Creating a sequel – indirect or otherwise – to a title like Fallout 3 is no easy task. Considered by many to be a Game of the Year title (2008) and by most to be in that year’s top five, Fallout 3 revitalised a beloved role-playing franchise that had been on hiatus for a decade.

Right from the beginning, Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian has intended for their upcoming segue title to play to their own design strengths. It makes sense, of course, but it’s a particularly sensitive subject when the foundation game is held in such high esteem and the studio’s name is, for some, synonymous with the incomplete launch of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – a project that has markedly similar origins to New Vegas.

Set in a ‘50s-inspired post-nuclear holocaust Nevada, players assume the role of a courier who has been robbed of a mysterious parcel at gunpoint and left for dead in the Mojave Desert.

Obsidian’s strengths lie squarely in content and character storytelling. In Fallout: New Vegas, there’s no single (or binary good/evil) way to complete the game. There’s not even a final boss. Instead, Obsidian is introducing four factions that players can gain or lose reputation status with, each with its own conclusion. Alternatively, players can ignore these factions altogether and shape events to their own choosing.

Companions, something that featured lightly in Fallout 3, have been greatly enhanced in New Vegas. Not only are there more command options available, but companions will be fully realised characters in themselves, not merely a kind of glorified pet.

The developer has also taken a long look at the modding community for Fallout 3 and cherry picked fan favourites to integrate into Fallout: New Vegas. Of particular note are the extensive weapon mods of Fallout 3. Obsidian has increased the base number of weapons available in the game and dramatically increased upgrading options.

How players interact with NPCs has also been redrafted and brought into line with the expanded reputation system. Dialogue with NPCs will vary based on the player’s faction ratings, opening new options and closing some off.

The weapon skills have also been put under close scrutiny. Melee in particular has been significantly upgraded. It was a combat technique that was never really a viable option in Fallout 3, in spite of the wide array of weaponry available. Now, investing in melee will unlock special combat moves for every melee weapon type in the game.

Fallout: New Vegas has no direct narrative ties to Fallout 3. However, players of Fallout and Fallout 2 will discover a variety of creatures, characters and locations that featured in those titles. Many working on New Vegas have the heritage to do these nuggets of homage justice: Obsidian’s senior game designer Chris Avellone, for example, worked on Fallout 2 during his time with Interplay.

Obsidian is a studio that needs to work at its own pace. When it’s given the freedom to do so, it can create first-rate games. Happily, publisher Bethesda appears to have done just that.

Fallout New Vegas is due in late October for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.