Fallout: New Vegas Dead Money DLC – Review
Fallout New Vegas is back! Well to be fair I don’t think it went anywhere, but since my last outing with it there has been a major patch to resolve a large number of issues and some DLC weighing in at a fairly standard 800MSP. The Dead Money DLC has ‘The Courier’ drawn to the mysterious Sierra Madre casino whose existence is known only via legends and rumours. As with the Fallout 3 DLC packs, you are notified of the new content via a radio signal. Interestingly, the location to access the DLC already existed in the original game, although the entrance was locked, which to me indicated this was already planned/unfinished/left out for DLC to gain more caps cash, depending on your level of cynicism regarding DLC.
Re-acquainting myself with my inventory, companions and selling the tat that I had collected prior to the saving point, I decided it was time for my Courier to make for the location marked on my PipBoy map; I fast-travelled too, thanks to my earlier over-zealous exploratory efforts. The previously closed bunker door opened up to a small system of tunnels and then, in true Fallout style, a dead body lying by the ominous looking dim stairwell and mis-spelled graffiti with an arrow pointing to the Sierra Madre above it, told me I was about to properly get into the Dead Money content.
“Ha!” I thought, as I engaged sneak mode, “This’ll not fool me, it’ll take more than a shotgun tripwire or a grenade bundle trap to…” I stopped mid-thought as my character suddenly no longer responded to commands; as she sank closer to the floor, the hissing gas sound made it clear that it was no ordinary trap. It was a trap that would be the method of porting me from the Mojave to Sierra Madres. That was okay. What wasn’t okay was losing my companions (apparently they just abandoned me and returned to their waiting posts…some friends they are!) and all of my inventory. I should have seen it coming from previous Fallout 3 DLC, where you were almost always stripped of your gear, but I didn’t, in my futile hope that Obsidian may have done something different. It appears, in this case, they didn’t bother. Sadly, the lack of effort did not stop there.
Dead Money has its own story but it is linked into the larger storyline from the Mojave in a way, and so it may not be possible to get through this review without the odd spoiler, however it is my intention to avoid plot spoilers, and so I give you fair warning. If you are at all sensitive to spoilerage, please press the back button on your browser, or mouse if you have a posh one, to avoid disappointment and/or nerd rage (if you have that perk). Right, with that out of the way let’s continue…
So, my character is now, basically, naked in the middle of a plaza in the outside area of the Sierra Madre. I look about forlornly as I soak up the style of the place: it’s almost Aztec, perhaps with a little African thrown in. I don’t really know, I don’t waste my life watching some TV show demolish and rebuild houses or do makeovers, but to me it was definitely, entirely new graphical assets. Swish! I kind of expected Richard O’Brien to leap out and ask me if I wanted to “play a skill or a mental game?” It never happened though.
Getting my bearings, I progressed along with the storyline, which in total gave about 4.5 hours of additional playtime. Despite the patch fixing a number of bugs, including some game freezes and save corruption, my advice is still to save often – not due to bugs though, but due to the fact that over an hour of that extra content was spent re-loading saves. The DLC is a pain. It isn’t difficult, per se, just a pain. You see, in order to extend the gametime of the DLC, Obsidian added a couple of quite nasty little additions into the mix that ultimately do nothing but frustrate the gamer.
I mentioned earlier there was a trap – well this not only ported you to the Sierra Madres stripped of all your belongings, but it also added one item to your inventory: an explosive neck collar. The neck collar, like all good bombs, is remotely detonated via radio and it seems the old PA system in the Sierra Madre interferes with that and sets it off if you get too close to a degraded speaker for too long. Yep you guessed it, you are in an audio minefield! Some speakers can be destroyed with a ranged weapon, others you just have to run past before the collar beeping reaches the detonation point. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Well it isn’t.
The next issue is the enemies. Going all out, Obsidian added not one but two different types of enemies. Sure, there are several classes of one enemy (a ranged, melee, etc), but for all intents and purposes there is little difference. These ‘shades’ are highly resistant to standard weapons, which made the rather nice police pistol I picked up rather pointless, well, other than using it to shoot speakers. In fact, in what seems to be an almost Dead Space inspired form, you can only kill these baddies by dismemberment or disintegration with an energy weapon. I found a laser pistol – it was less than effective. You are gifted with a holo-rifle which has very few rounds; it is a mean beast, but chances are you’ll expend more ammo looking for ammo than is worth the effort, even with the workbench conversion to MF ammo. Instead, you will likely be relying on melee weapons and then, when the enemies go down, beating them until a limb falls off before they get back up. To help you in this regard there are new melee weapons and one that’s rather efficient, plus a lot of shades carry it, so with decent repair skills you can keep it in tip-top condition.
