Blog 531: New Vegas Episodes

Expansion packs, DLC, call them what you will — these slabs of additional content can as often hamper a game as enhance it. Take the brutal assassins of Morrowind‘s Tribunal expansion, who will attack a hopeless level one adventurer the first time he sleeps under the moon and stars. Take the hideously difficult bonus dungeons of Baldur’s Gate‘s Tales of the Sword Coast, which a party of The Friendly Arm’s finest can barely touch until they’re at the base game’s level cap of 7.

So Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition came with four mission packs. Herein lie some of the thoughts these triggered in me…

Old World Blues

Oh my, the Old World Blues pack is wordy. On activating the satellite trigger and bumbling through the entry point, I ended up in a collossal intro conversation that lasted at least half an hour (and that was me reading faster than a lot of the dialogue). Sparkling with wit and charm and brilliantly acted, sure, but whoosh did it go on a bit.

I came back from Old World Blue a full 10 levels ahead, and I didn’t even complete big swathes of its optional content (you can return at any point to do so; I suspect that I will). It didn’t exactly turn me into an unstoppable killing machine in the real world (since I focused on non-combat skills), but I did come out with some pretty awesome armour and weapons (I wish the Stealth Suit MKII had a full conversation tree or something; its chatter is sadly limited but I love that forlorn “nobody has ever been as unnoticed as me”). That’s the thing about DLC — the base game has no shortage of content, so I’d rather they eschewed expansions in favour of… Well, I don’t know. You can’t monetise bug-fixes or other transparent improvements… Can you?

Again, maybe content that was more integrated, content that populated the existing area a bit more rather than a standalone extra compound. I notice that most of the houses in the world of New Vegas are boarded up — surely a few of those could be surreptitiously swapped for unblocked houses or replaced with more interesting structures?

Soon I will control all of SCIENCE!

Soon I will control all of SCIENCE!

Honest Hearts

Maybe I should have done this one a lot earlier, well before Old World Blues — the only times I have died have been to overconfidence (and the lack of stimpacks that entails).

It’s another open world in microcosm, but the landscape is much more interesting here. Instead of the vague lumpiness of the Mojave scrubland, it’s set amongst the towering rock-faces of canyons and peaks. Though the collision on the rock-face meshes is so shonky that you can usually float gently down them with no risk of death rather than go the long way.

I might even say its landscape has a Morrowindy feel to it — it’s still orange and brown, but the craggy cliffs make meandering through it a lot more interesting than tearing across the desert and then having to detour for miles around an annoying ridge (some rocks in the real game have no-foolin’ bona-fide invisible walls atop them). The game area of Honest Hearts is much, much smaller than that of Old World Blues, let alone the real world, but the twisting canyons confound the objective markers nicely — the direct route is rarely even possible, let alone the optimal route.

And the small overall area makes it a lot nicer on your punishingly slow walking pace.

My trusty Laser RCW was soon replaced by the Shishkebab -- a mighty post-apocalyptic sword of fire.

My trusty Laser RCW was soon replaced by the Shishkebab — a mighty post-apocalyptic sword of fire.

At this point, I almost feel like all the DLCs could be strung together entirely independently of the main game. Maybe they should be Fallout: New Vegas Episodes, perhaps with a brand new character doing them all. Though Honest Hearts ties tangentially into the main story of New Vegas, Old World Blues has only the most tenuous relevance — and it’s certainly large enough to be completely stand-alone.

Them critters never stood a chance.

Them critters never stood a chance.

Dead Money

Yes, that’s good – just as I finally find a shop that can sell me Stimpacks, I go and start a DLC that takes away all my equipment. Huzz-fuckin’-ah.

Dead Money is where New Vegas tries its hand at being Thief. The “Villa” in which you begin is a murky faux-mediterranean suburb covered by a toxic gas cloud, and inhabited by suspicious assassin-type guys with glowing green eyes (that can only be knocked down until you splatter their limbs off their prone bodies).

It reminds me a bit of the orphanage level of Deadly Shadows, except rendered in browns and reds (or green if you take some pills) rather than purples and blues; but also the classic city rooftops areas of The Metal Age as you navigate across balconies and through holes in the walls to avoid conflict… At least until your companion starts shooting.

Inside the casino remains Thief-like as you have to contend with truly invulnerable security holograms, at least until you can find and disable their emitters.

The blinding flash of a drawn Cosmic Knife never gives my location away. No, tripping over bear traps does that just fine.

The blinding flash of a drawn Cosmic Knife never gives my location away. No, tripping over bear traps does that just fine.

Dead Money ends with a number of pretty shameless plugs for Lonesome Road. Again, I am led to believe there is some kind of sequence here — in conversation I was told about the Big MT and could only respond “I’ve never been there”, when in fact I spent quite a bit of time there and got ten levels and tonnes of bangin’ loot from it earlier in the game. How was I supposed to know beforehand that I shouldn’t have been there? At the start of the game I just got four annoying quests that lead to locations it’d be too dangerous to access that early — Old World Blues suggests level 15, Dead Money suggests level 20 and Lonesome Road suggests level 25. Honest Hearts has no warning, so it must be okay from the get-go. But if that’s the sequence, why did Dead Money talk like I’d never been to Big MT when I surely had?

And they’re all packaged as individual DLCs. Could I have bought Lonesome Road alone and missed out on all this build-up? All the veiled references to the “storms of the Divide”? Content-wise, there is enough in the three packs I have already played to constitute a single expansion pack — New Vegas Episodes, say. An expansion pack that would perhaps begin after the main plot of the main game had finished, or else, the quests should only activate at appropriate points throughout the game (randomly picking up a radio broadcast when you hit the right level and have completed the prerequisite, if they must), to enforce the intended sequence that so clearly exists.

Confusion.

Did I mention you are equipped with a bomb collar that pops your head off under annoying circumstances?

Did I mention you are equipped with a bomb collar that pops your head off under annoying circumstances?

Lonesome Road

Well, if Dead Money was FO:NV trying to be Thief, then Lonesome Road is the game trying to be Unreal. Devoid of interaction with non-hosile NPCs barring ED-E (at least, until you catch up with jobbyface himself), it’s a mostly linear exercise in forward motion just like a classic FPS (with a few deceptive loops and whatnot, so Unreal if every level was Bluff Eversmoking or the Sunspire). Well, you can fast-travel back and forward and explore more, so maybe there’s a hint of Crysis‘ really-wide-corridors about it.

Either way — there’s only one way to go and it’s straight down the gullet of the Divide. Some fairly spectacular set-pieces ensue, from the oh-so-traditional elevator-descent-under-attack-from-ceiling-dropping-enemies to launching a dormant nuke (I saw a switch and pulled it, I didn’t expect it to do that). There are a few cool weapons too, like the ridiculously rapid-fire rocket launcher Red Glare acting like it would be more at home in Borderlands.

With the mighty Sword of the West in his hands, he strode forth to mete out justice upon all those bloody snipers -- if only he could run faster!

With the mighty Sword of the West in his hands, he strode forth to mete out justice upon all those bloody snipers — if only he could run faster!

Overall

And so we come to the end… sixty-odd hours later.

I think that length of time speaks for itself.

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