Actually, you can go home again

Fallout: New Vegas DLC roundup – Honest Hearts and Old World Blues (PS3)

DLC. Is it a cynical cash-grabbing exercise, or a welcome opportunity to revisit a loved game? There’s examples of both out there, but it works for RPGs when the DLC can offer a separate, chunky questline and/or act as a laboratory to explore some different game ideas.

I’ve been impressed with the DLC for both the recent Fallout games and extra content for New Vegas has been coming out in a steady drip. I’ve already reviewed the first DLC, Dead Money, here. Since then we’ve had another two, Honest Hearts and Old World Blues so I’ll give you a quick rundown of those mofos.

Before we get into specifics, I’m happy that Obsidian seems to be ditching the timed exclusivity deal whereby Microsoft gets first dibs on the DLC. I hate timed exclusivity with a passion, not least because I made the executive decision that the budget for my Bunker of Experience will not stretch to another console. Before I get flooded by literally thousands of comments accusing me of fanboyism, let me explain. I already have more games than I can play, and I find it difficult enough to solve the condundrum of which game to play at any given time — more precisely framed as “I should really play something other than Civ” — without having another system to contend with.

And the Xbox sucks a big fat one.

Honest Hearts

Ahhhhhh...

This one takes you to Zion Canyon, based on the real-life Zion National Park in Utah. The usual Fallout DLC rules apply — no companions can come with you, though in this case you can take your stuff, minus about 100 pounds of kit.

The scenery is stunning. There’s a lot of reds in the palette. There’s also a goodly amount of foliage — apparently this part of the world wasn’t hit by nukes. Navigating the landscape is tricky. Rock climbing has never been Fallout’s strongest point and it can be difficult finding a way through the windy paths and cliffs. I suspect this was a deliberate design choice. The stream that runs through the valley of the canyon is radiation-free, which Hardcore Mode players should appreciate.  The game tended to chug when I was in the open and there were more than, say, 4 other critters about. This happens to me a lot in New Vegas and it gives me the shizens.

The story mostly concerns a conflict between the various tribes that have taken up in the canyon. Fallout games have always had a bit of a Western feel but this one has it in spades — the tribes are obviously meant to be American Indians, with their dress style, Yoda-like speech and rock art, and there’s some religious folks living with the tribes who are basically Mormons. You will also get to meet the infamous Burned Man that you may have heard about.

The main questline is standard Fallout fare. Along the way you’ll have to decide which faction to side with and there are multiple endings. You’ll also learn more of Caesar’s past, given that he used to roll with the Burned Man back in the day. Aside from the main quest, there are some hidden stories told through my 8th-favourite narrative device, the old “discover fragments of a diary” trick. If you don’t care about the extra story or characters (why are you playing a Fallout game again?) you could just kill everyone as soon as you meet them, skipping 70% of the quests and clearing out the canyon. It’s heartening that Obsidian caters to the nihilists out there.

Honest Hearts is an outdoors-y adventure that rewards most the players who’ve boosted their Survival skill. There’s heaps of plants to pick and a bunch of new recipes are unlocked as soon as you arrive, including gecko hide armor and energy cells. As with Dead Money, simply installing this DLC lifts the level cap by 5 and 6 new perks come with it too. None of the new perks suited my heavy-handed brawler, Punchy McGee, but there’s some pickings there for those freaks who’ve invested in Survival, as well as some enemy-specific attack bonuses.

The other loot strongly favours characters with a high Guns skill. There’s a shiteload of pistols and machineguns using .45 ammo. For those of us who like to get up close and personal, a surprisingly large number of tribals wield shishkebabs, those awesome flaming swords made from lawnmower blades and motorcycle gas tanks. Alas, there’s still no sign of a schematic to build your own. I stocked up big time and must’ve had about 25 on me when I left the Canyon.

A lot of the cooler gear is tucked away inside hard-to-find caves. Intrepid explorers will find a unique set of NCR Ranger armor (the kind that the guy on the cover is wearing) that is not faction-specific, meaning you can wear it anywhere without getting any ag. There’s also a unique laser pistol that paralyses enemies, about the only morsel for energy weapons fans.

Apart from the tribals, most other enemies are of the animal kingdom. Yao Guais make a fearsome return and there’s a new breed of Gecko. Given the firepower that the tribals pack and the toughness of the critters, I wouldn’t recommend entering the Canyon at under level 10.

