In true open world fashion, once you step out of Doc Mitchell's house you're good to go exploring the wasteland. You could visit Primm, a casino town with a giant rollercoaster overrun by the ominously-named Powder Gang. Or perhaps you'll trot off to Novak, a settlement built around a hotel and the Dinky the Dinosaur road sign, with a pre-war gift shop and an excellent spot for the town's snipers to defend against encroaching Caesar's Legion troops. Or what about the dangerous Black Mountain, home to stealth boy-wearing super mutants? Or, if you're feeling really brave, you could head straight to Helios One, a New California Republic base. The choice is yours.
Before you make it, the Doc hands you a Vault 21 outfit and perhaps Fallout's most iconic gadget, a Pip-Boy. "You ever get hurt out there, you come right back. I'll fix you up," he promises. "But try not to get killed any more."
Everything we've seen up to this point has been familiar. The Doc's house is quintessentially Fallout - a dusty, wheezing building that looks like it may collapse at any moment. Light streams in through a boarded up window. Walking, talking, navigating the Pip-Boy, it's all the same. But then we see something very new, and very interesting: Hardcore mode.
In Hardcore mode ammunition has weight, you need to carry water to stop yourself from dehydrating in the Mojave wasteland desert, and healing occurs over time. So, rather than recover hit points instantly after using a stimpack, as was the case in Fallout 3, it'll take several seconds. Chris suggests this will drastically change combat, and it's hard to argue. In Fallout 3 spamming stimpacks was an almost full-proof way to survive any scrap. Hardcore mode sounds rock hard, and that's sure to please fans. Some complained that Fallout 3 became something of a cakewalk after the halfway point because you simply overpowered the environment. If nothing else, Hardcore mode should prevent that happening in New Vegas.
It is out in the Mojave wasteland that we get our first glimpse of Obsidian's post-apocalyptic Nevada desert. "We wanted to maintain the ruined feel of Fallout, but at the same time the whole setup in Mojave is that the nuclear warheads did not hit this area as much as they hit the Capital Wasteland," Chris explains. So, the sky is blue rather than overcast and caked in ash. Iconic Old West vegetation sprouts up from the blood red ground (vegetation you can use to scavenge with your survival skill for various recipes). Twisters whirl about willy nilly. Big Horners - mutated big horner sheep - amble about much like the Brahmin from Fallout 3. But juxtaposing the Wild West twang is Fallout's retro futuristic Fifties Americana. It's BraveStarr meets The Jetsons.
You head towards The Prospectors Saloon to speak with local ranger Sunny Smiles. In the saloon, casino machines beep and woop - the Strip is nearby, of course, and we expect some kind of gambling mini-game will turn up at some point. Sunny is welcoming and helpful. She asks you to help clear out some geckos from a nearby ridge. You agree, and follow her outside.
At the ridge we see some of the improvements that have been made to combat first hand. While VATS works exactly the same as before, some weapons have unique abilities that mean they excel in certain circumstances. The Varmint Rifle, for example, does bonus critical damage and bonus damage against limbs rather than head shots. Chet, Goodsprings' local trader, sells weapon mods. Say you've got a 9mm pistol. An extended magazine gives you more bullets per clip, and a scope modification increases accuracy. The weapon model changes accordingly – in this case the scope results in a texture modification and an extended clip model. Unique weapons, like the All American sniper rifle, have special textures and in some cases brand new models and reload animations. The idea is that when you get a unique weapon it feels and behaves differently than a standard weapon. This, as Fallout 3 fans know, wasn't the case before.
Melee weapons now have special abilities, which you can unlock once you've levelled up your melee skill. Take the Nine Iron golf club, for example. Its special ability, which pops up on the right of the screen when in VATS, is called "Fore!". Fore! gives you added knock down with your attacks, at the cost of extra action points. You smack your unlucky opponent with the Nine Iron, sending them flying back in gruesome slow motion.
If Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland was a sandbox in which carnage happened to reign, New Vegas looks like it's been deliberately designed to make the player feel like combat was always part of the plan. The high level area called the Black Mountain is a case in point. It's one of the central locations in New Vegas. You can see almost everything from it, including the Strip, with the Lucky 38 (the game's version of the real-life Stratosphere Hotel) shooting up into the sky, and McCarran International Airport (home of a New California Republic military base) menacing over yonder. Unlike much of New Vegas, Black Mountain suffered many nuke explosions. As a result, its communications array is almost completely destroyed. But one station, called Black Mountain Radio, remains, broadcasting a warning: super mutants are plentiful, it says, and if you've got any sense you’ll stay away.
Chris doesn't of course, and approaches the super mutant camp, taking a route that seems to have been carved into the ground just for stealthy players to enjoy. "We tried to make sure with our level design that we included stealth paths that go into all locations so sneaky characters feel special and can take advantage of the lack of security in some areas," he says.