Dead Money is the first piece of downloadable content for Fallout New Vegas. Despite downloadable content existing on the last generation of consoles, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that it really hit mainstream and that was helped significantly by Fallout 3. Bethesda’s proposition was this, $10 for a several hour chunk of content and gamers bought them in droves. Now after the release of New Vegas, it’s now Obsidian’s turn to show if they have the chops to make the quality downloadable content that Bethesda did with Fallout 3.
In Dead Money, you’re lured to an abandoned Brotherhood of Steel bunker by a radio broadcast promising a fresh new start at a place called the Sierra Madre. Like most things in the universe, things aren’t always how they seem on the surface and the Sierra Madre is no different. You’re welcomed with a bomb collar around your neck and Father Elijah barking orders at you. You’re tasked with looking for other survivors and working together to pull a heist job on the Sierra Madre casino. It’s a unique story for the universe and a lot of fun to see through and learn about what happened to your colleagues as well as the Sierra Madre. And while this is a self-contained story, it starts to lay down the foundation for some future downloadable content.
After you make your way to the starting locale, it tells you via a dialog screen if you want to stay or go. That’s right. This DLC will whisk you away to a new location and you’re forced to stay there until completion. It recommends level 20 characters and above which felt advisable but if you’re a couple levels below you should be able to handle it no problem. If you’ve maxed out your character, the level cap has been raised by 5 levels to 35 with a couple new perks for the choosing. Once in the city of the Sierra Madre you’re striped of all your equipment. This also sets the tone right away that this isn’t your typical Fallout experience where you slaughter everyone with ease. They included some new gameplay mechanics that while are very in your face and simplistic, work quite well to give you something new and fun. There are red gas clouds that fill various parts of the city which slowly drain your health. There are radios that interfere with the bomb collar around your neck and if you don’t get out of its range or turn it off in time, you go boom. Then there are traps all over that try to make you watch your step. And finally, there are three new companions on this quest that will help you negate each one of those obstacles. In addition to all the new obstacles to getting around, you’ll also have to encounter some new agile enemies in hazmat suits. The big kicker with these guys is that once they go down, they don’t stay down unless you maim their bodies. As I said, quite simplistic in design but really helps set a deadly tone for this expansion.
Some may be a little disappointed with the quests in this pack. A lot of them are fetch quests where you have to search the world to assemble your team and then move them individually into position. So right there with your three companions are six different quests. Later on there are some nice stealth sequences that work even for characters that aren’t built around it. Sure you could probably just run through some parts and the game will think nonetheless for it but the game does a good job building up this notion of a grand casino heist job and you just do what Fallout has always made you do, role play. Also for those expecting some epic loot will come out empty handed. While there may be one or two decent items, overall it’s nothing to sing home about.
As with New Vegas, some aspects seem beyond the scope of the set gameplay and engine. You get three companions and you’re all working together toward a common goal yet you can only use one at a time. One of these companions cannot speak which is really cool but since the animation system is not up to snuff, you have to read her actions through the dialogue screen. The companions always don’t seem to have enough things to say while you’re wandering around so they end up saying the same thing over and over quite frequently. Then about halfway through the experience, you work up to a big event that ultimately looks very lackluster. The location you’re placed into is definitely unique looking. The city is cast in an eerie red glow and gas blooms are littered around the landscape. The issue is that there isn’t much to differentiate the locations so during exploration or a panicked run can leave you lost and running around in circles. Even though it’s a city, it feels almost like giant maze at times which might be intentional in design but can get frustrating when you get lost or try to find your next objective. On top of that, the deadly new gameplay encounters can get frustrating after a while and the ending will probably kill you a couple times before you get it right.
Overall this is a nice diversion from the norm. In the world of New Vegas, your character might have near-god status but here you’re brought down to experience some fear for your character. The experience took me a weighty 8 hours to complete but if you don’t explore, could take you a bit less. But for a modest 800ms points, it’s hard to say anywhere near this is a bad deal. The biggest question is if you are okay with the in your face simplistic gameplay design and fetch quests. For me, it was a great experience. Some parts may get you a little frustrated at but overall, well worth the trip to the Sierra Madre Casino.