Fallout: New Vegas Lonesome Road review
Written by Brother None
Lonesome Road is the fourth and final story DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. It is a very focused story that wraps up the tale hinted at in the base game and throughout the three DLCs, that of another courier named Ulysses, and his conflict with the game's player character, the Courier.
The strength of Obsidian's DLC design has been to make each experience very different from the main game experience, and from one another. Lonesome Road is no exception. It is a very linear and dense experience, with the majority of gameplay spent in combat, and the focus outside of combat is on the story and atmosphere. It is closest to Dead Money of the New Vegas add-ons so far, and very different from the more open experiences in Honest Hearts and Old World Blues.
To open the story, the player is called into the Divide by way of a message from Ulysses. The player might already be familiar with the man, as NPCs and ending slides hint at his existence in the first two DLCs, and he visited the Big MT before the player did, leaving marks and tapes behind for the player to find in OWB. The Divide is an area wrecked by a recent catastrophe, for which the Courier is to blame (in his travels prior to the events of New Vegas). The goal of the DLC is to reach and confront Ulysses, and learn more about his history, that of the Courier, and that of ED-E, who joins you for your travels.
As you'd expect from a high-level DLC, Lonesome Road contains the toughest fights available to New Vegas gamers so far, with enemies that have less HP than those in OWB, but deal much more damage to the player. On top of hard-to-avoid encounters with deathclaws, there are the skin-less, savage ghoul-like marked men (reminiscent of one of the older designs of the ghouls in Fallout 1, called bloodmen) who fight with high-level weapons, and the very dangerous tunnelers, reskins of the trogs from Fallout 3's The Pit. The game gives you flare guns to scare away the tunnelers and deathclaws but this is more of a tool for certain situations than a bypass for non-combat characters. In the course of the DLC, it starts unlocking optional and very high-level areas, flooded with radiation, and they provide as tough an environment as any Fallout ever has.
Marked men ambush the player throughout the DLC, often with a small warning in flares shot into the sky to call their comrades towards the fight. Tunnelers crawl out of the ground to swarm you. Deathclaws spawn at moments to trap you, for example when you're looting some ammo from a bus, and at one point you're even trapped inside a cave with the most difficult unique deathclaw ever created. It's all about the combat, and at times it feels too much like a straight shooter. The usage of spawning points means you're not often given the option to snipe the enemies from a distance. At one point in the DLC, the PC is on an elevator and has to fend off tunnelers as they jump onto the moving platform. That sequence is as big a shooter cliche as you can imagine, and I was honestly baffled to see it in a Fallout title. None of this is improved by the rather clunky shooter action of Bethesda's adapted Gamebryo engine.
To aid the player in fending off these enemies, some new high-level weaponry was added. The flare gun was mentioned, and is supported by similarly-functioning flashbang. The DLC adds two big guns with a packet of upgrades to them, the Red Glare rocket launcher and the Shoulder-Mounted Machine Gun. It also adds some new close combat weapons, and unique versions of them. Perhaps to compensate for OWB's brimming energy arsenal, this DLC adds only one damage-dealing energy weapon, the arc welder. The DLC also adds immensely useful and snazzy riot gear armor, which looks like the NCR ranger gear but is much more powerful, and includes special night vision on its helmet. The DLC has added some consumables, including auto-injecting stimpaks, which just annoyed me but presumably were put in so the player can get on with the shooting without minding his health. And, of course, the DLC ups the level cap by 5, and adds a few new perks.
The path you follow through the DLC is extremely linear, having to go through tunnels to reach specific areas, and even those outside areas aren't very open. Near the beginning of the DLC you have to find a laser detonator to explode warheads that are occasionally in your path, and said warheads are used to demarcate the boundaries of sub-areas. There's no way around many points except to blow up a warhead. This whole experience is kind of reminiscent of the whole Fat Man mini-nuke launcher fiasco in Fallout 3, in that it really makes frivolous the whole impact of nuclear weaponry on a setting that is all about the seriousness of nuclear weaponry. The warhead explosions rarely leave a dent, and the radiation passes by in moments.
The DLC is also very focused. What I mean by that is that it has no side-quests, just its main quests done in a pre-set order. It has no non-hostile NPCs other than ED-E and Ulysses. It doesn't have a lot of explorable optional areas. So it figures this DLC is pretty short compared to the others, I clocked in at about 5 hours to the end, a bit more to fully explore the high-level areas, but it is also much denser than the two preceding DLC, you go from fight to fight and dialog to dialog, with no walking back and forth or searching around in between, as opposed to the main game and the preceding two DLCs.
The DLC's strongest point is atmosphere. Unlike the other DLCs, you're given no background through slideshows or expository opening dialogs, you just wander in and have to discover more yourself. The Divide is by far the most thoroughly destroyed area seen in any Fallout. After the post-post-apocalyptic feel of much of New Vegas, it does a great job of giving us a place more freshly off an apocalyptic event, deadly to travel in, wandering through buildings askew (warning: may cause nausea) and crumbling around you. A “Damnation Alley”-esque atmosphere, as creative director Chris Avellone put it, that book's story happening decades after the apocalypse, rather than centuries. There is a constant feeling of danger, and it is underscored very well by having ED-E around responding to imminent threats with whimpering sounds. There's a lot of little moments, such as the first time you meet the tunnelers, you see a deathclaw in the distance attacking one and promptly getting torn to bits. Moments like those really set up the atmosphere.