"Dead Money," the first downloadable content (DLC) for "Fallout: New Vegas," wasn't quite what I was expecting.
Mostly that's because whereas the main game is all about freedom of choice, here all the choices I can make are fairly inconsequential. Also, no matter my decisions, the ultimate conclusion is inescapably the same — and almost nothing I've done will have any bearing down the road.
My tale began within the main game (prior to its ending), where I received a new radio signal — one advertising the Sierra Madre hotel-casino — on my Pip-Boy. I followed the transmission to its source and was shanghaied into another world, one where all my normal equipment was stripped away thanks to a deux ex machina and a bomb was fastened around my throat.
The new piece of explosive jewelry was courtesy of my abductor — a man who needed me and several others to help him break into the Sierra Madre casino, a desolate, mist-shrouded place haunted by the ghosts of the past. And as he didn't trust anyone, my three fellow adventures were stuck wearing bombs linked to mine. If any of us tried to leave, everybody would go kablooey. If we turned on each other or any of us got killed, everybody would go kablooey. So much for choice.
Right and wrong were out the window. Either I cooperated with the heist and kept my companions from killing each other or I didn't play the game.
Yet, even though "Dead Money" effectively has a different dynamic than "New Vegas," it's got plenty of charm. Monsters keep coming out of the woodwork, for one thing, and your tools for dealing with them are extremely limited initially. The result is a level of tension on par with a survival horror game. Another hazard to your well-being is that stray radio signals can set off your necklace, so you'll have to rely on your eyes, ears and wits to keep you out of trouble, lest you wander unwittingly into an explosive situation. Yet sometimes you won't be able to go forward unless you brave the danger and silence the deadly signal.
However, I don't really see much novelty in the "unkillable" monsters this add-on introduces, because they aren't all that unkillable. Basically, you'll face a lot of creatures that don't die like they're supposed to. You kill them, they get right back up after 30 seconds or so and resume their onslaught. But if you mutilate their bodies — hack off a limb or decapitate them — while they're down, they don't resurrect. As it's really easy to adjust one's tactics to deal with this dilemma, there's really no dilemma at all.
If I was going to estimate based on my experiences, I'd have to say that most players will spend about 8 to 12 hours beating "Dead Money." And that's not bad for a game add-on that costs the equivalent of $10 (800 Microsoft points).
Still, I really wish something was done to tie this DLC to the rest of the game. For example, a central figure in the story is someone you may have heard a lot about while playing "New Vegas," provided you met the right people and went on the right quests. Yet none of his past comes into play during "Dead Money," not even in a throwaway exchange of dialogue. The only connection is after I leave the Sierra Madre behind, never to return, and that's only if I want to give a specific companion character an extra perk.
Ultimately, though, I don't regret any of the time I spent playing "Dead Money."
"Dead Money," an optional addition for "Fallout: New Vegas"
Must have full game to play.
Currently available only on Xbox 360, for 800 Microsoft points ($10).
Image courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
One of the "ghost" enemies that haunts the environs of the Sierra Madre casino.