I’ll be straight here: I love role-playing games. I simply love them – open-ended, western RPGs, that is, not so much the linear Japanese ones. I’m also not a huge fan of online RPGs, mostly because the quickest way to spoil the illusion of any given world is to invite other players in, with their inane utterances of “LOL” and “pwned” and “what’s your spec?” I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, and if you share my sentiments, then you probably already know about Bethesda Softworks and Obsidian Entertainment’s latest RPG masterpiece: Fallout: New Vegas.

If you’ve never played a Fallout game before, well – shame on you, firstly – and secondly, all you really need to know is that they take place in a post-apocalyptic future where the US and China have all but destroyed civilisation as we know it with nuclear weapons. Some people were lucky enough to take refuge in underground shelters known as vaults, and others simply found areas where the radiation wasn’t as strong and weathered the worst of it for about 200 years. Round about this time, civilisation is at last beginning to rebuild itself as scattered settlements of survivors eke out a dreary living while dealing with the daily hazards of radiation, bandits, and mutated wasteland creatures.

In Fallout: New Vegas, players start out as a courier carrying a package to Vegas, who is robbed, bound, shot in the face and left in a shallow grave. Luckily, a silly robot with cowboy mannerisms digs your sorry hide up and takes you over to the local doctor of a town called Goodsprings. This is where you get to create your character. You can make a male or female of any race, and then define their starting attributes, you know: Strength, Intelligence, Charisma, Agility and so on. Each of these has a much more profound impact in Fallout than in most other RPGs, so choose carefully, because, in Fallout, there aren’t many ways to increase or alter these basic stats once you’ve chosen. Once that’s done, you get to spend a certain amount of points on various skills, like guns, melee weapons, science, speech, lockpicking, sneak and so on. You don’t have to be quite as careful with these because there are many ways to increase your skills in the game. A point to note, the higher your character’s intelligence stat, the more skill points you get to spend at each level, so if you want to master lots of skills quickly, create a boffin with a high IQ. Once you’re done with this, you get to play through an optional tutorial and then you’re pretty much left to your own devices in the wide open Mojave Desert surrounding Vegas and the Hoover Dam.

You can start talking to people immediately, looking for things to do, or you can jump right into the main quest and follow it to see the story unfold. There are hundreds of quests that need completing, that reward the player with money, items and experience. You can also head out into the wilderness and start hunting creatures for their meat, fur and so on and sell that. Or you can just become a complete psycho and murder everyone you see – it’s entirely up to you. Every time you complete a quest, kill and enemy, pick a lock, hack a computer, coerce a character, or do anything at all, you earn experience points. Earn enough of them and its level-up time, where you get to further increase your character’s skills. At every alternate level, players get to choose a Perk. These interesting benefits are unique to the Fallout series, and grant all kinds of abilities and bonuses. For instance, the Educated Perk grants your character two extra skill points to spend at every level-up – very useful. Another fan favourite is the Bloody Mess Perk, which makes enemies explode into a gory mass of innards when they die.

An interesting character creation feature in Fallout is the character Traits. Traits are two special Perks that you choose when you create your character – and that’s the only time you ever get to see that list. What makes them interesting is that each one has a positive and negative side, and you have to choose two of them no matter what, putting an interesting slant on the gameplay. Other improvements include the ability to aim through a weapon’s iron sights, tightened-up controls for manual shooting, the ability to create your own ammo, the ability to apply mods to weapons, and the ability to have two AI companions at once and command them more effectively, to name the highlights. One of the things that fans loved about Fallout 3 was the freedom we had to choose. Usually, in other RPGs, you get a quest, you complete it, and you get the reward, but in Fallout, almost every quest in the game can be completed in at least three different ways, usually a good, bad and neutral way. For instance, a random traveller might run up to you begging for protection from bandits. You can rush to his aid heroically, choose not to get involved, or even rob the poor bastard yourself. Often these choices have far-reaching consequences. If you make an enemy of a particular group or faction, you can be sure they’ll always react with hostility towards you, but if you help them out, they’ll make it worth your while. This open-ended, choice-and-consequence type of gameplay is what makes Fallout so enticing and sets it apart from almost every other RPG out there.

I could go on forever, but unfortunately the 1,000 words I have for this review isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of Fallout: New Vegas. All I can say is that if you want an in-depth role-playing experience with months of play value where your choices actually mean something, then you have to give this one a go.