So it comes again, Fallout New Vegas has it’s final DLC expansion. The culmination of the plot threads going through the whole DLC content, and even parts of the original game. The final showdown with the man who turned down the delivery that got you shot in the head. Ulysses.
Now, before we start on Lonesome Road, I feel I have to do a quick roundup of Fallout up to this point, and in particular what parts of the Fallout series I most enjoy. I’ve had heated discussions about the nature of Fallout and I understand that alot of people don’t share my point of view (and that’s fine), but I’ll try and keep my reviews balanced between the two viewpoints.
The game seems to be split down the middle. One half contains the kind of person who enjoys the post-apocalyptic aspects, the guns, the atmosphere, the ‘realism’ as it were. The other has the kind of person who enjoys the wacky humour that runs through the series, who love the pop-culture references and the random nutcase weapons. The kind of people who take the Wild Wasteland trait. It normally manifests itself in whether NV is better than Fallout 3, with the post-apocalypse boys favouring 3 while the lighter elements prefer New Vegas.
I find myself squarely in the second camp. I found Fallout 3 to be dull, although entertaining in other ways, it’s locations were far to samey and grey. Constant, relentless, grey. Leading to a form of snowblindness. It may have been huge but I felt the landscape did not invite exploration since everywhere was the same. I left that game without buying any of the DLC.
Conversely, I loved New Vegas. It was still post-apocalyptic but varied enough in locales to stave off eye strain and keep my interest. I enjoyed the story, the exploration, the characters and most of all, the faction mechanics.
I love my stories, I love my sprawling landscapes, but most of all I like to feel that I’ve had an impact. Fallout: New Vegas delivered that in spades. It’s DLC, less so.
Dead Money saw you in a Casino/Hotel/Resort gone to hell, you had a total of five characters, each one had a very deep and complex character that could be dived into through their conversation trees and four were companions with unique perks that aided you through the game. It was a great system and it worked really well. The combat was satisfying, utilising a unique mechanic in the decapitating of enemies (else they’ll rise again), and destroying hologram projectors later in the game. You felt like your actions had a real effect on the characters and, importantly on the ending. Your actions through most of the game affected your options at the end, so it wasn’t so much a matter of quicksave/quickload just to see all the endings (although you could get a fair chunk by doing that)
Where Dead Money fell down was it’s lack of exploration. It was decidedly linear, although it never felt like it was a bad thing at the time, you were focused on the mission at hand at all times and exploring consisted of finding hidden rooms or cubby holes with items in it. Pretty much every area was used in the story, and they used the Metroid style of area unlocking, where instead of upgrades it was companions (and their subsequent perks) that allowed you to traverse certain hazards.
Dead Money struck a balance between the funny and the serious, with few overt pop culture references, and a total lack of batshit insane weapons against a dark, oppressive mirror of Vegas. Overall, this is my personal favourite out of all the DLCs.
The next DLC, Honest Hearts, was the exact opposite of Dead Money. You had a huge new area to play about in, a bright vibrant forest canyon untouched by the apocalypse (barring the tribalisation of the locals). However, its story was even shorter than Dead Money and appeared half-finished. It used almost no new mechanics and you had a choice of two endings that had nothing to do with your actions up to that point. The story quests consisted off “Visit one guy, do 3 missions, visit another guy, do three missions, choose whether to do what the first guy wants or the second guy wants, do the final mission, then end.”
The real tragedy about Honest Hearts is that there was so much potential to develop these characters, to utilise the faction system. Both Joshua and Daniel, opposing poles of the same ideal were reduced to talking heads with no depth. Not only that, but just to be contrary, I wanted to try and work with the bad guys (Legion loving tribal hunters) but it wouldn’t let me. For all its exploratory prowess, the story was, once again, rigid and linear.
For me, Honest Hearts is, unless you absolutely crave more room to explore, ultimately skippable.
Old World Blues, as I said in my lengthy review, was a decent mix of the previous two. There was plenty of space to explore, lots of options, a plethora of endings, but, and I think this is a first for games, suffered from intro fatigue. The half-an-hour I spent exhausting the dialogue trees meant that by the time I went out to shoot my first mindless shambling horror I was thoroughly convinced that, this time, I definitely wanted to side with the ‘bad guy’ from the start. Mainly because we currently shared the same goal. Killing the goddamn Think Tank that sucked out the first 30 minutes of gameplay. (although it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing that I did sit and exhaust the dialogue tree)
Sadly, the story is just as linear as the other two DLCs. You have no choice at the end, everyone has to die. You’re really turning into an omnicidal maniac by this point. They remove the companion mechanics and your only conversation partners are the various sentient gadgets in your hub room that you can activate by scavenging. Even a talking toaster, who, sadly doesn’t go “Howdy doodly do” when you switch him on, although he is definitely an omnicidal maniac.