So that’s pretty tough, right? You have to avoid being blown up from speakers and fight the new enemies with what is basically a specific type of weapon or two. Well Obsidian didn’t seem to think so, so they added an indestructible enemy: the hologram. I know what you are thinking, “But I have a holo-rifle! W00T!”, sorry, it seems a holo-rifle can’t hurt holograms and the people in the holo-rifle marketing department need to rethink their branding strategy! There are some points where you can disable the emitters on the walls, but basically in Matrix agent fashion, if you see one, run! You are not Neo and you cannot stand up to them. Naturally, blindly running in panic usually ends up with you running into a speaker zone and watching your head explode. I’ll say it again, in caps: SAVE REGULARLY.
There is some hope though: there are three new companions, albeit more story progression than the traditional ‘wander about together’ type, and all three being humanoid means you only have one at a time. At this point I found my distaste for the DLC take a brief respite. The companions are interesting and, along with the storyline, are up to the expected standard of Fallout. It is just unfortunate you have so little time with them, as companions and exploring is pretty much hampered by re-spawning shades and the lack of anything interesting to discover. It wouldn’t be Fallout without some things squirrelled away though, and there are little stashes left around, some tit-bits of the Sierra Madre history on computers and in diaries, but ultimately any fun of finding anything is removed by the deliberately labyrinth-like layouts and un-relenting enemies, plus any weapons cache is basically redundant unless you want to take it back into the Mojave later.
The DLC has three main endings, each of which lasts almost as long as the amount of gametime added by the DLC. You also get insight into what the next DLC, or at least a future DLC, may involve which was spine-tingly good. Ultimately though I felt this DLC was not a great start for Obsidian and I’d have to seriously think twice before parting with my next 800msp for New Vegas DLC.
I felt that Dead Money should have been more. I strongly suspect that, given the narrative, the initial Aztec decor moving into the almost Bioshock-like Art-Deco casino setting and then back to, basically, the standard Fallout 3/New Vegas factory interior for the final part, this was rushed out early or had resources placed elsewhere mid-way through. The lack of enemy variety, yet the inclusion of standard weapons despite the enemies being resistant, seemed odd. The clear story arc that could have intertwined back into New Vegas in much larger ways. The introduction of the speakers and the holograms seemed to be an attempt to elongate the game, but perhaps were supposed to be a small part of something larger, especially as it made pretty much any skills/perks redundant for most of the DLC. Also, don’t get me started on the vending machines and how caps/money are worthless, relying instead on Sierra Madre casino chips. There are plenty of chips around, and you can swap them in the casino for old world money (to then swap out back in the Mojave), but it was just annoying.
If, like me, you are playing with an end-game character then chances are you already have some points in melee/un-armed, sneak and repair skills. If you don’t then you will likely be using the additional 5 levels to pour points into them, or in my case, even more points. You certainly won’t be taking anything more than XP back to the Mojave…unless you grab some of the…no, wait. I promised no spoilers…
- New locations provide new decorative settings
- The storyline is a great extension to an existing New Vegas arc
- The companions, one in particular, are interesting and do their best to keep you immersed
- Arguably a bit short on playtime
- Indestructible enemies...seriously?!
- Whilst the constant threat of death from your collar adds an element of fear/panic/cautiousness, this quickly wears off and in situations when you need to run like a bat out of hell to escape death only to wind up dead is not a fun-inducing experience
- Felt unfinished
- Several bugs are still present: freezing after more than a couple of hours constant play (seems a garbage collection issue or similar with the main engine has existed since Oblivion, yet still not fixed), your arms floating/sinking (so opening up the Pip-Boy results in only seeing half the screen or your arms blocking your field of vision) are to name but two
Dead Money is a strange beast, one that, in the end, left me with the bitter taste of disappointment. Certainly not the worst DLC released (that would be the one-sitting only, grinding hell of Mad Moxxi’s Underdome) and probably also not my least favourite Fallout DLC, but considering I classed New Vegas as my game of 2010, this DLC does not compliment it as it should. My verdict...get it on sale at half the price or bundled as a GOTY with the other DLC if you don’t already own the main game.
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