Fallout: New Vegas Old World Blues review
Written by Tagaziel
There is an expression in the Wasteland: "Old World Blues." It refers to those so obsessed with the past they can't see the present, much less the future, for what it is.
Old World Blues is the penultimate downloadable adventure for Fallout: New Vegas, giving the players an opportunity to explore Big MT, a pre-War research and development facility heavily referenced in previous New Vegas add-ons. While it pays homage to classic science-fiction movies of the 1950s and its ancestor, Wasteland, it is by no means derivative or unoriginal.
The main storyline revolves around a group of post-human scientists, the Think Tank, who are trapped in the Big MT. At the same time, they are hounded by a rogue former colleague of theirs, Dr Mobius, who continuously tries to destroy them with his robotic monstrosities. The player has a personal stake in resolving the conflict, as upon arrival in the facility, his brain (along with a few other crucial pieces of his body) have been removed and the only way to get his three pounds of gray matter back is confronting the Think Tank's nemesis. The core story of the add-on is straightforward and serves primarily as an incentive for the player to explore the expanse of the Big MT crater, because unlike Dead Money and Honest Hearts, the narrative in Old World Blues is delivered primarily through the environment: terminals, notes, environment design, even creatures populating the research base.
There is a lot of background information and side stories hidden across the Big Empty, but only a minor part is directly related to the conflict between the Think Tank and Mobius. A majority of the information serves to provide context for the events in other downloadable adventures (or foreshadowing for Lonesome Road), background for the various previously unexplained phenomena of the Mojave wasteland or uncover the Big MT's sinister past. Old World Blues is perhaps the most important of all the downloadable adventures, as it binds them all together and forms the root of all Old World misery seen in them, from the Divide to the Sierra Madre.
The delivery works well and the stories told are very solid, with one exception: the brain. The entire subplot related to the brain extraction starts as merely goofy, but still relatively in line with the Science! aesthetic of the add-on. However, once Mobius is confronted and the brain can be retrieved, it becomes goofy and completely nonsensical, fit more for comedies or parodies than a serious science-fiction game. Even in the context of the add-on, it is a completely superfluous element of the plot that feels included just for the sake of laughs, rather than any real purpose (other than ham fistedly explaining the no-weapon zone in the Think Tank lair, that is). It is the only major piece of criticism that can be levied against the brilliant mesh of stories weaved into the Big Empty.
Some might also criticize the tone of the add-on as goofy, however, said goofiness isn't included for the sake of goofiness; it underlines the madness of the scientists that once worked there and provides a counterpoint for all the remnants of debauched, unethical experiments and crimes against humanity are scattered across the Big MT, preventing Old World Blues from sliding into the rather hilarious GRIMDARK! aesthetic permeating New Vegas' predecessor.
In terms of gameplay, the add-on is quite obviously tailored for exploration: a central landmark is provided, complete with a base of operations, as a reference point, each of the locations has a strong, unique look and a feature distinguishing it from the landscape and strong incentives are provided as a reward for exploration, be it unique weapons, holotapes that expand home base functionality or, at the very least, background information on the Fallout universe. Despite the obvious tailoring of the Big MT, it's not noticeable during regular gameplay; exploration feels natural and any obstacles on the way, such as forcefields, don't come across as arbitrary piles of rubble preventing the player from progressing, but as just that: obstacles to be overcomed. Hostiles harassing the player during their exploration also don't feel like arbitrary inclusions just for the sake of cool, but are well grounded in the story of the Big Empty and work well in its setting.
On top of a completely new area to explore, Old World Blues introduces several new hostiles to kill (such as the robo-scorpions, berserk autonomous suits of armour, lobotomites, the Think Tanks, cyberdogs) and while some of them have already appeared in New Vegas in one form or another, they've been given a makeover and feel fresh enough for the player to not be bored while fighting them. For the purpose of fighting them, the add-on also expands the already sizeable arsenal of weapons of New Vegas by adding several new, unique weapons for the player to use and new, distinct garments to look good while doing so. They are universally well designed and implemented and provide new options for fighters of nearly every skill. Except for Explosives. The weapon for self-taught bombers was unfortunately cut from the game. The same is not true when it comes to dialogues and skill checks. Even though the number of NPCs that can be talked to is severely limited, there are plenty of perk and skill related checks in dialogue for nearly every skill a player can posess. Coupled with great voice acting and writing, dialogues in Old World Blues are a pleasure, rather than a chore, even if some of the humor is a bit hit-and-miss.
However, overall it is by far the best Fallout downloadable adventure yet: it is directly related to other adventures and the core game, has plenty to offer in terms of lore, loot and exploration and features a ton of references to classic science-fiction, ranging from obvious to very clever. However, some players might dislike how Old World Blues appears goofy at first glance, the amount of references or simply the giant amount of loot they can carry out, breaking the game balance. In spite of that, it is still well worth the price.
As a final note, the Old World Blues trailer is a red herring. Everything is not as it would seem.