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Fallout 4 Preview: Back Into the Wastelands

LOS ANGELES—If Fallout 4 is anything close to the demo shown at E3 2015 this week, the game is a bit like the old wedding rhyme: Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. The something old is as simple as the game's omnipresent tagline, "War, war never changes." The something new is the setting -- fans looking to explore the burnt out remains of a large American city and make their mark won't leave Fallout 4 disappointed. The game's borrowed crafting mechanics from different genres have the potential to deliver intriguing new experiences as the Vault-dweller makes his or her way around the Wastelands in the series' trademark blue vault uniform.

Boston Bound

This time, Fallout's irradiated husk is Boston, which not-so-coincidentally is next to where M.I.T., one of the premier colleges for science and technology is located. Players will once again emerge from the vault as the lone survivor trying to cope with the harsh, unforgiving environment the world has become. But instead of starting in the vault, the game begins before the bomb drops in 1950s America.

Who Do You Think You Are?

At the start of the demo, Bethesda introduced the new character creation system. Instead of scrolling through facial characteristics and picking pre-rendered odds and ends, gamers sculpt the features by scrolling over certain areas of the face. The whole process takes place while prepping in the mirror with your spouse as you both get ready for the day. The end result is a graceful and efficient system that enables players to make some of the best-looking characters in the series. We were assured that similar to other Fallout games, you can play as a man or woman.

MORE: From Doom to Fallout: Bethesda's E3 2015 Roundup

After you're done creating your character, you go and check in on your baby, which looks like an amalgamation of you and your spouse. From there, you answer a knock at the door which reveals a Vault-Tek salesmen, checking in on your recent vault reservation for your family. It's here that you use the old skill-point distributing S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system.

For Fallout newcomers, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. allows you to distribute an allotted number of skill points across seven categories (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck). How you distribute this points affects how you interact with certain characters and challenges. Want to talk your way out of a rough spot instead of battling it out? Spend a few more points on Intelligence and Charisma.

Once you're all squared away with the salesman, your personal robot Codsworth calls you into the living room to the watch the incoming news. The war has started and it's time to get your family to the safety of the vault. Your family arrives at the vault just as the bomb drops, and a devastating mushroom cloud envelops everything. Luckily, you and your family make it into the relative safety of the vault. 

Welcome to the Wastelands

In the next scene, you emerge from the vault as the lone survivor to a ruined world. Making your way back to your old neighborhood, you discover that Codsworth, your mechanical butler, survived the blast. Even more amazing, he states that 200 years have passed since you enter the vault.

From here, Bethesda showed off Fallout's new dialogue system. Like past entries in the system, you have several branches of dialogue to choose from. However, instead of silently choosing your answer, your avatar can speak, similar to games such as Mass Effect. You can also walk away in the middle of a conversation instead of waiting around.

Bethesda also took time to reveal some of the open-world environment and combat. Similar to past editions of Fallout, the wasteland is expansive and begging to be explored. As the first Fallout to debut on next-generation systems, disastrous ruin has never looked so good. Don't let the decaying beauty distract you from the task at hand or else one of the many irradiated wasteland creatures will make a meal of you.

We saw the vault-dweller dispatch a few radroaches and mole rats using the familiar V.A.T.S. system which lets players slow down time and target critical points on enemies. A simple revolver is enough to deal with the smaller terrors, but for imposing beasts like the deathstalker and heavily armored raiders, you need something with a bit more stopping power.

MORE: E3 2015 Day 1: What You Missed

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

Survival of the Craftiest

That's where the new crafting system comes in. Similar to what you'd find in games such as Tomb Raider, you can scavenge random scraps of junk to create more powerful weapons. In one instance, the Bethesda rep cobbled together a launcher that fired exploding teddy bears -- something I've chuckled at when I've played Dead Rising.

The crafting doesn't stop there, as players will have the ability to salvage whole buildings to create their own settlement. As you acquire more sophisticated materials, you can add generators to power lighting and defense mechanisms designed to deter roving bands of raiders.

In the scenes I saw, the Bethesda rep created several lines of defense, including turrets and flamethrowers. It's a mechanic that borrows heavily from tower defense titles such as Orcs Must Die. The invading forces that attempted to break in were simultaneously burned and shot.

Bottom Line

It's been five years since the last Fallout title, but it looks like it was worth the wait. If the demo is any indication, gamers can expect the tried-and-true Fallout experience, full of opportunities to explore and craft your own stories. It appears Bethesda has successfully weaved several elements from other games and genres to help evolve the brand in ways that make sense for characters trying to survive in an apocalyptic wasteland. As far as we're concerned, the game's Nov. 10 release date can't get here soon enough.

Sherri L. Smith is a Senior Writer at Tom's Guide. When she's not reviewing the latest headphones and speakers, you'll find her gaming on her Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC. Follow Sherri at @misssmith11. Follow us @TomsGuide and on Facebook.