Fallout New Vegas: Lonesome Road Review
Fallout: New Vegas always had a bit of a melancholy tone to it, and now the journey is winding to a close, as developer Obsidian Entertainment is fulfilling their promise to release three final downloadable addons for their hit action/RPG. After the release of the Dead Money DLC, things got a bit iffy, but then they announced three new $10 adventures, each delivering a good six to ten hours of first-person shooting and RPG yumminess to close out the New Vegas legacy and end post-release support for the game. In many people's opinions, these add-ons were only getting better as we dug into some of the weirdest, most entertaining, deepest stories we've seen since the advent of paid DLC. The fourth and final one, Lonesome Road, was set to be the best yet, but at some point, something got derailed. It's hard to tell if something got broken in the early design or whether something got rushed at the end, but the result is disappointing to say the least.
The idea behind Lonesome Road was to finish out story of the main character, Courier Six. The problem is that we don't know the origins of the story, as New Vegas started out with a gunshot to the Courier's head and very few details were given about anything before that moment, including the tapping of the six couriers to make their deliveries to Mr. House. Players who dug deep found out a few things, but even at the end of Lonesome Road, people are going to be left with a lot of questions, and the only voice-acted speech - aside from a relative few audio logs - comes from Ulysses, one of the other Couriers. He talks cryptically and references plenty of things that even the most perceptive and thorough of New Vegas players are going to have a tough time piecing together. You'll get a beeping ED-E robot as your companion in this add-on (as before, sidekicks from the Mojave have to stay behind) and he's upgradeable in several ways, but there aren't really any tough choices to make regarding his growth, and the couple of extra easter egg hunts Obsidian included serve only as a minor distraction at best.
New gear does find its way into your hands: an upgradeable rocket launcher and shoulder-mounted machine gun are both a blast to use, and a couple of crazy new melee weapons (and a bit of stylish armor) are all tossed in. As before, new perks are included and the level cap has been raised by five again - bringing the final cap to 50 if you've got all four DLC add-ons. One thing I want to mention is that this add-on doesn't change the ending of the original game; this is meant to be played before starting New Vegas' final battle, which if you weren't aware, ends the game permanently once it's over. What that means is that chronologically, the events of Lonesome Road wind up sitting somewhere in the middle of the Courier's story; talk about anticlimactic. I feel like Obsidian should have taken this opportunity to do what Bethesda did with Broken Steel for Fallout 3, which would be to delay the original game's finale, add on the Lonesome Road plot, trigger the final credits once that's completed, and then allow players to continue their journey in the Mojave after the credits rolled.
I knew that this add-on was called Lonesome Road, but I didn't realize they meant it literally. The fighting is sparse and the ruins of the Divide and the surrounding area have been almost completely abandoned even by the survivors of the war. Sure, Fallout 3 wowed people with its desolate depiction of a bombed-out Washington DC, but as soon as you started to dig through the ruins you found life buried in there, all tied together with a charm that kept players coming back. Obsidian continued this effort throughout nearly all of New Vegas, but Lonesome Road is nearly devoid of life. It turns out to be a pretty straight and narrow road, too, with little in the way of side-quests or optional areas to explore. Fights with the Marked Men as well as a new ground-burrowing enemy are generally about as satisfying as you can expect from the old-and-busted GameBryo engine - you know, where just like before, your bullets will collide against invisible geometry far away from the cover that you or your enemy are using, animations often look jerky and strange, and the whole thing feels like the intention of delivering a perfect mix between FPS and RPG was somehow compromised right from the start. What Bethesda (and Obsidian previously) have done right with GameBryo is in adding enough interesting characters, locations, and story to help us forget just how janky and mismatched the engine really is with the game it's trying to depict, but Lonesome Road's design shines a Pip-boy light on everything that's wrong with this outdated technology. (I am desperately hoping that Lonesome Road is the last game release to use GameBryo.)
At least in the previous downloadable addon, Old World Blues, we had plenty of characters to talk to and interesting RPG choices to make for our characters, for the story, and for the denizens of the Big Empty. On top of that, the writing was brilliant, sharp, and funny, and the voice work matched up perfectly. Lonesome Road is the opposite, as it feels quiet and empty as you traverse The Divide in search of this other Courier from your character's vague and unclear past. This is a mostly-linear romp that's shorter than Old World Blues, less interesting, and feels more, well, lonely than any Fallout game ever made. It's kind of a sad and depressing end to the New Vegas tale. The plot in this add-on does come to a rather explosive conclusion but even then, the whole thing feels kind of rushed and forced, like Obsidian had put most of their remaining New Vegas-related creative energy into Old World Blues and then had nothing left for Lonesome Road. (Or maybe their budget simply dried up - who knows?)
I'm reminded of Mass Effect 2's Arrival DLC, a half-baked little add-on that ended an otherwise grand and epic game with a bit of a whimper. But where BioWare got some leeway from gamers in the knowledge that there was a bright future ahead and that Mass Effect 3 was on the way, this unsatisfying conclusion to the New Vegas saga leaves me kind of upset that it had to end this way - and a little concerned for Obsidian's future, especially since the studio has already had to lay off people in the last year and we know of no other AAA games they've got up their sleeves. With any luck, Obsidian already has another major project lined up, and if not, then maybe Bethesda will task them with creating Fallout 4 using the Creation engine (which powers Skyrim) or maybe RAGE's id Tech 5 engine. It seems pretty much certain that we'll see another major Fallout release, sooner or later, and despite the Lonesome Road disappointment, I for one hope that our friends at Obsidian remain at the helm.