Destruction, destruction, destruction. That's the mantra at Bethesda for creating Fallout 3's world - where it's been hundreds of years since the fall of civilization. That means that not only is the environment a beautifully ruined one, but its ruination has layers and depth: while the world died years ago, time and war have continued to erode the wrecked world.
The developers told us they looked at Oblivion as a learning experience for Bethesda's next-gen ideas, and the fruits of that process were immediately evident. While the presentation wasn't much more than a narrated demo, essentially an extended trailer of live gameplay, it proved (to me, at least) that not only is Fallout 3 worth the years of waiting, but that Bethesda's focus on enormous worlds with exacting details makes an amazingly well-realized fit with the Fallout legacy. And most importantly of all, the token traits of Fallout are still intact: retro-future design, radiation, stims, super mutants and the lot.
In a world where Oblivion is merely a preparatory stage for anything, you can expect to be impressed by its successor. The essential play style doesn't vary too much from Oblivion, although the over-the-shoulder 3rd person view looked awesome and surprisingly unique, as the camera hovers not behind you, but behind and beside you.
We saw a brief view of the destroyed capital, accompanied by the Brotherhood of Steel, but most of the demo focused on working your way in and out of Megaton, a town whose population worships an unexploded nuclear bomb (thank you, Planet of the Apes), and is guarded by sliding gates made from the engine and wings of a downed aircraft carrier. The mission? To either destroy the town, a blight on the burgeoning urban metropolis or, you know, not destroy the poor villagers. Naturally I thrilled at the shockwave of finally-detonated atomic fun - Pip-Boy would be devastated if I felt otherwise.
In other atomic news, the miniature nuclear bomb launcher looked just awesome in action, and Oblivion's rather massive inventory system has been repaired with some help from traditional Fallout skills: rather than accumulating 15 identical items, you can salvage parts from a weapon to upgrade any weapon of the same type. If your repair skill is high enough, of course.
Fallout fans, our time has come.