Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fallout: New Vegas: Lonesome Road review

    I just completed Lonesome Road just a few minutes ago and I decided to do my review while my feelings were still fresh. I was eagerly anticipating Lonesome Road from the moment it was announced and I wasn't alone in this. So, understand, this review is going to be measured against very high expectations.

    If this seems like a strange reaction to a DLC, a bit of backstory is needed. Lonesome Road is considered by many fans, myself included, to be the actual finale for Fallout: New Vegas. The game proper ends with the Battle for Hoover Dam and you have to play Lonesome Road before participating in said conflict but virtually every player will have played the entire game through first. The developers knew this and I think it influenced their design process. Lonesome Road plays like the end of the New Vegas storyline, even if you play it first of the DLC.

    The heart of the anticipation, however, rests on the shoulders of Ulysses. Ulysses is quite possibly the most eagerly anticipated character in Fallout history. Hints have been dropped about him since the first third of Fallout: New Vegas. He's a courier, just like the player character, and turned down the mission that sent our hero on his dangerous journey. While there aren't many details about him in the game itself, Ulysses plays a large role in the backstory of each DLC leading up to Lonesome Road (Dead Money, Honest Hearts, and Old World Blues).

    People who are interested in behind-the-scenes information should also note Ulysses was originally meant to be a Follower in the original game. For whatever reason, perhaps because the developers made Caesar's Legion more villains than possible allies, decided to save Ulysses for the DLC. The build-up was effective, however. Fans extensively speculated about Ulysses and his implied ties to the Courier. Everything from him being the Courier's brother to best friend to lover was forwarded with varying degrees of seriousness.

ED-E is having a bad day.

     In fact, the game surprised me by revealing the tie is....not much of one at all. Its revealed in the first ten minutes of the story the Courier has no idea who the hell Ulysses is. This, despite the fact the Courier is the single most important person in Ulysses' life. It's like M. Bison said in Streetfighter: The Movie: "For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me... it was Tuesday."

    The heart of the DLC is the confrontation between Ulysses and the Courier. Roleplayers may be upset about the revelations regarding the Courier's past, things the player has no control over. This is understandable but I admire the developer's courage to develop their theme, which is, "even small actions can have dramatic consequences."

    As for the storyline itself, it is a bleak and depressing one. The Courier is taken to the Divide, a former United States ICBM base flattened by its underground arsenal exploding. The place is inhabited by hundreds of insane but intelligent ghouls, carrying out a pointless war against outsiders while continually regenerating in their radioactive surroundings.

    The Divide is very similar to the Capital Wasteland from Fallout 3 and a sharp contrast to the Mojave Wasteland. It's a radioactive set of ruins, rubble, and horror which could be compared to a nuclear vision of hell. Ulysses is the only other character you can interact with other than ED-E, who is mysteriously copied by the intact machinery in the Divide.

     ED-E plays a startlingly large role in the story, becoming the Courier's equivalent of R2-D2. This is especially true since it seems the Courier can now hold extended conversations with the robot despite the later communicating solely in beeps and whistles.

    One oddball element of the DLC is the fact there are dozens of nuclear warheads spread throughout the Divide and in order to progress, the player character will need to detonate them in small explosions in order to clear rubble away. Aside from the oddity of detonating multiple nuclear warheads and surviving, it also feels thematically dissonant as if your Courier would ignore the Stygian environment around them. In the end, I justified it as my Courier getting rid of unsecured nuclear weapons.

    The gameplay is fairly typical Fallout, albeit harder than normal, due to the fact that the enemies are damn near unkillable and there's an abundance of similarly nasty critters throughout. There's a huge number of Deathclaws present in the DLC and they're as nasty as ever. I wasn't too fond of the Tunnelers either, new monsters who are basically a race of hyper-tough Gollums.

    In conclusion, Lonesome Road is perhaps a bit more ambitious than it really should be. Ulysses is a character who has the uncomfortable role of having the entire story rest on his shoulders and his burning hatred for the courier comes off as a bit dissonant. Especially, since the Courier honestly has no idea what he could have possibly done to tick the guy off so much. Still, it was fun and I found the ending to be actually very moving.


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