Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas's Downloadable Content

So far, I've had a mixed bag with RPG add-ons. Fallout 3's were generally very good, while Dragon Age 1's were generally lousy. Mass Effect 1's were split evenly between decent and dull. Mass Effect 2's tended to lean towards quality, while Dragon Age 2's add-ons, from what I have seen so far, have leaned away from it. So, let's see how Fallout: New Vegas measures up. While I liked FNV, and recognize much of its storytelling worth for its use of themes of Americana, I feel it didn't have as powerful a draw nor as compelling an overall tale as Fallout 3 did, so I'm not expecting anything too great. Still, FNV did have some excellent moments, so I do have a little hope for something decent.

Dead Money: At first, I was pretty skeptical of how worthwhile this DLC was going to be. Breaking into an old-world casino for a heist of a speculative treasure while under the watchful eye of a crazy, greedy jackass who could kill you at any time, by working with an untrustworthy team of individuals that are probably waiting for the first opportunity to stab you in the back...well, you take the words "old-world" out of that description, and you've basically just described Reindeer Games. So I went into this DLC expecting a story of comparable silly, pointless stupidity.

This DLC is pleasantly surprising, though. Oh, at first it doesn't seem like much, just a romp around a suburban ghost town finding stuff and doing errands, basic Fallout stuff, with a couple extra gameplay twists to keep things mildly frustrating. From a gameplay perspective, I suppose it's alright...one COULD take the extra variables of toxic clouds, regenerating enemies, confusing street layouts, hologram guards, and deadly radio beeps as a positive thing, ways to make the playing more complex. And as long as you're being thorough with your explorations (and why wouldn't you be? It's a Fallout game; scrounging for stuff is half the fun), it'll last you a good while.

As it goes along, though, one finds that the history of the casino that one is breaking into is actually pretty interesting, with simple yet compelling human drama reminiscent of famous American story tropes laced into its background. About half of the characters in Dead Money are pretty decent, too--Christine and Father Elijah aren't noteworthy, but Dean's history is good, and Dog/God's character is quite good and well-executed. The DLC's story as a whole also comes together pretty nicely, showing through the history of the Sierra Madre Casino's creator, his paramour, the antagonist, the party members, and even the gameplay itself at the end (the fact that you won't be able to make it out if you try to leave with all the gold in the vault)*, greed's many forms, that it can lead you to doom, and that sometimes the only right thing to do, for your sake and others, is to let go of what you desire, walk away from it and find a new focus. It takes a little while to get going, but once it does, this DLC's plot has the heart and the skill to make it a solid side story. $10 is a bit steep for most DLCs, but given the quality of the story of Dead Money, and how long it will take (I'd say 6 to 8 hours, if you're exploring thoroughly), it's worth it.

Honest Hearts: After Dead Money's unexpected subtle quality, Honest Hearts is kind of disappointing. The overall story to it, that of saving a peaceful tribe from the aggressions of another tribe in league with Caesar's Legion, is just not terribly interesting, just a by-the-numbers progression of quests that don't feel particularly meaningful.

The characters involved in this Downloadable Content are a huge step down from the previous one's, too. In Dead Money, we had a decent character (Christine), a decent character whose past tied interestingly into the setting and story of the add-on (Dean), a really interesting and well-done character (Dog/God), and a villain who, if not particularly interesting, at least symbolized well the underlying theme of the add-on. This DLC has no one of comparison for its major entities--Daniel, Follows-Chalk, and Waking Cloud are all highly forgettable and have little worthwhile depth, and Joshua, while okay, is not nearly as well-characterized as he should be. All of his dialogue and history is far too understated; you've got a very religious man who fell from his faith to become the legendarily successful right hand general of a tyrannical warlord, was betrayed by the warlord for failing just once, and finally reawakened to his faith and devoted himself to the salvation of others. How the hell do you make a character like that dull? Well, they managed it somehow. And lastly, there's Salt-Upon-Wounds, the villain of the add-on, who only shows up at the very end, has no character development whatsoever, and is completely forgettable.

There are some Biblical references and undertones to the setting, events, and characters of this DLC, but where the theme of Greed was subtle yet thoughtful and significant in Dead Money, here the Christian theme just seems insubstantial at most points, and clumsily pasted on at others.

Honest Hearts isn't all bad--the setting and its exploration are fairly nice, though not noteworthy, and the journal of the individual known as The Father, whose entries you can find throughout the DLC's area, is actually pretty interesting. But overall, it's fairly substandard, and definitely not worth even half the admission price.

Old World Blues: If you read my Fallout 3 DLC rant, you may remember that I was definitely not impressed with the Mothership Zeta add-on. They were apparently going for something lighthearted with it, but all it wound up being was boring, pointless, and moderately stupid. So I wasn't expecting much from Fallout: New Vegas's successor to that, Old World Blues, billed as another lighthearted DLC. But since Fallout 3, someone must have realized that "light" does not mean "lazy and without meaning," because Old World Blues is actually pretty damned funny overall. The dialogue with the Think Tank, along with Dr. Mobius, is generally clever, and consistently amusing, and I nearly bust a gut laughing at some of the personalities in the Sink area of this add-on--Muggy is one of the best things to happen, ever. The DLC also ties itself nicely to the previous Dead Money add-on, and to the upcoming final package, Lonesome Road--the ties are significant, but not overbearing, and all the hooplah about "The Big Empty" (the setting for this DLC) that Dead Money made is surprisingly effectively executed here. The way this DLC's setting had been built up, I figured any actual representation of it wouldn't be able to quite live up to the hype and mental image I had of it, so the developers' turning the whole thing into a joke reminiscent of classic mid-century B-rated science fiction was really quite ingenious, and didn't leave me feeling let down at all.

