Friday, August 17, 2012

Fallout: New Vegas: Honest Hearts review

    As mentioned before, I really liked Fallout: New Vegas, so of course I'll review its add-ons  as I play them. I confess, I wasn't too fond of Dead Money so I was worried about whether or not Honest Hearts would also be too different from Fallout: New Vegas to be enjoyable. Why mess with a winning formula? Thankfully, Honest Hearts is a return to the original gameplay style and benefits strongly from this.

    The premise of Honest Hearts is a fairly simple one. The Courier has decided to leave the Mojave Desert for a time and joins up with the Happy Trails Caravan Company to explore new vistas. Why? I dunno, maybe the Courier needs some R&R. Since when have video game add-ons needed a reason to go exploring?

    The Happy Trails Caravan Company is heading away from the Mojave Desert to a place heretofore unexplored in the Fallout universe: Utah. Specifically, Zion National Park. Utah in the Fallout universe is a real hellhole, filled with degenerate tribes and Raiders. You know, like virtually every spot in the universe prior to the heroes going there and cleaning it out. Utah is especially bad, however, to the point many locals would welcome Caesar's Legion.

    Yet, it is not the hellhole portion of the state which the PCs visit. They accidentally stumble upon the one pristine oasis in the entirety of the Wasteland. In Zion Nation Park, a real-life location, a group of human survivors have settled down into a peaceful hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The Sorrows and the Dead Horses tribes are (mostly) isolated from the rest of humanity and have suffered less than most. These two tribes have a friendly relationship with the New Caananites (Mormons) to the North and all is well.

    So, of course, someone is coming to kill them all.

    This classic story of imperiled locals is made more complex by the deep attention to detail given to the tribes, their motivations, and the ethical quandaries of violence. The game, possibly driving half of you off right now, also questions the issue of what role religion will play in Post-Apocalypse society. Honest Hearts has the relatively uncontroversial answer that many older religions will continue on as before while new ones will emerge.

A beautiful set of scenery in the otherwise devastated post-apocalyptic world.
    What makes it powerful is the game doesn't dance around the issue either. People mention the role of Christianity in their lives and how it affects them, for both good and ill. Of the two main characters you interact with, Daniel is the typical Christian ideal of a pacifist who wishes only to escape the violence. The second, Joshua Graham is a former warrior for Caesar's Legion with a thirst for Old Testament justice and the scriptural knowledge to back it up. The two characters both have virtues and flaws with how they relate to their faith being something the main character can comment on.

    Irreligious players should note they control Courier's beliefs. They can make their Courier atheist, religious, agnostic, or anything in-between. Ultimately, while religion plays a very strong role in the story, it is not something that's shoved down the player's throat. Instead, the game gives a subtle examination of faith and what it means to people in desperate circumstances. I really liked this.

    The storytelling makes players question their usual devotion to violence in video games. Daniel has a perfectly sensible plan to escape the tribes threatening them without violence yet I suspect most players will be inclined to go with Joshua Graham's solution due to its more exciting plot line. In real life, I suspect many of us long for the power the Courier possesses to change the world with violence. It doesn't make Daniel weak but it does cause me to question whether we're all not a little like Joshua Graham in the end.

    The return of tribals, largely absent from the Fallout universe since Fallout 2, was also appreciated. People worried this game will be a case of "Mighty Whitey" should note that the tribals are descendants of refugees from the Great War and not in any way related to any real-life ethnic group. This nicely smooths over any of the unfortunate implications which might normally be involved in a fairly typical retelling of a Western tale of good tribals versus bad ones.

    The gameplay of Honest Hearts is identical to that of the main game. There's new enemies and Yao Guai return from Fallout 3. The DLC is something of an experience sink with large amounts of EXP to be had and generous rewards in equipment. I especially liked having a non-Faction specific version of the New California Republic's Ranger armor. The Survivalist's Rifle is something I enjoy so much I decided to keep it for the rest of the game. Best of all, like Dead Money, it raises the level cap of Fallout: New Vegas five additional levels.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed Honest Hearts and suggest any fans of New Vegas pick it up.


  1. Honest Hearts was the most spectacular looking DLC. I think I liked it the best due to the subtle story and choices you make. I found Old World Blues to dull in color and the enemy spawn rate was jacked through the roof. Lonesome Road was less epic then I thought it would be and would of made more sense if you met Ulysses earlier in the game.

    1. I agree with most of your conclusions. I think Old World Blues more than made up for it in the humor value, however. Honest Hearts feels the most "Fallout-like" however. Which is ironic since the place is mostly pristine.

  2. A minor complaint I have with Honest Hearts is its handling of "mercy" conflicts with how the game's Karma System usually works. For example, killing evil NPCs nets good Karma. Even when not strictly in self-defense. In fact, disarming a raider, watching him run or beg for his life for a few seconds, and then killing him nets good karma.

    I suppose you can't create a Karma system that truly accounts for everything, but still.

    1. Yeah, it becomes almost impossible to be Bad Karma with killing Fiends netting good Karma.