Fallout: New Vegas Updated Hands-On - An Hour in the Slums of Freeside

We have only one precious hour to explore the slums of Freeside on the outskirts of New Vegas at QuakeCon 2010. <i>Will we make it out alive?</i>

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QuakeCon 2010 is under way, and as it turns out, id Software's parent company Zenimax Media is showing new games from another subsidiary, Bethesda Softworks, including Fallout: New Vegas, the next chapter in the Fallout series from Obsidian Entertainment (a studio that includes several of the designers behind the original Fallout games of the late 1990s). We sat down with an entirely new area in New Vegas, Freeside, with a powerful character and not a whole lot of direction. Sadly, we had only an hour to play the game and weren't able to make all that much progress, though we got a good sense of some of the game's new content and quests. Please be advised that this story contains minor plot spoilers.

In New Vegas, if you want peace, you must prepare for bloody gun battles.
In New Vegas, if you want peace, you must prepare for bloody gun battles.

Our session began with a male character at the edge of Freeside, a garbage-filled, broken-down slum filled mostly with petty thugs, piles of junk, and the occasional revitalized postapocalyptic casino. We started with a basic mission of trying to enter New Vegas from the main gate, and followed our compass in the lower-left corner of our screen down the street until we saw what appeared to be a gun battle in the streets. Apparently, a few Freeside thugs were engaged in battle with a frosty-haired, pinstripe-suit-wearing dead ringer for the late, great Sammy Davis Jr. named "Old Ben."

Being the upstanding citizens we are, we pitched in to help defend the beleaguered non-player character (which had a proper name) from the similar-looking thugs (who did not have proper names). To tell you the truth, in all the excitement, we kind of lost track and may or may not have accidentally fired a shot or two at Old Ben using the game's VATS zoom-in combat system (which, just like in Fallout 3, pauses the game and lets you aim at specific body parts on your target). And we may or may not have accidentally on-purpose zoomed in on Old Ben to unload a few shotgun shells directly into his face. And this may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that Old Ben was using a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world (which would blow a punk's head clean off)--a gun we didn't yet have in our inventory. But mainly, it was the upstanding citizen thing. Shockingly, once the thugs were dead, Old Ben had the nerve to open fire on us, and, like any right-thinking citizen of the postapocalyptic wasteland, we defended ourselves by sneaking in close, opening up VATS again, and emptying the contents of our shotgun into his cranium. It was only fair.

So, we took Old Ben down and picked up his shiny hand cannon, and, feeling pretty good about ourselves, turned our attention to a band of what appeared to be greasers from the 1950s called the "Kings." We opened fire on one with our Magnum and, as advertised, blew his head clean off in trademark Fallout 3 slow motion and whacked his friend in the same fashion, beheading and all. It was the other three Kings guys we didn't account for that somehow got the best of us, firing at us on all sides, and soon our character was taking a dirt nap.

Threats in New Vegas don't always respond to reason. But that isn't necessarily a reason to attack. Unless you really want to.
Threats in New Vegas don't always respond to reason. But that isn't necessarily a reason to attack. Unless you really want to.

We then restarted from our original position and decided to try a less homicidal approach, maybe even talk to a few characters before shooting. We followed our compass to the New Vegas gates, which were guarded by "Securitron gatekeepers"--giant police robots with a comical retro-future look that could have come out of The Jetsons. The metal monsters were basically giant steel boxes mounted on a unicycle wheel with an antenna on top and a TV monitor display in front showing an exaggerated cartoon caricature of a grumpy policeman. One police robot immediately approached us once we neared the door and demanded the right to run a "credit check" on us--which essentially meant that we had to either attain passport documents (through a series of quests), bribe it with 2,000 bottle caps (which we didn't possess at the time), or hack it using the science skill (our character's skill was insufficient).

Rather than risk violent death yet again, we instead set out to find a passport, first making the acquaintance of Old Ben who, as it turns out, is a capital fellow who wants to contribute some good to the lawless slums, especially given his shady past as a guard, a butcher, and an "escort" (and for the record, the term "escort" here doesn't mean that he protected other characters by walking alongside them; it means the other thing). In order to get the proper papers, we had to work with the King's gang (rather than just slaughter them), which meant that we had to speak with the gang's leader, a man known simply as The King, who hung out in a nearby music shop dedicated to, of all things, musical impersonation, and which required a loading screen transition to enter. For those who can't quite place the reference of working with 1950s-era greasers in Las Vegas based in a musical impersonation shop and led by a man named The King, you'll figure it out when you meet the man in the gang's headquarters and he thanks you (thanks you very much) if you decide to work for him.

