Fallout: New Vegas was a solid, if a tad uninspired, entry into the legendary RPG series. Continuing to build on the new gameplay and format set by Bethesda’s 2008 reinvention, the sequel added some new ideas but was still hindered by many of its predecessor’s weaknesses. With the release of Dead Money, Obsidian Entertainment look set to continue the same DLC model as Fallout 3, but is this a solid addition or a shaky cash-in?
Dead Money takes place as a free-form quest that can be undertaken at any point during the game once it is installed. It is recommended for high level characters, something which is strongly advisable, especially on Hardcore mode. The story sees you detecting an unusual radio broadcast, a technique that was already used several times in the additional Fallout 3 DLC packs. Upon investigating the mysterious transmission you are promptly incapacitated and find yourself stranded in the Sierra Madre, a casino containing untold wealth from before the bombs dropped. The location has been preserved and is rumoured to have important technology and secrets hidden within its vault.
Inevitably, it isn’t quite as simple as strolling in there and walking out with the riches for yourself thanks to the mysterious Father Elijah. As the clear nemesis of the expansion, he’s the one who dragged you here and plans on forcing you to do his bidding and open the vault. In a touch of Battle Royale he has attached an explosive collar to your neck and forces you to work for him, threatening to detonate it if you even try to escape. This collar forms a key part of the gameplay, as there are speakers within the game world that can set it off if you get too near forcing you to try and destroy, avoid or deactivate them.
In order to access the casino you are required to recruit three companions from the suburbs around the Sierra Madre, each of which has unique skills that can help you. These characters vary from being fresh and unique (such as Super Mutant Dog/God) to bland and unmemorable. One character has no voice actor due to injuries she sustained, which could have been a fresh twist, but instead comes across as a lazy design choice on the part of the developers. Most of the time the companions are fairly useful, but they rarely add anything and it was far easier to ditch them somewhere and tackle the expansion alone.
Inevitably the streets around the Sierra Madre are far from deserted and are populated by the enigmatic “Ghost People”. These sinister enemies wear gasmasks; have glowing green eyes and favour throwing knife spears, gas bombs and bear-trap fists. They are pretty tough enemies, especially to begin with as you are initially only given a few weapons which may not match your character’s skills. However, in order to provide some “fresh” gameplay, the Ghost People can only be killed by dismembering their limbs, which encourages you to fully utilise V.A.T.S. combat. This seems like an especially unoriginal move by the developers given how close this DLC pack was released to Dead Space 2 and it does feel like a pale imitation of their dismemberment system.
The biggest problem with Dead Money is that it fails to hold interest and often is outright frustrating. Having to dismember the ghost people can make combat a real chore, as ammunition can be limited if your character uses guns and energy weapons. Similarly, the level design is confusing and the layout of key locations is distributed to maximise backtracking. The other main problem with the early quests of the expansion is the environment of the Sierra Madre. It is hazardous to health and on hardcore mode, constantly drains HP, which can be unbelievably frustrating. The red cloud of poisonous gas has the effect of making everything darker and more difficult to see. Even with the game brightness set to maximum it can still be impossibly dingy and eye strain is a tedious inevitability.
Exploring the environments of a Fallout title should be one of the best portions of the game, but in Dead Money it feels dull and exasperating. The Ghost People favour traps, something your companions feel necessary to mention once every 5 seconds. While this should translate into tense gameplay trying to avoid these, some areas are so densely littered with them it can take you ages to pick your way through them. This feels like a very cheap and artificial way of extending the lifespan and ruins the enjoyment of searching through the ruins. When this is coupled with having to constantly run away from clouds of toxic gas and the beeping of “Game Over” speakers, most of the fun is removed.
Most of the quests will feel familiar and recycled to long-term Fallout players and this DLC feels very much like a painful slog. The new weapons and perks are also forgettable and uninspired, being far too similar to existing ones although the level cap is raised to 35. Dead Money is also horrendously buggy at times, even months after release. There is a game breaking glitch that can trap you forever in the DLC, that currently has no fix or workaround, which is utterly inexcusable. Unless the game is installed to a hard drive it will frequently lock-up and crash and after prolonged periods of playtime loading screens can take in excess of 100 seconds.
The story is deeply average but does provide some tantalising hints at future plot development involving the courier. However, even the final quest manages to annoy as most of the real loot contained in the vaults of the casino cannot be removed and is essentially unobtainable. Dead Money is a real disappointment especially considering it is the first of the expansions to Fallout: New Vegas. It is difficult to recommend owing to the glitchy experience, frustrating exploration, relatively dull story and the questionable design choices. Hopefully this initial DLC will be a minor setback for Obsidian Entertainment and the forthcoming three expansions can focus on the series’ strengths rather than weaknesses.
Fallout: New Vegas: Dead Money (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Fallout: New Vegas was a solid, if a tad uninspired, entry into the legendary RPG series. Continuing to build on the new gameplay and format set by Bethesda’s 2008 reinvention, the sequel added some new ideas but was still hindered by many of its predecessor’s weaknesses.