Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money
As you’re usually a levelled-up, unstoppable death-bringer before you undertake the new generation Fallout games’ DLC, you’re often stripped of your belongings before being allowed to tackle it, effectively taking you down a peg or two. The first DLC for New Vegas, Dead Money, does the same – the difference here, though, is that once you’ve reequipped, you’re still knee-deep in radioactive poo. The DLC begins once you enter a secret Brotherhood of Steel bunker, are rendered unconscious and then awaken in a new area: the sprawling, sandy villas outlying the fabled Sierra Madre casino. A holographical projection of your subjugator, the ruthless Father Elijah, then explains that you must do his bidding and if you deviate in any way, he’ll detonate the explosive collar fitted around your neck. It’s at this point that you really want to chop Elijah’s whole body off. The first task this calculating captor gives you is to go out into the villas and assemble a team (whose collars are linked to your own so if one dies, you all die) by recruiting the three other unfortunates who’re in the same predicament as yourself.
The villas are one of the most punishing environments I’ve ever experienced in a videogame. They’re both claustrophobic and confusing – the local map on your Pip-Boy is a lifeline whilst negotiating them. There are several alarms and radios fitted throughout the villas that are capable of activating your neck-collar, you get a few seconds’ warning, but if you fail to retreat to a safe zone, you’ll perish in an unavoidable explosion of grey-matter. This mechanic results in an ass-load of trial and error whilst determining which routes to take and it’s not uncommon to feel pangs of moroseness as your head explodes for the umpteenth time. There’s also a noxious red gas-cloud. Yes, this hit-point devouring gaseous nightmare will often crop up when you least expect, and need it to – usually enveloping you in the midst of alarm-induced panic. Luckily, the indigenous populous are there to help…kill you! Known as ghost-people, they’re very tough, otherworldly, Hazmat suit wearing bad-guys with glowing green eyes who have to be dismembered to be properly killed. Even if you were at level 30 when you started Dead Money, it’s likely you’ll perish more times playing it than you did for the entirety of New Vegas.
As you negotiate the hostility of the villas, you’ll start to collect the primary form of currency in Dead Money, the Sierra Madre casino chips. These can be exchanged for goods at a number of vending machines where you can also trade in unwanted apparel for chips in return. There are various codes for the vending machines that must be obtained before you can purchase particular items (stimpacks etc.) and this encourages you to explore and forage, should you get a spare moment from the multitude of environmental and adversarial aggressors. The DLC features a few new firearms such as the holorifle (effective energy weapon given to you by Elijah) and police pistol, but it’s the ghost people’s melee arsenal (knife-spears, bear-trap fists) that stands out as it perfectly suits them and is effective when turned against them. Once you’ve recruited the various members of the team, they’re a helpful addition (they all possess unique traits) in the fight against the harsh environ and its denizens. They’re a lovely bunch, the team; a split personality super mutant, a former-celebrity ghoul crooner and a woman who went into an auto-doc machine and came out a bald mute with severe facial scarring. These are no regurgitated two-dimensional characters either, they’re fully realised, with realistic motives and conflicts that become clearer as Dead Money unfolds.
Once you get into the legendary Sierra Madre itself, you’ll have to make decisions that affect your comrades’ fates as you get closer to both the casino’s secrets and Elijah himself. The DLC’s final section is, at times, unnecessarily difficult and frustrating, as besides the aforementioned alarms, gas cloud and ghost people – there’s also invulnerable security holograms patrolling the place. Despite the difficulty encountered, it’s whilst exploring the Sierra Madre that Dead Money’s exceptional writing really shines through – it’s up to the player whether they fully uncover the centuries old narrative or merely scratch its surface, but, given its quality, the former choice is thoroughly recommended. The back-story is packed with the expected themes of love, power and betrayal but I found it genuinely moving, making me care more deeply about how my actions affected the story.
Although there was a decent amount of it, Fallout 3’s DLC ranged from the good (Point Lookout, Broken Steel), the bad (Operation Anchorage) to the ugly (Mothership Zeta). As the first of New Vegas’ DLC, Dead Money fits firmly into the ‘good’ category and has set the bar at a high level for any future additions. As for what the legendary Sierra Madre treasure itself actually is, well, let’s just say be sure to leave at least 90lb worth of room in your back-pack.