I pumped 35 hours into Fallout 3 and didn't get anywhere near to completing the main quest. Sitting in front of this semi-sequel to Bethesda's post-apocalyptic RPG, with a one-hour time limit in which to create a character and explore the Wasteland, is a daunting prospect. Like prodding a Deathclaw and attempting to run away.
Thankfully, New Vegas's character creator is an exercise in expediency. After being plucked near dead from the Nevada desert, the doctor who rescued me administered a Rorschach test, had me play with a love machine and asked a few personal questions. Within five minutes I had created 'Buck', a stealthy fem-sassin, looted the doctor's office for meds and a hat, snagged a rifle from a townie, and scoped the little hub town I found myself in.
I asked the locals about the surrounding area and headed off towards Primm, because it's a town with a rollercoaster. It's how I played the first game: heading off to interesting places and hoping the journey would be as unpleasant as possible.
The wasteland out here is nicer than the first game's grim, grey Washington DC. The bomb didn't cause as much damage. Big skies, fluffy clouds, a more vibrant landscape. By all means soak it up like a dose of cadmium, but the natives will spot you. My first encounter was easy enough: two Gangers firing at me from a distance. VATS hasn't changed: the action pauses, you're given some action points to spend on hitting your attacker's body parts, with each part given a percentage chance of a hit, and when it unpauses you unload. I caught one in the head with a critical hit, and the other fled. There was crump noise and the little red marker disappeared off the radar. He fled into his own trap and blew up. Bodies and camps are still a good source of loot, and rooting around the corpses I found a cleaver, dynamite, a laser pistol and a gang uniform. Wearing it would let me mingle with them, if I met their type along the road to Primm.
The Primm rollercoaster stood in the distance like a frozen snake. The road was cracked and worn. A few surprisingly cute little geckos attacked me. You know what? Even when they attack you, it's kind of hard to bring a cleaver down on an irradiated gecko. They cower, then scamper away on two legs. I've never beaten a child, but I'm guessing it's a lot harder than beating a gecko.
I arrived at Primm, where a guard warned me it was full of escaped convicts. "Pah", I said to him, gesturing to the gecko corpse-strewn road behind me to show how serious my business was. Nothing would stop me reaching that rollercoaster.
The value of VATS and stealth is clear in Primm: pick someone off without being seen and it's pretty much a free kill. After that, if the rest of your enemies are well armoured, you need to select the right weapon for the job, aim for unprotected areas or their own gun, and spend those action points wisely. You don't want to end up like me, firing without VATS, getting overwhelmed and hiding up the stairs in a wrecked building, crouching around the corner, dodging dynamite when it came over edge of the broken wall. While Fallout's inventory pauses the action when you dip into it to select a new weapon, it's still clunky, ugly and based on the Pip Boy. I survived, but only on Stimpaks and cowardice.
Sadly the rollercoaster was broken and I died leaping off it. Restarting gave me the opportunity to take Buck elsewhere. I choose to head for Vegas. I'd never make it in the time, but that's not a problem. Another Ganger attacked me. I backed off, watching him lunge at me, considering my options, when a voice called. Prospectors! Chomp Lewis and his friends couldn't stand by and watch an innocent woman get beaten, so Chomp ran at the attacker with a sledgehammer and destroyed his head. The grisly scene was repeated. Another attacker I hadn't spotted came over the hill, and died at Chomp's hammer.
Chomp warned me the road ahead was very dangerous. A plan forms. I love sledgehammers, and he has one. I ran on ahead and a Deathclaw, a powerful bi-pedal lizard, appeared. As soon as it was aggroed, I fled back to the prospectors. Chomp, high on adrenaline and Stimpaks, manned up again, running at the scything, ugly beast. There's a reason it's called a Deathclaw. It clawed Chomp to death. Weight of numbers brought it down, eventually, but I got in the winning blow with the dead man's sledgehammer. Life in the Wasteland is hard enough for his team to not begrudge me the prize. I shouldd feel bad, but it's a really nice sledgehammer.
I never played Fallout 3 as a survivalist. It was too silly. The apocalypse became a playground as I ran around in pyjamas, wearing wig and splatting orcs with a steampunk hammer. New Vegas gave me a sledgehammer in the first hour. I really can't wait for the next 34.