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Fallout: New Vegas gameplay preview

Living the first hour of post-apocalyptic Nevada

Fallout 3 began with a birth. Fallout: New Vegas kicks off with death. Well, almost; as a courier hired by Mojave Express, your job to deliver a package to the Las Vegas strip ends prematurely thanks to an unidentified man in a chequered jacket and a gang of goons. After stealing your parcel - a poker chip, as it happens - Man In The Jacket leaves you with a bullet in your head, half-buried out in the desert.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. Our first taste of New Vegas opens with an intro movie and Ron Perlman delivering his iconic "War never changes" line (as he does every Fallout). As we pan across the Strip, still all bright lights, boobie bars and drunks stumbling around the streets, we can tell that Fallout: New Vegas could offer several changes from our experiences in the Washington wastelands...

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CHARACTER BUILDING
Needless to say, you haven't been left as food for the irradiated wildlife because your saviour, Victor the robot, drags you from the earth and into the surgery of local medic, Doc Mitchell. Luckily, the good doctor's skills are good as you're soon patched up and ready to track down the SOB who shot you. Not before you've created your character, though.

Unlike the lengthy creation process in Fallout 3, Mitchell makes the process much more streamlined; after asking your name and showing you a mirror (where you can customise your appearance and age - we went for a nifty mohawk and biker 'tache combo) you're led to a machine called the Vigor Tester. This little fella (which looks like one of those old fashioned 'Love Testers') is where you assign your stat points.

Before we leave, the Doc gives us a personality quiz and ink blot test. This is a nifty way of working out what special trait skills you can equip. Although they're basically another form of perks, these character qualities (strength, charisma and so on - a returning feature from Fallouts 1 and 2) are with you from day one.

After a quick check of the kit he gives us (a tired old rifle, second-hand Vault suit and his old PIP-Boy), we head for the door and out for some more post-apocalyptic adventuring. Before we do, one final message flashes up: do we want to play in Hardcore mode? Considering we have just 50 minutes left of our hour's hands-on time, we reluctantly opt out. However, we'll definitely tick the box in future.

Choose Hardcore mode and there are several things you'll need to bear in mind; Stimpaks heal slowly. Rad Away take time to reduce your radiation exposure. Plus, ammo will have a weight and, more importantly, you'll have to monitor your hydration levels. Time is already pressing though, and we're itching to explore...

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Eyes blinking in the sunlight, we assess our first taste of the town of Goodsprings. Hmm. Our instant reaction is that it looks much like the wasteland in Fallout 3. Then the details sink in. We can hear insects and the occasional bird. There's the odd tuft of grass and the sky is a pleasant blue. There's no mistaking the apocalypse but the outskirts of Vegas definitely boasts more functioning life.

PIECE OF THE FACTIONS
In Fallout 3, the battle was between the Brotherhood of Steel, Enclave and the ever-growing numbers of Super Mutants. In Fallout: New Vegas you're going to have to get to grips with many new factions. Most prominent is the NCR - the New Californian Republic. These guys were responsible for getting the Hoover Dam operational (a constant supply of drinkable water, see), as well as upholding strict, old world democracy. They don't have things all their own way though - their grip on the West Coast is being challenged by a substantial opposing force. Caesar's Legion (recognisable by their ancient Roman style armour) is a powerful slaver organization who want what the NCR own. You'll also encounter several smaller groups vying for power, such as the Powder Gang and the Great Khans, all adding to the complex political unbalance in the region.

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