Old World Blues definitely appealed to the crazier side of me. It’s full of insane AI’s, guns with a targeting system that’s a dogs brain in a jar, a talking stealth suit that makes you addicted to med-x and a whole load of other stuff. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s entertaining.
And now we get to the final DLC: Lonesome Road. As the tag-line states, you’re there to bring an ending to things.
It shares alot in common with the previous three DLCs. Some good, some bad. It also brings in something that was missing from the other DLCs. Combat. Lonesome Road is incredibly combat heavy. I mean there’s very little time you’re not fighting. You get health-restoring stim-packs up the wazoo and you even get to make automatically activating stim-packs. Really, before you play this DLC stock up on your best weapons. You will need them. I took a silenced pistol, a LAER (From Old World Blues), a Minigun and an Anti-Materiel Rifle. Right from the off I swapped the mini-gun for the new Red Glare Rocketlauncher, although I found it next to useless despite having the most plentiful ammo in the DLC, it has pretty much no splash damage so you need to hit on target to get any damage done. That got swapped out for the shoulder-mounted machine gun that became my go-to weapon when I wasn’t sniping. I did alot of sniping.
Your only companion is an ED-E clone (the eye bot that everyone loves) who gives you the regular spotter perk that highlights anyone within range on your compass, which means sniping becomes the norm, since the layout of the Divide is mainly long canyons or large caves. He also keeps his sort of R2D2 esque personality which is greatly expanded on. He even quivvers in fear when enemies are near by.
There are a couple of unique mechanics inserted in this DLC. Using ED-E to unlock things like vendors, doors and… silos for one, and using a laser detonator to blow up mini-warheads that unlock other areas for another. While the ED-E mechanic makes sense it’s ultimately pointless since you always have ED-E with you, and apart from proceeding forward, the detonator doesn’t seem to open any entirely new areas, just little hidey holes that hide duffle bags full of goodies. This, ofcourse, means that Lonesome road is just as linear as Dead Money, probably more so since all you’re doing is pushing forward, there’s no hub area and no real backtracking (although you can return to the Mojave to resupply whenever you want) and no choice of companion to liven things up.
The locale, the Divide itself, is pretty spectacular. It’s the first part of Fallout: New Vegas that has actually been hit by nuclear weapons, and by ‘hit’ I mean they exploded in their silos, leaving the landscape a series of collapsed, broken irradiated canyons with a blood red sky and unrelenting storms.
Plotwise it’s as satisfying an ending as I could have hoped for given the previous DLC. It wraps up some loose plot lines, and gives us a bit more insight into Ulysses and ED-E – and the Courier. I do have issue with this thought. For me, giving your character an, admitably ambiguous, backstory takes away the self-insertion factor and kind of cracks the immersion. I mean, it’s obvious that your character has a backstory, but I always felt that (for games in general), unless alluded to through most of the game, your past was unimportant. The inclusion of this in Lonesome Road just doesn’t sit right with me.
Lonesome Road is decent, but again it’s too short, too linear and certainly feels like it was rushed to completion.
With regards to the entirity of the DLC, I do have a couple of gripes.
The first is that none of them addressed any of the core problems with the original game. Namely the rather stupid AI enemies, the graphical glitches, clunky player movement and the weird shiny unreal quality all the characters seem to have.
The second is that it took away alot of what made New Vegas fun for me. The faction mechanics for one, and, in the last two DLCs, taking away companion choice (indeed, Old World Blues had no companions). Hell, taking away choice as a core mechanic. You really had very little say in the conclusion of these plots, until Lonesome Road, and even then it used the old “You have four buttons, press one for
bacon ending” mechanic that betrays lazy design, as opposed to playing through as a character. New Vegas let you play through it’s plot as either a Legion agent, a hero of the NCR, House’s lacky or as a free spirit. Mission Failed didn’t mean a quick-load, it meant you’d made a decision and had to live with it. Something sorely missing from all of the DLC.
My recommendation? Well, there’s a DLC for the many types of Fallout player. Dead Money for the Story and Characters, Honest Hearts for the explorer, Old World Blues for the mental weapons and off-the-wall humour and Lonesome Road for the old-school post-apocalyptic player. But the original game is still leagues above them all put together.