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Revisiting New Vegas' Dead Money DLC

Revisiting New Vegas' Dead Money DLC

So, it’s October. A month that would ordinarily be considered the “scary” one, but considering the past year’s events, that debate might not be so easily settled. Nevertheless, Halloween is on the horizon, and so I decided I might use the opportunity to go over one of the spookier sides of a very beloved game, and one that I believe uses said creepy factor to construct a genuinely fantastic world that adds to the story it attempts to tell.

Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, and published by Bethesda Softworks. Chances are, you probably already knew this, but what you might not know is that the game was also directed by Josh Sawyer, a Black Isle Studios veteran (which is the company that developed the original two Fallout games) and co-written by Chris Avellone, who is also one of the original team from Black Isle as well as the lead writer for Knights of the Old Republic II (another game praised for its fantastic story). In addition, Chris Avellone was the project leader on all of the DLCs released for Fallout: New Vegas, including the one I’m going to discuss today: Dead Money.

dead money darkpilot screenshot 4

Dead Money is a fantastic piece of worldbuilding and storytelling set in what is essentially a giant ghost town. The location of the DLC, the Sierra Madre, is a long abandoned casino resort beyond the Grand Canyon, constructed by Frederick Sinclair before the nuclear apocalypse that created the Fallout setting to begin with. Where the many guests and workers once walked in the great Villa, only ghosts remain, shambling around in long sealed hazmat suits, murmuring incomprehensibly and gazing at anything that moves with glowing eyes behind the cowl. A horrible Cloud envelops much of the city, toxic to anyone that isn’t the aforementioned creatures that still roam the streets. And dark secrets lay buried in the Casino itself, left undiscovered for centuries.

It really can’t be stressed enough just how fantastic the atmosphere is in Dead Money. The Sierra Madre is by far the eeriest location you can visit in Fallout: New Vegas. Before you even visit the place, you are invited by an ominous yet tempting broadcast on your Pip-Boy radio, promising an opportunity to “begin again”. As you “arrive” in an unorthodox fashion I won’t spoil, the speakers lined around the Sierra Madre slowly churn out the remainders of what was once a beautiful song. The low rumbling that thunders through the city seems purely non-diegetic spooky ambience, until you realise it’s actually what remains of the nuclear siren desperately warning the guests to get inside the casino where it is safe (but, of course, it isn’t safe in there at all). The skybox is a permanent hellish orange, stained forever by the Cloud, and the rotted and crumbling architecture makes the place feel like a giant graveyard for the damned.

dead money darkpilot screenshot 3

The Villa area is inhabited solely by shambling husks that were once the construction workers, mutated by the Cloud. The hazmat suits that were meant to protect them were rusted shut, and they transformed into strange feral ghoul esque monsters, with limited intelligence. They are only able to be killed by shooting their limbs off, akin to the Necromorphs from Dead Space, but they are functionally immortal otherwise. The only other beings you’ll encounter here are your soon-to-be party members, and the security holograms built by the paranoid Sinclair.

It’s genuinely frightening to traverse this place the first time around, because up until this point, you’ve been able to take everything at your own pace. You have strong weapons, maybe even suited up in power armour, and usually nothing is that much of a challenge. But Dead Money sets you right back to square one, only choosing to drip feed you items and weaponry exactly when it wants to, ensuring that every encounter you have is a tricky one. The tension created by this is huge when combined with the haunting atmosphere and architecture, and you’re constantly on edge as a result of this. You also can’t listen to the radio at all during the events of Dead Money, so you’re in effect forced to experience just how scarily isolated you are, yet still very aware of the feeling that you are being watched.

dead money darkpilot screenshot 7

Credit to darkpilot on MobyGames for the screenshots.

I won’t spoil the main story as that’s a journey I think people should discover on their own, but the Casino itself is where the horrible secrets of Dead Money lie. It’s a DLC that should be played blind ideally, so I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t given it a go to give it a try this Halloween. After all, everyone deserves a chance to begin again, right?

dead money promo art

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