A Look at Dead Money
So Fallout: New Vegas has only been out for a few months now and Bethesda is already releasing the first Downloadable Content for the game, in an extra chapter named Dead Money. By doing so, they are following in the footsteps of Fallout 3 in the release of frequent, vast, and great DLC. But just how great is Dead Money?
The Dead Money DLC is different in that it must be completed before the completion of the primary campaign, and the character can not return to the area after the completion of the DLC. Dead Money starts of strong when you follow a beacon to the abandoned Brotherhood of Steel Bunker in a greedy search for treasure, only to be gassed unconscious and taken far away from anywhere on the Fallout: New Vegas map. Once you enter the bunker, a beheaded corpse and obscure pre-war technology give the pursuit a mysterious and abysmal feel. This tone only grows as you told the history of the Sierra Madre Casino, a glorious casino made by a man hellbent on security, whose opening day fell after the bombs dropped. People have searched, and died, for its wealth over the following centuries, promoting the Sierra Madre as something akin to an El Dorado. You wake up facing a holographic figure with a commanding tone in a city-villa surrounding the casino which lies shrouded in a dark red mist, and the voice informs you of your explosive collar that can be detonated at any time. He demands that you seek out three others who wear the same collar and are linked to yours- if any of you die, you all die. As soon as you depart, you find that you aren’t alone in the villa, as a mysterious “ghost people” inhabit the area, wearing glowing gas-masks and using crude weaponry. To make matters worse, when you kill them, they merely fall unconscious to get back up seconds later unless you dismember them in some way. Not only that, but the villa is rigged full of traps that wish to cut, slash, or blow your limbs off of your body, as well as speakers that beep constantly for a few seconds before remotely detonating your explosive collar (which kills you instantly, regardless of level). The new form of currency are Sierra Madre Casino chips that you find randomly across the DLC, and there are occasional holographic “vendors” that dispense food and other goods when you input enough of the chips. Oh, and I forgot to mention, you keep nothing upon your entrance to the Dead Money DLC. Nothing. No weapons, armor, or even companions. You keep any obscure quest items which fail to help you anyways, but otherwise, you are on your own in search of food, stimpacks, and any equipment that you require to survive your treck through this toxic nightmare town.
So that is what you find in the first few minutes of exploring the new area, and the doom and gloom doesn’t let up easily. No matter what form of armored crusader you were before the DLC, even experienced players will find this DLC a challenge. The immediate loss of all your equipment and companions forces you to be resourceful, as you never know when you will find another box of ammo, medicines, or even a meal. You are almost constantly losing periodic health due to inhaling the toxic cloud, stepping on the ever-so-frequent traps, and getting into fights with the local ghostly residents. The situation forces you to use tactics that your character otherwise may have never used, as endless automatic gunfire and thriving on stimpaks cease being an option. All of the beds that you find refuse to let you sleep in them, so you hardly catch a break from the nonstop action that you find traversing the villa. The beeping of your explosive collar whenever you near a radio or speaker only adds to the frustration that you will experience when forced to adapt to this challenging environment.
So what works about Dead Money? You are immediately thrust into an engaging atmosphere in an unfamiliar setting on your own in a sea of hostility. The DLC offers challenges to high level characters that they haven’t experienced in far too long during their travels in the Mojave Wasteland. The characters that accompany you are all very interesting and deep, with a wide range of dialogue options and opinions that they can have towards you. Your interactions with these characters help determine your success as you attempt to break into the Casino, giving you a control over the fate of your character. This new area has enough content to last you for many hours, and gives a unique thrill during the entire duration.
However, the DLC has many things which can frustrate to the point of sheer annoyance. Beyond the immediate loss of everything you have worked so hard to achieve, you are constantly having to stop due to toxic gas clouds, fields of traps, rooms of ghost people, or speakers of delayed immediate death. The game also has an annoying habit of explaining everything AFTER you have already encountered it several times. You are often forced to learn-by-doing, which inevitably turns into learn-by-dying. And dying. And dying. The first thing I did upon entering the Villa was reject the demands of the holograph to find the other characters, causing him to actually detonate my collar and reload my last save. However my last save was upon entering the Abandoned BoS Bunker, so I had to rewatch the entire 5 minute history of the Sierra Madre before being able to try again. So when the toxic cloud, fields of traps, and regenerative ghost people aren’t enough to get you down, there is usually a series of speakers ready to force you to reload your save anyways.
The DLC seems to focus more on the skills of the player rather than the skills of your character, as your intelligence and resourcefulness are now much more important than merely your Guns or Science skill. The game occasionally seems like a tribute to older RPGs where you would have to repeat the same challenges many times before you could learn all of the traps and “beat the level,” before being able to proceed to the next section. The new DLC also offers very little new equipment in terms of weapons and armor, and only raises the level cap by 5 (which means only 2 new perks), so it is much more so for thrill-seekers, adventurers, or those who enjoy being wrapped up in an involving storyline than for powergamers wanting a godly character.
All in all, Dead Money offers a great deal of fun for the price, with a long and involved plot, a unique setting, deep and interesting characters, difficult challenges, and a one-of-a-kind thrill that you won’t find in the Mojave Wasteland. However, I would pad your walls for the many instances of thrown controllers, mute your mic before screaming profanity to everyone in your party, and prepare for nightmares of beeping doom.