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Jan 20 2011

Review of Fallout:New Vegas’s Dead Money

One of my favourite things about Fallout 3 was the way it did DLC. While some pieces may have been hit or miss (curse you Mothership Zeta, you and your endless corridors) as a whole package it did an amazing job of enhancing and extending my Fallout 3 experience. Ever since New Vegas was announced my greatest hope was that it would do the same with its DLC and thankfully from the first piece of it, that looks to be the case.

Holograms haunt the Sierra Madre, ghosts of a technological age.

The basic premise of Dead Money is a weird mix of Saw and Ocean’s 11; after following a mysterious radio broadcast (because y’know, Fallout DLC) you end up getting knocked out and taken to the mythical Sierra Madre casino. You wake up with a nasty beeping necklace and an overzealous old man speaking at you rather insistently through a hologram. Seems you must gather a group of other people who have been unfortunate enough to fall into this guy’s trap and use them to pull the biggest heist in history or else he’ll blow your head clean off your shoulders. Along the way you’ll have to contend with a poisonous cloud that covers the environment, a race of radiation suit cloaked monsters intent on your demise, bad pre-war wiring that can cause your new necklace to detonate if you wander into the wrong areas, and most importantly the deceitful avarice-laden beast that can be human nature. Surrounding this whole tale is the mysterious back story of the Sierra Madre itself, a majestic facade that slowly crumbles to reveal the truth of its creation and its creators motivations.

This is Dog/God despite his brutish appearance his story is surprisingly deep.

A big focus of this add-on is the character’s you’ll meet and team up with, who depending on your interactions with them will grow as characters and react accordingly. Each of the characters is pretty unique and relates not only to the fiction of the Sierra Madre but also to the deeper fiction of Fallout Universe. The first character you’ll meet is a Nightkin suffering from multiple personality disorder named Dog (or God depending on who’s in control) the story arc you’ll experience with him defines the idea of an antagonistic co-dependent relationship. The second is a ghoul by the name of Dean Domino (whose name you might recognize from the loading screens of New Vegas) whose suave lounge lizard persona seems to hide a deeper and more ancient story. The last of your cadre of impromptu thieves is Christine a surprisingly well-trained wanderer who has a lot to say, or would if her voice box hadn’t been cut up to all hell by an auto-doc right around when you meet her. Bridging the whole event together is your captor whose plans of unknown intent drive you forward towards your goal. The development of these characters throughout the course of story provides a great motivation to keep playing as you’ll really want to see where their stories and ultimately the story of the Sierra Madre end up concluding. The writing in this add-on is fantastic as should be par for the course considering the main game it’s spawned from.

Red skies you're going to see a lot of them...also these ghost people you're going to see a lot of them too.

The presentation is sadly one of my least favorite parts of this pack, it’s not bad it’s just not incredibly varied. For the majority of the adventure you spend your time in a Spanish village looking kind of place called “the Villa”; while it’s definitely an interesting change from the Mojave wasteland the red tile roofs, white plaster walls, and dingy rusty cloud caked atmosphere tend to wear rather quickly. Once you get inside the actual Sierra Madre casino things do change-up but getting there takes a very long time and the time actually spent in the casino ends a little too quickly. Environmental issues aside the general look of the rest of the pack is quite good, the enemies in particular had very interesting look to them. While the lack of variety strikes here too (all of the enemies kind of look the same) I still really appreciate the detail at work here; there is an expressiveness to the animation and detail to the character models that really helps bring the characters to life.

This is Dean Domino who is easily my new favourite character due large in part to his fantastic voice acting.

The sound design is also something I’m a little disappointed in, what’s there is good but in general it feels rather barren. There is no new music or really much old music during this adventure; while it may be too much to ask for more licensed music the fact that there wasn’t at least at a radio station in the Sierra Madre to play the stuff we’ve already heard kind of sucks. The only things you get over the air are a repeating radio broadcast advertising the Sierra Madre and the ability to hear your teammates say the same four lines whenever they’re not with you. While many people criticized the small of inventory of songs in the main game I still like them and when the right song syncs up with the right moment they still have a big impact, so to not have that during this adventure lessened it somewhat for me. On the bright side though the V.O. is fantastic with pretty much every character handing in grade A performances. A personal favorite would be that of Dean Domino who is a ghoul who speaks in a calm shrewd British accent and regularly make sharp witty jabs at you, the other teammates, and everything else in the vicinity. Beyond that though the sound design overall feels rather sparse and while that might be intentional to raise the tension, I found it made things just a little too quiet.

The atmosphere is so oppressive and dreamlike even the NPCs are feeling it.

Oddly enough the flaws of the visuals and sound design end up creating something that this game has in its favour, a surreal dream-like feel to the whole adventure. The abrupt way the adventure starts, the overbearing and impenetrable cloud, and the generally quiet soundtrack end up making the whole experience feel like some sort of lucid fever dream. Not dissimilar to the great hallucination scene in Fallout 3’s Point Lookout DLC, the whole add-on feels as though it may not be real and that you’re just wandering through a dream or the afterlife. While the events are real (in the game world I mean) that feeling of “wandering through Wonderland” can be very hard to capture in a game and this pack does it almost perfectly.

The gameplay is for the most part the same old Gamebryo engine we’ve all come to know, love, and then reboot after it locks up (the DLC never locked up just for the record, I’m just making a Gamebryo joke). There are a few change-ups to the formula though and while they might be minor they do up the ante enough to keeps things a little spicy. For instance there are some enemies that won’t die unless you destroy one or more of their limbs Dead Space style, there are also a couple of stealth sections that aren’t horrible. In general though the gameplay is your standard Fallout fare and if you liked the main game then you’ll like this add-on.

This is the new Auto Rifle, a machine gun that fires sniper rifle bullets; finally a good way to use that stash of .308 bullets you've been holding onto.

There is a slight issue of balance in this quest though and there are a few minor but absolutely necessary to gameplay things that if missed will make the adventure almost impossible to complete. The problem is that a lot of them could be fairly easily missed and the experience of swimming upstream when you miss one those vital pieces is excruciating. While I’m not in the business of writing strategy guides I will give you, my dear readers, one strong piece of advice; check the front desk of the medical clinic very thoroughly, you’ll know why it’s necessary when you find it.

An important thing to note in any add-on is what the DLC gives you that carries over to the main game and what you get here is pretty sweet. First off and most important is that right off the bat you are given a bump to your level cap giving you a whole extra 5 levels to play around with. To go along with this, a bunch of new perks are added to the pool of possible things to learn and some of them are pretty interesting. There are also a number of perks you can pick up during the add-on itself that can carry back to the main game, this ability to have your character grow in ways specific to their experiences is something I’ve always liked and I’m glad to see it so well used here. Beyond that there are bunch of cool new weapons and a couple decent pieces of armor to collect as well but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.

All in all this is a great piece of DLC and it fully stands up to the legacy of its forebear; put simply if you liked Fallout: New Vegas you’ll most likely like this as well. I will say it does have me very excited to see what’s next for this game and its side stories and no matter what else I’m doing I’ll always have some time to play just a bit more Fallout. For a great story and a cool atmosphere Fallout: New Vegas’s Dead Money get’s a 4.5 out of 5 stars. While it may have some slight issues this piece of DLC does a great job expanding the main game while also providing its own unique experience, in short just what DLC should be.

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