weapons, which made me nearly unable to move once I switched the mode, and by the time I would drop them all, I wouldn’t have any time left to actually play. Although the time I had for playing the game probably wouldn’t allow me to see any actual effects of things like dehydration anyway. So to continue playing, I had to switch back to Casual. Looking through gameplay options, I also noticed that the kill cam now has three modes – player view, cinematic and off. Guess which one I chose? Of course me going through the game’s menus instead of just walking around Freeside and doing the quest for the King alarmed the Bethesda people again, so they approached me, but saw that I wasn’t breaking any of their rules this time.
The towns still feel depopulated like in Fallout 3 to an extent, mostly because of engine and/or current-gen console limitations. There are few people on each map most of the time. However, they do feel a bit livelier, thanks to ambient events like a group of children chasing a giant rat (yes, our good old friends from the Vault 13 cave are coming back) around the town. Freeside itself is bigger than most Fallout 3 settlements, even if not as big as Megaton or Rivet City.
Freeside is just outside the New Vegas Strip (with robots guarding the gates to the bigger city), and there are other populated places in the vincinity – places like NCR’s Camp McCarran, New Vegas Medical Clinic or Crimson Caravan Camp are all pretty close to each other, all around New Vegas proper. They are pretty small for the most part, e.g. the Crimson Caravan Camp, aside from a bunch of generic caravancers, consists only of one vendor and one quest giver, as far as I’ve seen, but they are close enough to each other for this not to feel jarring, like the disjointed and small locations with just two or three people in them in Fallout 3 did. If this were Fallout 1 or 2, they’d probably all make a Boneyard or Hub-sized area within one world map location.
On the audio side, I must say that the voice acting sounded pretty good. The King sounded like an old Elvis impersonator should, and while the other performances weren’t that memorable, none of them sounded cringeworthy, like some of the Fallout 3 ones did. The minor characters probably still have mostly the same voice, but I didn’t play the game long enough to hear it. I won’t really comment on the music, as I had it turned down for the most part – Gamescom tends to be a pretty loud place, so I maxed out the volume of the dialogue at the cost of everything else. In Freeside, I could listen to three different radio stations, one of them being New Vegas Radio, with Wayne Newton sounding like the old ghoul that he is, another being Black Mountain Radio and a third one I can't remember now.
As far as bugs and glitches go, I was fortunate to not encounter any during my playthroughs, although the framerate was pretty bad in some areas outside Freeside. Josh told me that they’re working hard on squashing bugs and are constantly walking through the game’s world in search for places in which the game performs badly. Hopefully, by the time the game ships, the framerate will be good in most locations.
Also, because I’m a PC player myself, and not having played Fallout 3 on any other platform, I was amazed by how much more intuitive the interface felt when using an Xbox 360 controller. Too bad that Bethesda with Fallout 3 and probably Obsidian with New Vegas didn’t even try to make separate interfaces for the PC and consoles, like e.g. BioWare did with Dragon Age (with some improvements now in Dragon Age II).
What I’ve seen so far of the game feels pretty much like a cross between Fallout 2 and Fallout 3, with bits of Van Buren also thrown in, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. New Vegas itself, with all its casinos, singing, dancing, gangs and Elvises, feels very much like a new New Reno, even if this time it’s grounded more in the 1950s and not in prohibition-era mob and contemporary pop-culture, like in Fallout 2. It might not be that surprising, considering that some of the developers previously worked on Fallout 2, but it will disappoint some that hoped for a return to the more gritty feel of Fallout 1 (although there will likely still be a fair portion of that in the game, just like there was in Fallout 2). The NCR-Caesar’s Legion-House triangle also reminds me of the relations between NCR, Vault City and New Reno, which was probably the best side-story in Fallout 2. In general, the writing seemed as good as in Fallout 2 for the most part.
As I said, there are still some things that remind me more of Fallout 3 than of Fallout 1 and 2, even disregarding the engine, graphics and gameplay style. In Fallout 1, the 1950s retro-futurism was rather subtle, and even easy to miss for someone not well versed in Americana, like myself when I first played the game. It was something that we saw glimpses of in what we knew about the pre-War world, and in some of the technology, but in general, the post-War world had more of a Mad Max vibe. And even by developers of subsequent games, as Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics dropped the ball in that regard, including all sorts of modern weapons and pop-culture references. In Fallout 3, and now in New Vegas, the theme is more prevalent, with the post-Great War civilization also being more retro – people wear 1950s-style clothing, listen to tunes from that era on their radios and form gangs of Elvis impersonators.
There are many references to places and characters from Van Buren throughout the game, and some even appear in the flesh, like Alice McLafferty or Arcade Gannon. However, calling it a remake of Van Buren to any extent is a mistake, says Sawyer. They did reuse things that they liked and didn’t want to go to waste, and generally things that by now, after years of working on Van Buren and of running their personal PnP campaigns set in the Fallout world, they simply personally consider to be a part of the Fallout setting no less than the returning characters and factions from Fallout 1 and 2, and included them where their appearance would make sense. However, the main story itself was never based on Van Buren in any way – probably because it would require a much larger scope than one city and its surroundings.
While I personally look forward to playing the full game, and will likely enjoy it (or am I writing this only because I got a t-shirt?), I still predict that some people will be (and in many cases already are) disappointed by it – some because it’s still too much like Fallout 3, some because it changed too many of the things they loved about Fallout 3. While I doubt it will be very attractive to people who aren't already fans of the series, especially due to its dated graphics, it will most likely appeal to most fans of Fallout 3 and to at least some of the fans of the original games who were not that fond of Fallout 3, especially those for whom the weak story and dialogues were the main turnoff in Bethesda’s game, as they seem to be among the strongest points of the new game.