Fallout: New Vegas certainly isn’t without fault, but it did serve as a succinct followup to one of my favorite PC adventures of the past few Christmases, Fallout 3. After choosing to go the way of Steam for that adventure and this one in turn, I found myself engrossed in a world I couldn’t quite escape from – until I was met with saving issues and other wonky glitches that desperately needed ironing out. But surviving the wasteland quickly consumes you, and I knew without a doubt I’d be looking forward to the first available DLC. I should have been leery for all intents and purposes once said package, Dead Money, was announced, but as the release date neared and I was given the opportunity to evaluate the latest addition to the Fallout saga, I was ready. But only if Dead Money could transcend the disappointment and feelings of being disenfranchised that Mothership Zeta so readily inspired. I’m happy to say that it does, if only by a tiny bit. It’s not the fantastic “The Pitt” DLC, but it’s a start.
Dead Money is fairly standard as far as downloadable content goes. You aren’t going to artificially lengthen your main campaign, you must make this journey alone (bye-bye, companions!) and when all is said and done, the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow isn’t exactly overflowing. It does increase your level cap by five, though this really isn’t an adventure you’d want to make unless you’ve exhausted the amount of fun you think you can have inside New Vegas’s default campaign. It’s much like starting anew inside the core game, which personally I found quite refreshing, but I know I was aching for an additional few hours of gameplay the main storyline would actually benefit from.
After following your Pip-Boy to its newest destination, falling down into a miniscule grate, and being gassed out of your mind, you’re stripped of your belongings and left for dead — or so you think. Upon waking (and realizing your equipment is gone until you reach the end of the DLC) you meet with Elijah, a crotchety older gentleman who’s got a bit of an errand for you to run — you need to bust into the vault of the Sierra Madre Casino. Not for the good of the world, of course, but for Elijah to rummage through the spoils. If you decide not to comply, which would not be an outlandish response, Elijah’s got a bit of a failsafe implemented in his devious plan: the fiendish explosive collar secured to your neck. Make one wrong move and it’s lights out, baby. As you delve deeper and deeper into Elijah’s wicked little game, the thought soon crosses your mind that maybe, just maybe, you should have left well enough alone.
As if becoming one of Elijah’s goons wasn’t bad enough, you’re also tasked with seeking out three other members to add to your shaky one-man wrecking crew operation. And to ensure the treasure is safe in the hands of one person (eventually Elijah), when one person bites the dust, so does everyone else. In case it wasn’t getting crystal clear just yet, Dead Money is, absolutely, one of the most difficult quests I have experienced yet.
Luckily, your new friends are all up to the challenge. When you’re not trying to avoid radios or other electronic devices that your collar is also rigged to blow from, you’ll find that getting to know your unlikely buddies as well as their individual skillsets is actually pretty engrossing. A ghoul, a mutant, and even a quiet-yet-capable mute round out your new party, and they’re all business. As you roam around the areas directly surrounding the casino, bizarre “ghosts” gravitate to you like salt on a peanut. Super-strength and ridiculously elongated health bars are apparently the effects these poor souls have drawn from being exposed to the noxious fumes surrounding the casino for far too long, and you’re going to need all your wits about you if you want to crack into the casino with all of your limbs intact. In order to ensure a ghost is dead, you’ll want to try to take off their heads and stay as far away as possible while doing so, as they can cause a ridiculous amount of damage.
Yes, as previously mentioned, this DLC is tough. If you’re not having issues with keeping yourself alive long enough to see the end of the episode, then you will be experimenting plenty (especially as you reach your goal) with which devices will and will not set off the dastardly jewelry comfortable nestled at your neck. There are plenty of cheap deaths, and it’s far too tedious and time-consuming to stay vigilant with every corner revealing a new way to die, all involving your collar. When you reach your goal, as well, there’s not the feeling of personal satisfaction or even the instant gratification we’ve come to expect from the fantastical items usually lying in wait for use back in the Wasteland. In fact, as tedious as the journey could be at times, I enjoyed it far more than accomplishing what I had set out to do. If you invest time in getting to know your new companions, then it’s likely you’ll feel the same way. But for those of you who require delicious spoils to return to the main quest, I have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to leave disappointed.
The vast expanse surrounding the Sierra Madre Casino are dank and just derivative enough to not look out of place amongst New Vegas’s main quest. Drab, dull, dark, and dank — all four D-words that you can usually apply toward most RPGs or modern FPSs, and that’s fine, and you come to expect it, I suppose; though once you reach your destination, the inside of the casino is actually an interesting place to explore. The several vending machines throughout the locale and the interesting currency with which you can use to “have a good time” was a nice touch in stark contrast to the overwhelming blahness of the areas permeated by poison gas. Dead Money isn’t much to look at, inside or out of the casino, but at least it communicates to us how bleak your situation really is unless you comply with Elijah’s demands.
You have your standard Fallout fare — nothing too standout in the aural department other than your interactions with the companions you meet along the way. I had an absolute blast speaking with them and listening to their stories, especially when I realized they all did tie in with the main campaign in some special way. It’s this fleshed-out narrative and special camaraderie that is made possible by exemplary voice acting and mood-matching music that I enjoyed the most out of this rather short (though seemingly stretched on) quest.
This fairly stand-alone mecca to the Sierra Madre Casino is an interesting jaunt made so by the characters you are required to rendezvous with on the way. However, the dull and uninspired slog to make it to the casino, as well as the lackluster rewards upon completion make Dead Money a bit more like homework than an enjoyable add-on for Fallout: New Vegas. You will remember these characters, however, and Elijah’s nefarious plans are quite entertaining, and I’m all about backstory and making things feel real. For that, Dead Money is a worthy buy, but only if you’re willing to read every text log, participate in all of those conversations, and get to know a few misfits. You’ll find that your life actually depends on it, and that’s an interesting feeling.