Just got through another Fallout New Vegas DLC: Dead Money.

In this one, you’re invited to the opening of a new casino out in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that things go south.  You find yourself without all your equipment, and tied to three other lost souls… by suicide collars that will all explode if any of you die.  So much for Plan C.

Got a nice armored suit out of it

Got a nice armored suit out of it

For the first few missions, then, the DLC recreates the chancy survival of the beginning game, when you value every stimpak and every scrap of ammo.  Which is good; that’s the most compelling part of the genre anyway.

Plus, the pack is surprisingly story- and character-oriented.  Each of your companions is a pretty weird character with a story of their own.  Plus, the story here turns out to be loosely linked to that of Lonesome Road and Old World Blues (as well as to my favorite companion, Veronica).

That said, it’s my least favorite of the three.  This was actually the first DLC, so maybe they were still figuring out how to create a challenge for high-level Couriers.  Their big brainwave: enemies you can’t kill.  I was not thrilled when I killed my first Ghost Hunter and, after a moment, it got right back up again.  But you do get a way to put them down for good not long after.

Their other big idea: a maze of twisty passages, all alike.  The first half of the DLC is set in the Villa, where all the buildings look the same.  Game designers, this is the least exciting way to make it difficult for a character to get where she needs to go.

And then the last section, in the casino itself, approaches Black-Mesa-endgame levels of bad level design.  Basically there are speakers that threaten to set off your suicide collar, and holograms that can shoot you but can’t be killed, and you have to a) find the safe spots where you won’t explode, and b) disable the speakers and hologram emitters.  The thing is, there’s no rhyme or reason to where the safe spots are– very often you have no choice but to run blindly into a death zone hoping that you’ll find a safe spot on the other side.  Often you will, but I think it breaks immersion.  You can’t play as a savvy, wasteland-smart Courier, because running into a death zone is stupid and suicidal.  In a real apocalypse you can’t rely on the goodness of the level designer, or on a walkthrough.

You do get a pretty swanky dress though.

You do get a pretty swanky dress though.

So, it’s a bit of a slog, and you don’t really get any amazing loot out of it. Well, except for money: there is an actual treasure of the Sierra Madre, and it’s comically huge– gold bars that will overstrain your inventory, plus it’s hard to find merchants who can pay for them. But I don’t mind that part; it seems only fitting that the payoff for the biggest treasure trove in Post-Apocalyptia is nearly useless. I have plenty of caps by now anyway, so I’ve set out a gold bar or two in my motel room in Novac, along with the teddy bears, toy cars, space helmet, and glowing bottles of Nuka-Cola.

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