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Dead Money: More like a Waste of Money

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

CC2K’s Games Editor Big Ross offers a review on the first DLC pack for Fallout: New Vegas.

Yes, I realize this is a tad late. There are like, 3 or 4 DLC packs that have been released for New Vegas, and I’m about to review the first one. Sue me. If you’ve read my article about the problem with the ever-longer video game, you would understand my dilemma. Anyway, in a nutshell, if you are a fan of New Vegas, and if you have not yet downloaded Dead Money, let me save you some precious time and money. Skip it. Skip it entirely and maybe give the other DLC packs Honest Hearts or Old World Blues a try. That’s all you need to know, but in case you want to know more, read on.

The premise of Dead Money is great and fits in perfectly with the world of New Vegas. There is a casino/resort called the Sierra Madre that was built before the Great War. But the bombs fell just before its grand opening gala, and the security systems built into the casino locked it down, hermetically sealing it from the outside world. Now it exists as a legend, an El Dorado of sorts, a promise of treasure that lures adventure-seekers to their doom in a city of the dead under a toxic sky. That sounds pretty fucking cool, right? The problem is (and it’s a BIG one), that the game expansion never really delivers on that promise (and has a whole lot of other problems to boot).

Dead Money begins, as most expansions do, by your Pip Boy-3000 picking up a radio transmission – an advertisement/invitation  for the Sierra Madre’s grand opening. After listening to it, the location is marked on your world map. Venture there, and you will find an unassuming bunker and a door that will take you to the Sierra Madre. Though you really want to be certain about going, because once you start Dead Money you won’t have the option of returning to the main portion of the game until you complete it.

If you proceed, you’re hit by some sort of nerve gas, and you black out. When you wake up, you find yourself in a courtyard in front of a hologram. All of your weapons and armor are gone, any companions that you had with you have been dismissed, oh and there’s an explosive collar around your neck that can’t be removed (this becomes *very* important later). The hologram is of an old man named Father Elijah, who’s responsible for your current state. He wants you to help him break into the Sierra Madre’s vault and gain access to its treasure. You really have no choice in the matter, as he will simply detonate that explosive collar if you refuse to help him. However, you can’t do it alone; there are three other individuals located throughout the environs surrounding the Sierra Madre, and you will all need to work together to access the vault.

The bulk of Dead Money involves finding these new NPCs, convincing them to join you in the mission at hand, and then getting them each to their respective positions/tasks to gain access to the Sierra Madre. This is a first-night-in-a-prison-cell-with-an-inmate-ironically-named-Tiny-sized pain in the ass. This is because of four reasons: 1) you can’t fast-travel at anytime during Dead Money, and the game environment is an overly dark, confusing-as-hell maze of tight, winding thoroughfares and crumbling buildings, 2) there is a toxic cloud overhanging the entire area that slowly and constantly drains your health, 3) in a barely explained gimmick the explosive collar around your neck can be triggered by random radio transmissions that can emanate from pre-war radios as well as security speakers, some of which you can destroy from a distance and some that are completely invulnerable, and 4) the “city of the dead” surrounding the Sierra Madre is inhabited by “Ghost People,” some of the most annoying enemies I’ve encountered in the entire game, enemies that don’t qualify as ghosts and hardly qualify as people. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of them is that depleting their health doesn’t guarantee their death. Instead, in a completely unexplained and asinine decision, the Ghost People will be rendered unconscious and will be revived to full health in a matter of moments. This quickly goes from annoying to infuriating given the limited arsenal and scarce ammunition you have during the early portion of the expansion.

After triggering the automated gala opening, which bypasses the security shutdown and grants you access to the casino, you then need to access the vault. This again involves you finding and “dealing” with you new companions. Along the way you encounter a new, annoying enemy: holographic security drones. Hologram technology, though absent from the rest of the Mojave Wasteland, is prevalent throughout the Sierra Madre. The Holographic Rifle (received upon your arrival), however cool, doesn’t make up for the annoying use of holograms elsewhere in this expansion. The holographic security drones found patrolling the Sierra Madre casino, are completely invulnerable to damage. If you get into their line of sight, presuming you are far enough away, they will turn from blue to yellow as a warning. Stay in their line of sight, and they will turn from yellow to red and start firing rather powerful laser beams from their head (I have NO idea how this is justified/explained given what I know of hologram technology). Worse still, you can’t sneak past them, even with a fairly high Sneak skill and employing a Stealth Boy, if you get in their line of sight they WILL see you. Their only weakness is the Hologram Emitter projecting them. These small pieces of tech can be hidden nowhere close to where the drone actually is, and I had to resort to online walkthrough guides to find and dispatch them. My main complaint about this is that it reminds me of what Bethesda tried to do with the first expansion to Fallout 3. Operation Anchorage tried to turn an RPG into an FPS, and it didn’t work. Here I think Obsidian tried to infuse Dead Money with stealth gameplay. Fallout: New Vegas is not Splinter Cell, and it shouldn’t try to be.

But my biggest complaint about this expansion is that it fails to deliver on the promise it makes. Throughout Dead Money there is the promise that you will gain access to the vault and the treasure of the Sierra Madre. And here’s the thing, you do. SPOILER ALERT: once inside the vault you find a cabinet full of weapons and armor, and a stack of ~30 gold bars, worth something on the order of ~300,000 caps (assuming you could sell them at full value). Here’s the thing, there is NO way for you to take the treasure with you. If you drop ALL nonessential items (and different players will have different definitions of that term), you can maybe carry 3 or 4 bars. I looked online, and there is a way to get ALL of the bars out of the vault, but it is dependent on a glitch that may or may not have been fixed in subsequent patches to the game. So, by design, you can’t get the treasure out. Yes, the items in the vault are mundane, and all that gold might break the commerce element of the game, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dead Money amounts to a giant cock-tease by the developer. They promise all that treasure, make you jump through one annoying hoop after another to get to all that treasure, actually show you all that treasure, and then essentially thumb their noses and stick out their tongues and go, “Nah-NAH! You can’t have it!”

Dead Money gave me a case of buyer’s remorse. I wish I could get my money back.