Fallout: New Vegas Dead Money review
Written by The Dutch Ghost
Warning: spoilers for the early parts of the game are in the plot summation
“A chance to begin again” That is the promise of the Sierra Madre, a treasure of the old world, lost since the great War of 2077 and the main location of the first downloadable content package Fallout New Vegas; Dead Money. As with Bethesda's own DLCs for Fallout 3, Dead Money introduced a whole new location and map separate from the Mojave wasteland with its own style and equipment and enemies unique to its setting.
Before the War, the Sierra Madre was to be the most unique and exclusive casino resort in North America, even surpassing Las Vegas. It was a settlement constructed to cater to the needs and desires of the upper class and, providing gambling opportunity and other entertainment such as theater acts with big starts like Dean Domino. It was also a very advanced casino, implementing unique technologies such as vending machines that could construct clothes, objects, drugs and food from special casino chips, replacing traditional currency, or the hologram system capable of generating greeters, store salesmen, and security projections that could carry out a number of tasks for the visitors and inhabitants.
The Sierra Madre was to be opened on the eve of the great nuclear war, but when the bombs fell the security system was triggered, trapping the guests inside without any means to contact the outside world. In the months after the War a strange red cloud started to surround the Sierra Madre, eventually covering the entire sky of the resort and hiding it from outside. Over the years the Sierra Madre has become sort of a folk tale to the people in the South West, a pre war treasure trove full of the riches of the old world, but even more, a chance to begin again. Most people paid little mind to it, focusing more on realistic goals, and travelers and prospectors usually use tales about the Sierra Madre or so called maps to the Sierra Madre itself for a free drink or a place to sleep.
Perhaps the Courier may have seen some advertisements or graffiti about the Sierra Madre during his or her travels through the Mojave, but the Courier really becomes involved with the location when he/she receives an invitation to the grand opening to the casino & resort one day. An indirect path brings the player to the Casino, sans any equipment. The player is then addressed by a hologram of Father Elijah, a former Brotherhood of Steel Elder who the player may have heard of before when asking Veronica about her life with the Brotherhood. After the Elder had left the Brotherhood following disasters caused by his obsession with technology, he found the Sierra Madre and believes that the casino and the technologies it contains hold the means to establish a new civilization, with the Brotherhood of Steel in charge, and the means to eliminate the NCR in the Mojave wasteland.
Despite all the centuries that passed the Sierra Madre is still locked down and surrounded by various dangers, and Elijah found himself unable to get access to the casino on his own. Needing help but also wanting to make sure that they would not take the treasure of the Sierra Madre for themselves, Elijah started to use the invitation transmission the Madre had been transmitting since the Great War, luring adventurers to traps placed in the Mojave, including the exploding collars. The player is the latest victim of this trap.
Having no other choice the player heads into the Villa surrounding the Sierra Madre which stands tall and high above it, in search of three others like him/her to do the heist of the centuries. The three other members of the heist are persons who have a connection to the Sierra Madre or Father Elijah, and like the Courier have been forced into cooperating with Elijah on his plan to open the casino.
The first member is Dog/God, a Nightkin who is suffering from the detrimental effects of continuous Stealthboy use, though it is unknown if this is the cause of the mental condition he is currently suffering from. Some kind of trauma has caused the Nightkin's personality to be divided in two sides; the slow, simple and animal like Dog, and the more cunning and intelligent God who represents the mutant's sophisticated side. Indication is given that Dog was the original personality until one day God 'woke' up and started to talk to him, and take control from time to time. Whenever Dog or God is in control the other is 'sent' to the cage and both personalities are only partly aware of the others' activities.
This is much to the frustration of God who feels he should protect Dog from his feral behavior and misplaced loyalties while Dog hates God for trying to be in charge and putting him in the cage all the time, rather than letting him eat when he is hungry. Both personalities possess their own unique perk, Dog can devour Ghost People that have been knocked down, preventing them from regenerating, while God provides the ability of preventing traps like bear traps from going off when the player is near those.
Christine Royce is the second member. She lost her voice due to a botched operation by a broken Auto Doc and can only communicate in hand signals which the player is able to understand after a skill check. Christine was a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, but a different chapter than the Mojave chapter in Fallout New Vegas. Her elders had become aware of what Father Elijah had been doing after he abandoned the Mojave chapter and sent she was one of the Brotherhood assassins sent out to stop him.
