Gamers return to the post-apocalyptic frontier for more hardscrabble living and darkly comic violence in Fallout: New Vegas. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment (known primarily for its competent stewardship of BioWare's Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic franchises), Fallout: New Vegas draws inspiration from all of its forebears, offering a Western setting and factions reminiscent of Fallout and Fallout 2, while retaining the gameplay mechanics and graphics of Fallout 3. <br><br>While ostensibly a sequel to Bethesda's epic action RPG that found gamers exploring the wastelands on a hunt for their altruistic father, Fallout: New Vegas chooses to spin a classic tale of revenge befitting the "sinful" nature of the town that is its locus. Players begin their New Vegas saga as a simple courier who is inexplicably shot in the head and unceremoniously left to die in a shallow Mojave grave. Thanks to the intervention of strange robot and a friendly doctor, gamers survive this apparent death sentence with nothing more than amnesia and an intense desire for exploration and retribution. This new outlook on life forces players into a dangerous open world, where giant radioactive creatures roam the countryside, and raiders, slavers, supermutants, and ghouls vie for control of territory and resources. Combat and conversation remain the primary means of advancing the storyline, with mercenary missions and random battles providing for character advancement, and the V.A.T.S. targeting system and branching dialogue of Fallout 3 returning unmolested.<br><br>Obsidian has added a number of its own flourishes, led by a new reputation system that builds on the franchise's established Karma mechanic, continually updating gamers' standing among the wasteland's various settlers and warring factions. Companions also take a larger role, as players can now form a party, pass off weapons and items to friendly characters, and instruct their squad mates whether to be passive or aggressive in combat situations. Gamers also have more battle options thanks to new weapons, modifications, and special attacks; and the Nevada Wastes landscape is just as treacherous as the similarly sized Capital Wasteland thanks to militant factions and ferocious new beasts. Fallout: New Vegas also includes a "Hardcore" mode that operates outside of standard difficulty levels, and is designed to ratchet up the realism by giving ammunition weight, requiring players to remain hydrated, and making wounds heal gradually rather than instantly.<br><br>The "Ultimate Edition" includes the full original game, as well as all the expansions "Dead Money," "Honest Hearts," "Old World Blues," and "Lonesome Road," as well as the "Courier's Stash" and "Gun Runner's Arsenal" weapons and armor add-ons. The expansions open up new areas for gamers to explore, including the Sierra Madre Casino, Zion National Park, and the Big MT research crater, and the level cap has been raised from 30 to 50.