Now you see, I wasn’t going to buy the first lot of DLC for New Vegas for two reasons. One, I thought I’d give another game a chance, and two, if Oblivion and Fallout 3 are anything to go by then it’ll come down in price in a few months. Of course, since when has saying I’m not going to buy something ever meant anything? Of course I bought it the day it was available.
And today I completed it.
First, a comparison with the DLC for Fallout 3. Like Fallout 3 expansions “Into The Pitt”, “Operation Anchorage” and “Mothership Zeta”, Dead Money is essentially stand-alone – as in, once you started them you were taken out of the main game until you completed it, and all your items were confiscated for the duration. Also, each of those expansions were around 4-5 hours long, but somehow (I may have been slow) Dead Money took a good 10 hours for me to finish.
Somehow, Dead Money manages to very much change the way Fallout works. You still have VATS and weapons that degrade and stuff, but several game mechanics are essentially removed. All your caps? Gone. It’s scrounged Sierra Madre (the casino in the story) chips that you buy things from vending machines with. Hoarding everything to sell? Pretty much pointless, although some previously useless items (and some new ones) can be crafted into new items and weapons. An even bigger change is with the main enemies – the Ghost People. When they die, they ain’t dead, and reanimate in a short time to hound you again. Unless you hack them to bits when they’re down, or manage to decapitate them in combat, of course.
There are environmental complications too. The whole of the area is bathed in a strange red mist, which has two major effects: firstly, you can’t sleep anywhere even vaguely exposed to the cloud (meaning healing up is either a long trip to a safe zone, or done with the scarce rations and stimpaks), and secondly there are dense pockets of the fog around Sierra Madre that you can enter, but they’ll poison you on contact, draining your health. And no protective suits, rebreathers and goggles – ze do nothing!
Then there’s the bomb collar you wear. To ensure compliance with the guy running the show in Sierra Madre, you and your companions wear Running Man style exploding neckwear. Kill your “friends”, and it explodes. Don’t do as you’re told? It explodes. And, worst of all, stand near a still active pre-war radio or PA system for too long? Bang! As a result of the latter of these, some of the game becomes an almost Doctor Who level of running down corridors, looking for the source of the radio signal or noise, and then either destroy it or turn it off before you and your head part company. Frantic!
But then, another new game mechanic does the opposite to you! The casino and environs are protected in part by an old hologram security system. Hologram guards patrol areas, and if they see you, you’re toast – they can’t be killed. You can, sometimes, use terminals to turn them off (or on – which may be useful) or destroy their signal emitter (if you can find it – many are very well hidden). These parts of the game become stealth sneak-em-ups, which it has to be said, aren’t my favourite sort of thing.
At some points in the game, the chaos of running blind and the order of hide and seek collide, and that’s when things get tricky. The final area of the episode in particular was privy to some choice language, as my previous 100+ hours on New Vegas without a single death gave way to hundreds in a short section.
I’ve purposefully avoided mentioning the plot to prevent spoilers, but the basic premise is that you and three others have been lured to the mysterious Sierra Madre casino by a man who appears in dialogue in the main New Vegas game. He orders you to work together to pull off a grand heist of the riches of the casino. Naturally, he’s not telling the whole truth, and you can be sure of backstabbiness (either by or on you) along the way.
Overall, aside from the nasty final Hour of Countless Deaths, I really enjoyed Dead Money. It didn’t really play like New Vegas proper, but that isn’t a complaint. I’m always one for story, and the backstories of your co-workers, the man in charge, and the history of the casino and why it was built were interesting and enjoyable. I was pleased when I figured out who the Ghost People are, and it’s also interesting how some of the conversations, and the ending in particular, revealed what the next DLC is going to be. And possibly the DLC after that! Exciting!