Being technical skilled, Christine possesses the perk of temporarily causing interference in the bomb collars she and the player have been fitted with, expanding the window of time when the bomb is accidentally triggered by a radio signal, allowing the player to find the source and shut it down or just remain in the area longer to collect items before having to retreat.
Dean Domino, pre war singing star turned Ghoul is the reluctant last member of the team. Before the War he was well known in Hollywood and had appeared in various establishments through the US but like so many other well known Pre War persons he was almost completely forgotten after the end of the old world, much to his annoyance. Sinclair had brought in Dean as one of the acts at the Sierra Madre during its grand opening. Unknown to Sinclair, Dean Domino also had other reasons of why he wanted to be at the Sierra Madre, an obsession that held Domino in its grasp and would continue to do so for the next two hundred years when Dean got trapped in the Villa at the foot of the casino.
Since then Dean has acclimatised reasonably well to the deteriorating party town, its mutant resident and the poisonous cloud. Dean himself has built up a certain resistance against the Cloud and can provide similar protection to the player for a short while, his personal perk reducing 25 percent of the damage the player takes while in the Cloud.
While Dead Money in general plays the same as the main Fallout New Vegas game the focus on the player skills are somewhat different than the main game. Dead Money is still an action role playing game, but an important aspect of the game is survival which is implemented in the game through the various hazards and the strong enemies as well as the severe lack of resources such as stimpaks, weapons, and ammunition the player could take for granted in New Vegas. These are very rare and precious now and sometimes it is better to avoid a conflict or try to use a trap against an enemy rather than trying to approach the situation Action Boy style.
There are vendors, or vendor holograms in this case, and the unique vending machines which can manufacture a lot of items the player needs, but the vendors do not accept caps and usually have a limited selection of items for sale, and the player needs to get holodiscs containing manufacturing recipes in order to get access to the normally common stimpaks, RadAway or other drugs and items that can make a difference between life and death, and until those discs have been found the player needs to carefully manage their resources. The vending machines require the special Sierra Madre gambling chips which the player can find in various places, but even the basic of items require a certain quantity and the player will probably have to be careful with spending them until they have built up a reliable supply. Other than finding the discs the player can also recycle junk items or at some point learn from Christine how to make them from scrap metal and other parts, somewhat relieving the limited supply of chips.
Dead Money introduces two new enemy types that will stand in the player's path and progress during the Dead Money campaign;
The mysterious Ghost People, strange beings trapped in hazardous environment suits, that may be the descendants of some of the Pre War workers who were employed at the Sierra Madre during the time the bombs fell, and the Sierra Madre's own security system; holographic guards.
The first several times the player engages the Ghost People they can not be killed in the conventional way, just because the player has drained their health and thrown them on the ground does not mean that the Ghost People are dead. Given time they will regenerate and get back up to continue their assault. The only way to permanently kill them is to decapitate them or cut/shoot heir head, arm or leg off. After the player has met Dog/God he can teach the player how to kill Ghost People without having to decapitate them.
While most of the Sierra Madre's Villa structures and technologies have decayed over time, the security system is still functions well, built to last much longer than its surroundings. As the Sierra Madre is still on lock down some of the systems identify the player or anyone else it encounters as intruders that need to be dealt with.
Unlike the Ghost People, the holograms can not be destroyed by a direct attack (there are no pulse grenades), being made up of light after all, while they can cause severe damage once they have detected the player. The player needs to change their patrol paths through computer controls or find their emitter and shut it down to permanently disable the hologram.
Outside of these active threats the Sierra Madre Villa and casino also has a large number of other dangers the player needs to be careful for. Various traps that have been set up by the Ghost People or earlier visitors to the Sierra Madre who wanted to take out their competitors but which sometimes also ended up killing the people who placed them. The damaged intercom and communication grid as well as partly working radios are also a threat to the player and his/her companions, these systems in general have ceased working properly but still transmit waste noise on frequencies that interfere with the bomb collars the player and the companions have been forced to wear by Elder Elijah. Getting too close to a working speaker or radio can trigger the bomb prematurely and the player only has a small window of time in order to find the speaker or radio and shut it off or destroy it before the bomb detonates.