All up, there up to 8 hours’ worth of extra stuff here if you don’t want to rush things. Unlike Dead Money, Honest Hearts doesn’t experiment with any new mechanics. It just provides a solid side story, a new area to play in and some OK loot. It’s worthy, but not outstanding.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 7
Atmosphere: 8
Addictiveness: 6
Overall

7

Old World Blues

The blue lighting of science!

For this one, Obsidian turned pushed the “wacky” slider to the top of the board and really ran with Fallout’s aesthetic theme of “the future as imagined in the 1950s”. Those who play Fallout expecting a realistic post-apocalyptic simulator will be disappointed, but while they sulk in their home-made bunkers peeing into a jug, the rest of us can have a larf. Old World Blues is a hat-tip to the naive sci-fi of schlocky 1950s movies with exclamation points in the title. It is thus appropriate that you enter it from a drive-in theatre.

The setting is the Big MT, a research centre which was a testing ground for cutting edge technologies before the bombs dropped. The tone is set from the start: you discover that your brain, heart and spine are missing and then you meet some scientists who are brains in a jar with robot appendages. It’s Wizard of Oz meets Futurama.

The main quest, to retrieve your missing organs, is the premise to explore the Big MT, which is a network of separate facilities dedicated to various areas of research. Some of the facilities are essentially challenge rooms that add some puzzling and stealthing into the mix. There’s plenty of goodies to discover here, and energy weapons fans will at last find some love in the loot stakes. Punchy McGee was well catered for with a Proton axe and the Saturnite fist which, when superheated, can punch a lobotomite’s head clean off and set him on fire as an example to others.

The Big MT is charged with character. A dark whimsy pervades it. It starts at home; you are given quarters containing various appliances which, when activated, all have their own personalities, from flirtatious light switches to my personal favourite, the homicidal toaster.

Other characters in the Big MT, such as the brain-in-a-jar scientists, are also well-drawn and funny. The whimsy even extends to the items you can find, including a machine gun with a dog’s brain and little ears that prick up when enemies are near. As you explore the facilities, you will come across vignettes that should raise a smile, if not a laugh (loud or not). Particularly moving is the village where the brain-in-a-jar scientists lived, before they were brains in a jar. If you have spoken to them and got a sense of their personalities before you visit, there’s some poignant humour in the layout of their houses. The soundtrack is pretty smooth, too — a few jazz numbers have been added, much appreciated because the limited playlist of New Vegas was gettin to be a drag, man.

The appliances at your quarters are not just fun to talk to. You can upgrade them with chips found around the Big MT and most of them turn junk items into useful ingredients — as if you needed any more reason to take everything you find. There’s quite an array of services on offer: weapons can be modded, cups and mugs can be turned into empty syringes and scrap electronics, pencils into scrap metal. There’s an Auto-Doc that not only heals and de-toxes you but also sells various implants which are as good as perks for the benefits they give. All up, it’s a handy home base, so it’s a good thing they let you come back to the Big MT after the questline is done.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this before level 15-20 as the enemies are tough. The robo-scorpions in particular can be tricky, especially when you are swarmed by 5 or more, which will happen. There’s also the lobotomites, who shoot pretty well for people with limited brain function, and then there’s the reanimated skeletons in trauma suits. You’ll know them when you see them.

If you choose to explore outside the main questline, you can discover details about other New Vegas characters, most notably Father Elijah and Christine from Dead Money. There’s also some foreshadowing of the character you’ll meet in the next DLC, Lonesome Road. There’s well over 10 hours here.

This is the strongest piece of DLC yet for Fallout: New Vegas. Dead Money was more experimental with new mechanics and Honest Hearts had a more coherent story, but Old World Blues trumps them both with its personality. I don’t expect good scripts from games, so when one comes along, I am almost doubly impressed. This DLC also has the phattest lootz. I lapped it up and was eager to explore every corner of the weird-scientist world. The only problem is that it frequently crashed on me. Man, am I sick of saying that about Obsidian games.

Category Rating
Game mechanics: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Addictiveness: 9
Overall:

9

– Felix

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One thought on “Actually, you can go home again

  1. It’s pretty cool when they take you to parts of the world that aren’t radiated. Like when you found the oasis in Fallout 3. The developers do a good job of making you as a player actually sort of hope that all that growth will start spreading eventually.

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