Fallout: New Vegas Honest Hearts Review
After the release of the Dead Money DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, things seemed to be a little up in the air for additional content releases. A few weeks ago, Bethesda and developer Obsidian Entertainment put those questions to rest by detailing three summer DLC releases, all priced at ten bucks. The first of these is called Honest Hearts, and after going through it, I can pretty heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoyed New Vegas.
As with other DLC packs, you explore an entirely new landmass that is completely separated from the main game. This is done not only to create a new look and atmosphere, but it also helps maintain compatibility with any mods you might have installed on the PC version of the game. You'll be headed out with the Happy Trails Caravan to the Zion Valley in southwest Utah; if you remember the reddish color of the canyons where the Great Kahns reside in the Mojave, you'll have a good idea of what this place looks like. Here, though, the landscape is even less pockmarked with dilapidated buildings and old junk than even the Mojave was, and the people you encounter are native tribes that have resurged since the war. Obsidian has also added some light weather elements, like rain and fog.
When you arrive at Zion Valley, you'll quickly find that the original mission (protecting a caravan) gets scrapped, and you find yourself trying to help two peaceful tribes, the Dead Horses and the Sorrows, defend their land against the White Legs, a warlike tribe that mercilessly attacks and pillages anyone they can. Within the first fifteen minutes, you'll meet Joshua Graham, otherwise known as the Burned Man, a character that's part of the history of Caesar's Legion back in the Mojave Wasteland. Considering his past and what eventually happened to him, you might be surprised at his demeanor here, but he's probably the best character in this DLC and might even be one of the most interesting people you'll meet in all of New Vegas. You'll also meet Daniel, something like a religious man from the ruined city of New Canaan, and you'll get access to a couple of companions, each with their own stories, to help you fight against the beasts in Zion Valley as well as the White Legs that will often ambush you here and there.
What's interesting here is that you're set into a conflict and can't really choose what side you're on, but you'll make some other (and possibly more interesting) choices about the future of the Dead Horses and the Sorrows. And none of this is controlled by New Vegas' own karma or reputation systems; it's a more story-based conflict based on how you choose to complete quests. And yes, you also have the option of turning off the script almost entirely and pretty much just murdering everything you come across - that's fully supported by the game, too.
The thing that I enjoyed most about Honest Hearts is the story of one particular character, one that you never meet, but he's an important key to the history of the Zion Valley. Search hard enough, and you'll find his story in bits and pieces, as well as his final resting place along with some sweet gear as well. Fallout 3 excelled in telling stories through non-standard means - the placement of a corpse, a note next to a skeleton, pieces put together of a bigger conflict - and while I found that this kind of storytelling was a little bit lacking in vanilla New Vegas, getting to piece together the details of this character's journey very much fulfills that for me.
Along with all of this, Honest Hearts adds new achievements, increases the level cap by five and kicks in six new perks for you to take back to the Mojave - something that I think is important if Bethesda is going to charge the full ten bucks for these DLC packs. The voice work is easily at the level you expect out of Bethesda's brand of Fallout, and the writing and RPG design meet the standards set by Obsidian Entertainment over the years as well. That said, if there's one thing I was disappointed in, it's lack of surprises in all of this, and some of that feeling of being let down comes through only a few of the wacky encounters you expect with a character that has the "Wild Wasteland" trait. I've heard that Honest Hearts has a few technical issues involving crashes along with some bug that can screw up your Mojave Wasteland companions once you return to the regular game, but I did not encounter these issues on my Steam copy of the game. Still, if you're really concerned about keeping your save game in prime condition, it might be wise to wait and see if Obsidian issues some kind of fix.
Honest Hearts is one of the better DLC packs Bethesda has released yet, and it comes down to the combination of an interesting landscape and original story along with unique RPG choices, then layering the signature Fallout brand (at least, since Bethesda took over) of slightly off-kilter, but still intensely entertaining FPS combat on top. If you enjoyed New Vegas enough to get at least most of the way through it, then this is surely a worthy addition to your DLC library. If the next two New Vegas packs as good as Honest Hearts wound up, then we'll be in for a treat this summer.