It's quite good gameplay-wise, too. This DLC's new weapons aren't that interesting, I guess, but it offers a new armor that's very handy, the difficulty's very high for all the people (not me) who wanted a challenge for their endgame levels, the DLC introduces a handy use for several until now useless background items which means more fun, rewarding exploratory looting, and most handily, this add-on provides an immediately accessible, fully-equipped home base location for the player. Up until now, there really wasn't a good one available--the only one with all the proper amenities for a home base in this game was located in a place that, idiotically enough, could not be fast-traveled to. Even when you were at the location for it, you still had to go inside and board an elevator to get to the home base location, adding to the inconvenience. All the other, smaller home bases lacked one resource or the other, and sometimes were kinda cramped. Of course, I have to say that a proper home base should have already been in the game, instead of added in this late, but eh, I guess it's just good that it's there.

The one thing I think didn't really work for this package was just the fact that it tries, towards its end, to become a little too serious. While the revelations that Dr. Mobius has to offer near the DLC's end are interesting, and even perhaps a little moving, everything after that point starts to feel like they tried to cram serious plot significance in at the last minute. It's just not the direction the whole thing was going in, and it's out of place. This one problem aside, though, Old World Blues is a solid, fun Downloadable Content, and I can't imagine anyone coming away from it feeling unsatisfied with their purchase.

Lonesome Road: And finally we come to Lonesome Road, the last Fallout: New Vegas DLC, the one that the previous 3 add-ons, not to mention many references in the game proper, have led up to. How does it hold up? Well...I was surprised to find that this really IS about as cool and epic as the build-up would have you believe. I'll grant you that there are quite a few details that could have been expounded on in more depth, questions about the DLC's antagonist Ulysses that were kind of just passed by during Lonesome Road's narrative, but overall, this side-story of the power of symbols and history does not disappoint, introducing not only a slew of philosophical angles to the conflict between NCR, Caesar's Legion, and Mr. House (and all eloquently spoken by Ulysses), but also providing some much-needed history for Fallout: New Vegas's protagonist. As a bonus, we get some character development for one of the game's party members, ED-E, which was sorely needed. Another, minor bonus is that the characterization of Ulysses through his recordings also better ties his journeys to the Honest Hearts DLC, making it seem, in retrospect, more relevant to the add-ons in general, and more important to Fallout: New Vegas's themes and events. I also appreciate the pace and execution of the story's telling to this DLC; while there's still a component of exploration to Lonesome Road, it is, generally speaking, a very linear side adventure, and there's a finite number of enemies until the DLC's end. This lessened potential for exploration and limited potential for fighting means that there's less potential for distraction from the plot and its narrative. This is a good and appropriate conclusion to Fallout: New Vegas's add-ons, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

So in the end, how did Fallout: New Vegas do with its add-ons? Pretty well, really. While each of these DLCs are a pricy $10, as long as you're going everywhere and doing everything there is to do in them, you're probably going to spend around 7 to 10 hours on each, (you can definitely do each of them faster than that, but if you're just going to rush through each area and forgo half the content and experience, then you're obviously not concerned about getting your money's worth anyway), which brings it to a rate of somewhere around a buck to a buck and a half per hour of gameplay. That's a pretty decent ratio for add-ons (certainly better than others I've dealt with--like paying a new game's price for the Dragon Age 1 Awakening expansion and getting less than half as many hours of gameplay as dollars spent on it), and 3 out of the 4 have worthwhile stories to tell and are quite enjoyable. 1 has interesting takes on a theme of human nature, one has interesting takes on a theme of human society, and one's just really funny. And even the odd one out, Honest Hearts, isn't bad, just somewhat bland, which still makes it an improvement over the worst of the Fallout 3 add-ons, Mothership Zeta, which was bland AND stupid. So Fallout: New Vegas passes with high marks for its Downloadable Content, certainly on equal ground with its predecessor, Fallout 3.

Too bad I have a feeling the next game I'll be doing one of these add-on rants for, Dragon Age 2, isn't going to be quite as satisfying...

* At least, you're not SUPPOSED to be able to. There are a couple of creative little work-around methods for getting out successfully with all the gold, which are helpfully described in several Youtube videos. But the point is that the creators obviously intended The Courier (Fallout: New Vegas's protagonist) to have to give up on most of the treasure to be able to escape the casino alive.

1 comment:

  1. Ecclesiastes says:

    I lived the middle half of my life in Vegas, and while it's an overrated den of gambling and sex once the touristy stuff is out of the way, I sincerely enjoy the charm of an idealized Las Vegas.

    Dead Money sounds awesome, and I love the idea of having to leave some of the prize behind. I may have to move this up on my backlog.

    Best of luck on that DA2 rant, for what it's worth.