Oh, Fallout 3's companions. They were annoying, weren't they, often getting lost and stuck in endless pathfinding conundrums? Hopefully, that'll be a thing of the past, because in New Vegas you can control your buddies with a companion wheel interface. It provides all of the options that were present for managing your companions in Fallout 3 without having to go into dialogue. You can have them take stimpacks, change their status from passive to aggressive and switch their loadouts all with only a couple of button presses.
So far, we only know two potential companions: Craig Boone, an ex-New California Republic soldier now defending the town of Novak from Ceaser's Legion troops, and Raul, a Mexican ghoul held captive by the super mutants inside the Black Mountain radio hut. I live in hope that a dog once again tags along for the ride.
While New Vegas' combat looks to have more depth than Fallout 3's, and there are a number of new weapons that look inspired, it's the quests and the locations that most impress. There's a clever one in the Black Mountain. Here, you'll find Nightkin, tough first generation super mutants who were part of the Master's army in Fallout 1. You'll also find a group of second generation super mutants that came from the military base in Fallout 2. Thankfully they're not as strong or as smart as the Nightkin. Tabitha, the Nightkin's disturbed leader, calls them "dumb dumbs".
The quest here involves turning the super mutants against each other by exploiting their paranoia. To do this, you interrupt the warning broadcast, convincing Tabitha that the dumb dumbs are revolting with a unique dialogue option prompted by your high speech skill (New Vegas will have loads of specialised dialogue options, tied into all of your abilities). Then, you sit back and watch the mutants go at it. But, as is often the case, you also get roped into the killing – and the situation calls for some serious firepower. Luckily, Chris has the grenade machine gun. Yes, the grenade machine gun. "It still makes me laugh when I hear about it," Chris says with a smile. "When I heard about it from our project director, he was like, it's a machine gun, but it fires grenades!" A mod increases its rate of fire, which just isn't fair. Poor super mutants.
The great thing about the Fallout games is they allow you to complete quests in different ways, often via some gleefully sadistic choices. In New Vegas, however, not only will you have multiple options, but you’ll also have to contend with reputation. Back at Goodsprings, you end up deciding the fate of the entire town: After a Powder Ganger called Joe Cobb threatens to burn the place to the ground, you can convince the locals to get together for a last stand, ally with Cobb, or just ignore the whole situation. Help the town, and your reputation with Goodsprings will improve. In an NCR base called Helios One, what was once a solar energy plant built by Poseidon Energy, you can activate an orbital beam weapon, called Archimedes II, and destroy the entire encampment, reducing your reputation with the faction to rubble.
The reputation system is one of New Vegas' most interesting new mechanics. Chris promises that you'll be able to gain and lose reputation with all the major factions in the game, including the two potential "bad guy groups": the New California Republic and Caesar's Legion (the Brotherhood of Steel are in the game, but we don't know why). If you fancy it, you can piss them both off, which should make traversing the Mojave Wasteland particularly dangerous. But just how sophisticated the reputation system is, and how it can affect the story, remains a mystery, as does much of New Vegas' intriguing plot.
So yeah, first impressions can be misleading. After spending an hour with the game, I'm convinced New Vegas will be a brilliant, albeit familiar experience. The doubters will no doubt continue to doubt (though the Strip, yet to be revealed, may help in this regard). The quests we've seen look interesting, complex and fun. The writing strikes a similar tone to Fallout 3's, which will either disappoint if you're a Fallout traditionalist or delight if you're a Fallout 3 enthusiast. The combat looks the same, frankly. And the graphics... well, they do look tired. But digging beneath New Vegas' dusty surface reveals an open world role-playing game of huge promise. Second impressions, here we come.
Fallout: New Vegas is due out on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 this autumn.