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Review: Fallout New Vegas - Dead Money

Whether it's facing marauding slavers, taking on hulking super mutants, or going toe-to-toe with giant mutant bugs, Fallout players should be well accustomed to dealing with mortal danger lurking around every corner. So describing Fallout New Vegas - Dead Money as one of the most dangerous adventures to date will probably be met with some skepticism. As the first DLC expansion to Fallout New Vegas, it's designed for level 20 characters or above. Players follow a radio signal promoting the grand opening of the Sierra Madre resort and casino and end up getting sprayed with knockout gas and stripped of all belongings except for a single weapon and a bomb locked around your neck. You wake up just in time to meet the projected image of a scribe named Father Elijah threaten to detonate the bomb unless you run a heist centuries in the making.

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It turns out the Sierra Madre isn't everything it's advertised to be. Shortly after the bombs fell, the entire resort was filled with a toxic red gas that preserves the buildings and chokes almost everything to death. Holograms flicker and move on endless loop while shambling Ghost People wander the streets looking to trap and kill trespassers. Ghost People are really tough, immune to the gas, and have a tendency to get back up after being shot down. Dismembering them is the only way to guarantee they won't rise again.

Your job is to gather together a crew of three other members and break into the casino vault to loot its treasures. That means getting through the poisonous cloud, dealing with the Ghost People, and sneaking past an automated security system made up of indestructible holograms without losing your head. Each member of your crew is also outfitted with an explosive collar to ensure loyalty, or else everyone is more inclined to stab you in the back than help you. It also turns out that the collars aren't completely stable, since interfering radio frequencies will also set them off. Sometimes overcoming them is as easy as running up to a radio and turning it off or shooting a speaker before the timer runs out, but there are occasions when players will have to be perceptive and creative. The unfortunate aspect of the game design is that it's not always easy to tell what direction a radio signal is coming from. Your collar will start beeping once you step into danger, but you can't stop and listen to tell how far a source is or what direction it might be. A previous prisoner might have left a clue pointing some of them out, but oftentimes you'll have to spot them yourself and hope that there's nothing chasing you. As if that weren't enough, the Ghost People also saw fit to lay bear traps all over the place, so it's a good idea to keep a keen eye out for hazards.

With the possible exception of the hologram gun, supplied to you at the start of the mission, and the super sharp Cosmic Knife, we weren't terribly impressed by the weapon selection Dead Money has to offer. That might have something to do with the fact that most of the creatures in Dead Money are either resistant to bullets or indestructible, which often forced us to rely on spears despite the fact that our character wasn't set up for melee combat. The toxic cloud makes exploration a very risky endeavor, so we didn't end up finding many weapon mods or specialized ammunition. At the same time, holographic vendors don't carry any money, so players have to barter for supplies. However, the streets are littered with Sierra Madre chips, which can be exchanged at holographic vending machines for goods, but not everything can be turned in for chips. Specialized ammunition in particular is extremely tough to find unless you have the skills to make it yourself, but we were never big fans of the ammo crafting system introduced in New Vegas. The Sierra Madre's maze of streets, many of which look almost identical, makes it difficult to remember where crafting stations are located and we often ended up walking around in circles trying to reach quest markers.

At the same time, the Sierra Madre villas make it a fresh place that's unlike anywhere else found in New Vegas, apart from everything being trashed and looted. Dead Money's greatest strength is in its story and characters, which might be especially appealing to players that want further closure on the Helios One and Veronica storylines. We loved the idea of holograms wandering around on infinite loop in an abandoned city like ghosts. There are also a handful of clues scattered around indicating what the next DLC expansion will include. Howver, we wish some of the heist elements were a little more involved. For example, one guy's role is to hold two wires together once you trigger the signal. On the other hand, we enjoyed seeing things play out as the crew inevitably turns against you, and all you have to do is set things up so that the Ghost People won't rush him immediately after the task. Furthermore, the rewards of playing through Dead Money are somewhat limited.

As stated earlier, we weren't terribly impressed with the new weapon selection, so there's not a whole lot of technology worth bringing back into the main game. After breaking into the Sierra Madre Casino and opening its secret vault, the game presents an interesting decision. It's almost impossible for players to loot the vault for all its valuable gold bars and win because the weight of it all slows the character down too much to escape. You can still escape with a small fortune in gold, which is nice except no vendor in the game carries enough money to pay the full value of a single gold bar and only a handful can afford to pay most of what one is worth. Even so, it's a bit of a downer to know that there's no way to "have it all," since there's no way to return to the Sierra Madre after completing the campaign. There's a bunker housing a holographic vending machine with an unlimited inventory, but it only uses Sierra Madre currency, which becomes slightly annoying (unless you complete a special side achievement) since the machine only accepts specific items for trade-ins. Furthermore, with the exception of a demolition charge and some mods, it doesn't dispense weapons. So, whatever items you grab up from the Sierra Madre are all you're going to get.

So, the rewards of running a heist in Dead Money are a bit mixed. We weren't disappointed with our trip to the Sierra Madre, but we hoped that we'd get a little more out it. At least the level cap increase helps us feel better. Players that value great storytelling and characters should definitely pick up Dead Money, as should players who are starting to think the main game is getting a little too easy. The campaign is all about trying to manage need over greed, and we feel like it hits us over the head with that lesson. Still, Dead Money is a fun ride and a nice change of pace from the main New Vegas storyline.

Final Verdict

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