Our first job was to investigate a Freeside bodyguard, Orris, who is somehow monopolizing the business of guarding bodies and is taking valuable job opportunities away from the Kings. The gang leader put an extra couple hundred bottle caps in our pocket to pay off the potentially crooked chaperone by posing as a civilian in need of protection. After crossing to another quadrant of Freeside (and sitting through a load screen to make the transition), we found our entrepreneur and hired him to babysit us from point A to point B, then followed him when he took off running.

New Vegas is the new Wild West. Better cock your pistols.
New Vegas is the new Wild West. Better cock your pistols.

All of a sudden, the bodyguard stopped us, claiming that something didn't seem right, and ordered us to follow him into a sharp detour that led to four menacing thugs. The bodyguard pulled out his sidearm, and shots were fired at the thugs until they went down. We then spoke with him and, thanks to our character's above-average intelligence score, were able to point out that he gunned down four thugs with only three shots. The bodyguard dodged the question and we decided to drop the issue rather than risk blowing our cover and followed him the rest of the way. At this point, our quest journal updated itself, directing us to report back to The King with our findings. After a quick run back to that area, which involved sitting through another loading screen transition, we reported that the shyster was running a scam with phony assailants and were rewarded with a wad of cash and a new quest--to find out why a band of travelers were assaulted at Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Historic Park the other night.

We headed off to the camp area where the battered travelers were holed up, sitting through another load screen transition to get there. Apparently, the two other witnesses were in the same tent and saw little of the three thugs, except that they were much bigger than most normal travelers and extremely young, and one of them was named "Lou." "Lou Tenant." From this clue, our character surmised that the characters were likely part of the New California Republic, a political group that once had aspirations to unite the scattered settlements of the wasteland, but is now busy warring with a highly organized group of New Vegas slavers called Caesar's Legion.

Now that we knew the attacks were caused by the military, we headed back to The King's base, sitting through another load screen transition, and informed him of our findings. Perplexed, The King suggests that this attack could mean that NCR is making a bid for control of all of New Vegas, which would be big news indeed, and instructed us to speak with the medic Julie in Freeside's squatter camp. We once again left the building, once again sitting through a load screen transition, and made our way to the squatter camp, sitting through another load screen, to find that Julie, the humanitarian medic, was up to her neck in wounded civilians and extremely short on valuable Med-X supplies to treat the wounded.

New Vegas will jingle and/or jangle its way to stores this October.
New Vegas will jingle and/or jangle its way to stores this October.

After vowing to help her with her supply issue, we spoke with her about the recent attacks to find that she was sympathetic to NCR and actively working with them. The nurse suggested we find an NCR officer to discuss the attacks, but since time was running out on our play session, we decided to leave the beaten path and start poking around the squatter area, which also houses two casinos, the Silver Star and the Atomic Wrangler. We ducked our head into the Atomic Wrangler to find a dark and seedy bar with a basement housing poker and roulette tables next to a cashier's window where all the game's currencies (bottle caps, Legion currency, and NCR dollars) can be exchanged for chips, and a second floor housing private rooms for escorts (again, the other kind of "escorts") offering a good time in exchange for bottle caps. We skipped out on the amenities and instead spoke with the proprietor, John, who suggested that he could help Julie with her Med-X supply issues if the nurse used her science skills to help refine the casino's alcohol still to churn out purer, more-concentrated alcohol to lace the house's drinks. The bartender pointed out that stronger drinks meant drunker patrons who spent more money at the casinos, and since it was for a good cause, we agreed to ferry the message back to Julie.

It was just then that our time with New Vegas ran out, so we reluctantly relinquished the controller. While we didn't get to experience much of the game in the time we were given, we were able to get a sense of the open-endedness and degree of choice you'll have in the game. Just like in Fallout 3, you can seemingly resort to violence just about whenever you want, though in many cases, this can have deadly repercussions--using words instead of bullets can get you what you want without a lot of pain, especially if you have sufficient ability scores or skill points. New Vegas will be released this October.

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