In the early days you'll be desperate for water, keenly noting the spots you can nip back to for a quick drink. You'll establish crash pads, stock up on Gecko meat to eat at a campfire (the ability to craft survival items is another new addition) and generally act like a radioactive Bear Grylls. It'll instantly appeal to older Fallout fans, but I urge everyone to give it a go.
On that note, it's important to mention Obsidian's reverence for the established Fallout canon. For everything it did right, Fallout 3 did a lot of needless tinkering with the universe that Black Isle so carefully established. Aside from a few minor references, New Vegas almost completely ignores Bethesda's approach to the license; on the other hand, it's also packed with nods and winks to the plots of Fallouts 1 and 2. There's mention of The Hub, Modoc, Navarro and countless other locations from the California-based parts of the universe. You'll encounter branches of organisations and descendants of characters from the earlier games, and all of these appearances are handled with intelligence and care. Super Mutants are no longer depicted as mindless monsters, and the Brotherhood of Steel are correctly portrayed as self-important isolationists, rather than the Goody Two-Shoes they were in Fallout 3. Most touchingly of all, there are sly references to things that were planned for the cancelled Van Buren. It's amazing to spot these details, especially when you know they'll go unnoticed by the majority.
It's possible, of course, that some people who loved Fallout 3 will be a bit bemused by the darker, more cynical feel of New Vegas. Even so, such people are bound to appreciate the vast improvements to the script and voice acting. Matthew Perry's Benny is one highlight - a slippery weasel of a hipster who somehow ends up being totally loveable, despite the fact that he's clearly an outright heel. Fans of The Wire are also in for a treat when they meet Caesar, head of The Legion - the aforementioned Roman-style warrior clan. Caesar is voiced by John Doman, best known for playing the formidable Major Rawls on HBO's show. When you find him here, he'll lecture the player on Hegelian dialectics, in a wooden fort surrounded by the Legion's crucified victims. He's a remarkable character, and far more interesting than anything that Fallout 3 had to offer.
All in all, Obsidian has done a remarkable job - in all areas except one. Aside from its many achievements, New Vegas is notable for being one of the buggiest video games I've ever played on a console. Fallout 3 wasn't exactly a poster boy for glitch-free design, but New Vegas is far worse: during the course of my 25-odd hour playthrough, the game crashed my Xbox no less than five times - it may well have been more than that, but I stopped counting. I also encountered quite a few moments of utter weirdness: at one point someone disappeared into thin air halfway through a conversation, and on another occasion I walked through a door to find an NPC being mauled by rats - an NPC who was at least half a mile away from their usual spawning place.
While none of these errors did anything more serious than forcing me to reload my game, it's still pretty lamentable that I faced so many of them. At times the frame rate slows to a crawl, juddering along like a Penny Farthing on a cobbled street, and in some of the more ambitious set pieces it feels as if the game is on the verge of falling to bits under the strain. New Vegas isn't the prettiest outing at the best of times - atmosphere, rather than beauty, is its strong suit - and when the going gets rough, it verges on being outright ugly.
But here's the thing: you won't care. This is one of those all-consuming games that bites deep and won't let go, the kind that forces you to stay up an extra hour (or three) just so that you can investigate that odd-looking building on the horizon. I've not even touched upon New Vegas itself - a curious mix of towering buildings, gaudy florescent lights and debauchery, underscored by the threat of imminent, inevitable violence. It's only when you finally get here that the game truly show its hand, when you realise that everything leading up to this point has effectively been elaborate scene-setting - positing you a lone individual among a myriad of opposing factions. Just getting to New Vegas is a blast in its own right, but what happens next… well, that's where the fun really starts. Your actions from here on will decide the fate of the whole city, and by extension, of everyone you've met on your travels. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the surprises; you'll just have to light the blue touch paper for yourselves.
It's fair to say that Obsidian has never really had a defining success. For years it's been the studio that gives us "almost but not quite" games - from the unrealised ambition of Knights of the Old Republic 2, to the scrappy mess of Alpha Protocol. Well, that reputation dies today. Despite the numerous bugs, New Vegas is a magnificent RPG, one that stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. More importantly, it's also the game that Fallout fans have been waiting for. Van Buren can finally rest in peace.