Bethesda have been producing some incredibly popular RPGs in the last few years. Morrowind and Oblivion have revolutionized the way the west views single-player role-playing titles, subsequently shifting huge volumes. There have been positive reviews all round across the titles and both games have developed massive fanbases.

Today at E3, Bethesda are unveiling something with a lot less magic and horse-riding, instead, their new title instead chock full of post-apocalyptic mutants, flying limbs and battered landscapes. The developer is continuing with a series much-adored by a relatively small but extremely devoted team of fans. This is a franchise many would be scared to touch: Fallout.

Fallout 3 centers around a particular vault-dweller. If you’re unfamiliar with the Fallout universe; vaults were created to enable a select few people to survive if nuclear warfare ever occurred. It did, and communities were forced to live within vaults for a number of generations.

The game’s opening is rather unique to say the least: You actually play out your own birth, and literally take your first steps. You’re then tasked with answering a few questions to help determine how your character shapes out.

The game goes on to let you play out various stages through your early years, first as you’re born, at one, then ten, and then sixteen.

The second quest of the game is named Growing Up Fast, and is where you’ll be awarded your PIP-Boy 3000. It’s clear at this point that much will be controlled in the game via the PIP-Boy. The handheld device will allow you to view your stats, organize and consume your items, pick your weapons and so on.

This takes place during your birthday party and allows you to try and make friends.

You’re given the chance to have your first few conversations. Bethesda being Bethesda, they’ve made the dialogue often pretty funny.

After finishing the quest that pits you as a ten-year-old is done, you’re put into that murky teenage time, taking your first steps into flirtation and having to cope with abuse from bullies.

After our protagonist has had a little chance to grow up, his father (voiced by the Liam Neeson, no less) runs away. As he was the vault’s official physician, and seems as nobody has ever left before, this is big news.

Leaving the vault exposes the vastness of the game’s setting, with a landscape littered with desolate villages, mutant creatures, rogue traders, broken highways and generally battered everything.

The game has an interesting approach to combat; while it is possible to just point and shoot, you can also make the choice to transfer into an alternative mode that nods a head to Fallout games of old.

The targeting system is called VATS, which stands for Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System. One of the great things about this feature is that once you’ve decided on a part to hit, players are treated to a well-shot cinematic. If this is the move that will bring your enemy to an end, these short sequences are especially impressive.

When using VATS, the action is paused and you’re given the option to switch between going for various body parts, one at a time of course, with a percentage displayed onscreen of how likely it is you’ll hit them. The percentage, as you’d expect, is affected by your stats in true RPG style. This, whilst being familiar to role-players, gives those without first-person shooter skills a chance to slay their enemies when it matters most.

Although the game might appeal to those who previously didn’t want to play not-so visually impressive RPGs of the past, hardcore stat-loving role-playing fans have certainly not been forgotten. XP is earned by killing enemies, your character, of course, can level up and skills of various sorts can be improved to create a massively bespoke character. Skills in the game consist of Barter, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Lockpick, Medicine, Melee Weapons, Repair, Science, Small Guns, Sneak, Speech and Unarmed. There’s also a barter system of sorts, though how exactly that works we don’t yet know.

Dialogue has been key to Fallout for a long time, with humor playing a huge part, so Bethesda, much like with the game’s execution generally, are under a lot of pressure to get it right.

The aforementioned quest in which you’re tasked to make a few life-affecting decisions as a baby is where you’ll first encounter the game’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat system. This will be familiar to fans of previous Fallout games and is derived from an old mechanic known as GURPS. GURPS was created by Steve Jackson, who if you’re unaware of, wrote a number of role-playing games back in the early eighties (he isn’t to be confused with the other Steve Jackson, who devised and wrote a series of role-playing books, of which the Steve Jackson in question also contributed to, phew). GURPS stood for Generic Universal RolePlaying System, and consisted primarily of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Health (which came with a bunch of secondary stats).

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is an acronym for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. The chance to assign a point to each of these stats is fairly rare, with a minimum of 1, and maximum of 10 possible for each.

Your character’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. will affect Action Points, Carry Weight, Critical Chance, Damage Resistance, Fire Resistance, Health, Melee Damage, Poison Resistance, Radiation Resistance and Unarmed Damage.

Fallout 3 also features perks, which you’ll gain one of with every level up. Perks are incredibly varied and will be available in various increments as you get to higher levels. These are given various amusing and (often distastefully in)appropriate names, such as Little Leaguer, which’ll cause you to inflict far more damage with a baseball bat.

An obvious comparison as it might be, the game is looking like, if Bethesda do their job right, it could do for Fallout what Morrowind, and subsequently Oblivion, did for The Elder Scrolls, taking the franchise from something a few hundred thousand people know and love, to creating something more in the region of several millions of fanboys/girls.