Last is the ominous Cloud itself, concentrated portions of it can block the player's view and hide traps or enemies for the player to run into, but more importantly the Cloud reduces the player's health significantly if the player stays in it too long. Dean Domino can provide the player with temporary protection against the Cloud's corrosive capabilities but the player is still advised to make haste when forced to enter the Cloud during the quests. If the player plays in survival mode, the Cloud becomes even more important, as it slowly drains the health in normal spaces and it also deteriorates the condition of the player's gear, making avoiding conflict sometimes even more important.
The Sierra Madre casino and the Villa around it have a very different visual style than found in the main New Vegas game, the Villa itself resembling a Spanish Mexican town with its Hacienda architecture style while the Sierra Madre casino gave me the impression of a 'golden age luxurious casino' around the 20's and 30's, Art Deco curves and design, a momentous building from the outside that reaches for the sky, almost like the Chrysler building in New York.
This is a solid decision by the Obsidian, as it gives the main location an atmosphere of its own rather than reusing older graphic assets from previous games and DLCs. It truly looks and feels like a settlement that wasn't hit by a warhead or severe conflict but rather deteriorated after everyone seemed to forget about it, the collapse and destruction mostly being the result of the passage of time. The great red Cloud that emerged soon after the War has now covered the Villa in a red haze. It is sometimes very overwhelming, limiting the player's view while traveling the many streets and trapped the location in almost permanently twilight period of the day, making it almost impossible to know what time of day it is. After a while the Cloud has become just one of the many regular elements the player deals in the Villa. Because of that, it is a big change when the Cloud is suddenly absent as the player enters the Sierra Madre itself during the second part of the game.
The holograms resemble NPCs wearing business suits, luxury clothes of Sierra Madre armor so there is little that really makes them stand out. On the other, the Ghost People are still wearing the hazmat suits from when they were regular workers at the Villa and casino, and they got mutated over time by the conditions at the Sierra Madre. Their looks are like a mixture of World War 1 gas masks and very tight looking body suits, the eerie glowing goggles making it clear that whatever is under that mask, it is no longer human. When the player first meets the Ghost People they seem like limping and impaired humanoids, but this is merely a ruse as the they are prone to jump on the player as soon as he gets close. If the player has not 'properly' dispatched them, the Ghost People's bodies will continue to twitch before they revive.
Dead Money doesn't come with much in the way of new music, but the added music is of excellent quality*. The selection of voices on the other hand is good to excellent and the actors voice their characters convincingly.
Dog sounds like like a simple and almost animal like creature while his counterpart God sounds the part of the reserved calculating thinker with the occasional fit of anger of the situation he finds himself in and the actions of Dog. Dean sounds like suave and somewhat arrogant former upper class member of society, very smooth talking though clearly a man who thinks little of the player and carrying quite an ego of himself around. Rubbing Dean the wrong way and his anger of being stuck in this situation and paranoia that the player is after the same treasure as he is becomes clear but treat Dean well and earn his trust and he eventually starts to see the player as a partner in this heist.
Richard Herd did a well job on making Elijah sound like an obsessed and nearly insane man whose scant empathy for fellow humans beings has deteriorated to nothing, seeing them merely as tools or uneducated masses that need firm control and proper motivation. From the parts in which Elijah sounds sane to the parts in which his megalomania comes forward, sharing with the player his ideal vision of how the Mojave should be and how society under his leadership would look like.
As the first expansion DLC to Fallout New Vegas, Dead Money does quite well, it introduces an interesting new setting with a unique storyline and background of its own and brings in new memorable characters for the player to interact with.
The bigger focus and emphasis on survival make the adventure quite different from New Vegas itself. A lot of people will probably find this an interesting challenge, but understandably other gamers will dislike that the DLC somewhat breaks with the main game, taking away their hard earned weapons and armor in order to build up a sense of vulnerability that remains throughout most of the DLC. Dead Money is also not really much of a 'loot fest', there are unique weapons and armors in the game like the holo rifle, the police pistol, automatic rifle, Sierra Madre armor etc, but these are in general not a superior standard to the regular arsenal.
Dead Money is more about story telling and creating an atmosphere of scarcity of resources in which the player is more careful with what supplies he or she finds, rather than stockpiles of equipment and medicine, and as a result the DLC plays a lot slower than the main New Vegas campaign.
*(corrected from "doesn't contain any new music")