Fallout: New Vegas has been a bittersweet game for me compared to Fallout 3. Its core gameplay is great so I’m happy for more but I can’t help but feel it’s too derivative. It emanates a strong “been there done that” feeling except with more bugs. Dead Money tries to change this by flipping the gameplay on its head.
Now before we even get into this review, I should note that like Fallout 3 (prior to Broken Steel), when you finish New Vegas, you cannot continue so must have a save before the end of the game in order to play Dead Money. Otherwise, you must start a new character. It’s a shame Obsidian didn’t learn from Bethesda’s mistake two years ago but I digress.
Like other Fallout DLC, Dead Money starts with a transmission on your Pip-Boy, which leads you to an abandoned Brotherhood of Steel bunker where you are ambushed and gassed. You wake up in a strange land in front of a hologram of a man named Father Elijah. He tells you that you have an explosive collar on your neck which he can set off at any time. Your mission is to break into the Sierra Madre casino, get into the vault and pull off a heist.
He also tells you that there are three others who are in the same predicament as you. First, you must recruit the others to assist in the break-in. What makes this an even trickier situation is that all your collars are linked together so if one of them dies, everyone’s collar goes off including your own. Their back-stories are actually really interesting and they have some neat perks when you recruit them but unfortunately, you can still only have one official follower at a time.
Now I mentioned earlier that the gameplay is quite a bit different in Dead Money than what you’re probably used to in New Vegas, Fallout 3 and all it’s DLC. Sierra Madre and its surrounding town are engulfed in a cloud of poisonous gas that will damage you. There are also speakers and radios that can set off your collar if you’re in its proximity and they are not found and disabled in a set amount of time. In addition to these are a large amount of mines, bear traps and shotgun booby traps.
Combine these all together in copious amounts and you have a deathtrap of a town that is something out of a Saw movie. There are times where you simply need to run but are constantly being damaged by the gas cloud while running over bear traps and mines. Not fun.
And that’s not even taking into account the ghost people who inhabit the town and can’t be killed. You can only knock them unconscious and then they rise again. There are also certain sections with hologram guards who you must manipulate and sneak around, turning it into a light stealth game at times.
Simultaneously, Dead Money is almost a survival-horror game because of the constant threat of traps and severe lack of ammunition and supplies. To make matters worse, there are hardly any usable beds. You cannot sleep in any building that is exposed to open air (due to a hole in the wall or a broken door for example), because of the gas, so finding a usable bed is next to impossible. Though there are many beds around, most are just teases that you can’t actually use.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this DLC is hard. It’s definitely the hardest piece of Fallout you’ll have experienced this generation thus far. They even warn you when you begin that Dead Money is for experienced players and recommend you only to begin it at level 20 or higher. Of course, I came in without meeting that requirement so admittedly, I made it harder for myself but the general consensus is that it’s much harder than New Vegas or Fallout 3.
It’s almost too hard. The gas and all the traps, particularly the speakers that make your collar explode when you’re in close proximity, make the game extremely frustrating. Unclear quest directions and quest-markers complicates matters even further because you’re frequently under pressure to find out exactly what you need to do before your head blows off searching for it.
When the game recommends you to be level 20 or higher, I highly back that warning up. Dead Money seems to stress a lot of the more unconventional skills that a lower level player (like me) may not have put many points into yet. You are often skill-checked and can save yourself a lot of hassle by having high skill in Speech, Repair, Lockpick and Science. Without being able to pass them, you have to do a series of menial fetch tasks, find computers to turn on or you’ll have turrets or holograms shooting at you that you can’t disable. Having a high Melee or Unarmed skill would also be handy because of the serious lack of ammo and guns.
Unlike most of the other Fallout DLC, there are not many new items in Dead Money. There are a couple of new weapons and perks but the biggest addition is the raise of the level cap. Like Broken Steel in Fallout 3, Dead Money raises the level cap by 5, making the maximum level 35.
All in all though, Dead Money was not very fun. The story was good, especially at the end when it all comes together, but the sneaking around, the insane amount of dangerous traps, the lack of supplies, confusing town layout and unclear directions made it a very difficult game. I’m all for changing the gameplay but I don’t think it was executed well here as it was more frustrating than it was refreshing. It wasn’t really for me and didn’t fit my character’s playstyle. I can’t even imagine how people are playing this with Hardcore mode on.
On the other hand, you get quite a bit of value here. My in-game counter clocked me in at just about six hours for Dead Money and that’s not including deaths and retries…and there were many of those, believe me. When you take those into account, the real number is probably sitting somewhere between 8-10 hours depending on the player. At 800 MSP ($10), that amount of game time is a bargain compared to some content other companies are charging. I only wish I took that level 20+ warning a little more seriously at the beginning as having higher skills in the non-combat areas would have helped me tremendously and made this piece of DLC a little less frustrating.
Dead Money was released on December 21st, 2010.