[17 January 2011]
I played all five of the DLC exapansions for Fallout 3 and enjoyed them quite a bit, so I’ve been looking forward to some DLC for Fallout: New Vegas ever since I completed my conquest of the Mojave Wasteland. While I enjoyed the central storyline of New Vegas more than that of Fallout 3, I think that both games succeed most in the smaller and mid-sized stories that populate most of their post-nuclear worlds. The best of the expansions, like Point Lookout for the last game, presented whole new settings, characters, and stories that were both complete on their own and yet still fell very much a part of the game as a whole. Dead Money continues this trend and does a mostly excellent job of it, making it a worthy successor to its downloadable forebearers.
Like the early DLC for Fallout 3, you’ll have to use a saved game from before the finale of the core New Vegas storyline. This is a clunky way of implementing bonus content, and I’m sort of surprised that Obsidian didn’t come up with something more elegant. That said, given the possible endings of the core game, I’m hard-pressed to come up with a different solution to suggest to them. As before, a radio signal reveals a new location on your map, promising the opening of the brand new Sierra Madre casino. How can you resist? It’s nowhere near The Strip, though, but is instead far off in the wasteland. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that it’s probably not what you’re expecting.
One of those tired old gaming canards that I usually abhor is the sudden and unstoppable stripping away of all of the player’s gear. Usually this feels lazy to me, but often it’s the only way that the designers can think of to set the stage for the right kind of drama. It happens here too, but I think that the results are worth the credulity straining event. I came into the DLC at Level 26 (this expansion raises the level cap by five) with a ton of great weapons and drugs. It had been a long time since my character had been desperate for ammo and stim packs, so it was fun to be put back into the scrounging mentality that Fallout places the player in so very well. Stuck in a mysterious new environment with a variety of new dangers—poison gas, radio signals that can kill you, and creepy new enemy types—all conspired to create a terrific sense of dread and desperation. While there’s a kind of limited set of new geometry and textures that gets a little repetitive, the Sierra Madre and its environs aren’t quite like anything we’ve seen in Fallout before, which makes for good DLC.
The game only really falters in the final act, when it strays away from what the Fallout games do well (story, scavenging, puzzles, decisions), forcing some very unwieldy and time-based platforming on the player. It was almost enough to make me want to quit the game, and its frustrating nature was only compounded by a confusing final set up. I think that a key piece of information was conveyed to my character over an intercom, but it was drowned out by alarm klaxons and other sounds and so I can’t be sure. The final confrontation can play out a number of ways, but I wasn’t quite sure which path I was actually choosing until it was too late. Luckily the game lets you save whenever you want, and I encourage you to make liberal use of the feature. Despite this flawed finale, Dead Money offers almost everything I wanted from Fallout DLC, including some great loot to take back to the gaming table of The Strip—assuming you’re smart enough to get out with it alive.