So this is the end. One final hurrah, and the last piece of the DLC puzzle (save for some ‘Gun Runners’ firearm packs) before Fallout: New Vegas’ neon lights fade softly into the digital night.
If you’ve played any of the other New Vegas add-ons, or paid close attention to various offhanded references and audio logs found around the Mojave Wasteland, you’ll know that your player-character has his very own stalker in the shape of a fellow courier named Ulysses. Now, it’s time for the two of you to meet and, in his words, “have an ending to things”.
Thematically, Lonesome Road is the culmination of the three DLC releases that have come before it. Without getting too specific (and thus spoiling things), this add-on successfully draws together ideas about letting go of your dreams and obsessions (from), faith and tribalism ( ) and the dangers of repeating mistakes of the past (Old World Blues). It’s an unusually mature approach for a videogame to take and one which will appeal to any players with an interest in literary deconstruction; though this aspect does rather rely on people having played through the prior releases.
Obsidian rarely disappoints in the writing department, and Ulysses provides plenty to pick over. Despite his hanging out in a literal nuclear base on a mountaintop, it shouldn’t be too much of a plot spoiler to reveal that he’s hardly the Bond-esque mastermind and stone-cold badass that the meagre information you had about him may have led you to believe. Instead, he’s tormented by history, old world symbolism and an obsession to reform the nation under one flag (any flag).
Of course, there’s also heavy symbolism inherent in naming a character Ulysses. As a result, you get plenty of direct and indirect references to The Odyssey, from the core of New Vegas (and narrative-led games in general) being a journey, to the travels of a returning companion (the only one you’ll have in this add-on). Some astute commentators have also noted that Ulysses’ name may owe just as much to Ulysses S. Grant, the US Civil War general and President tasked with uniting a splintered country.
Befitting of the monster-bashing travels of heroes from ancient mythology (though not so much former US Presidents), Lonesome Road is structured as a staggered series of expository interludes and encounters with mini-boss type characters.
There’s an obvious down side to this decision, because it forces this DLC into a straight line from points A to B; something which can work in the literary tales of great journeying heroes, but which is inevitably disappointing in a game famed for its nonlinear exploration. Within each area there is a little bit of sideways exploring, but this is not the focus of the add-on and anyone hoping for open spaces and scores of hidden locations will be let down.
As ever with New Vegas add-ons, Lonesome Road comes complete with a few new weapons to play with (including a star-spangled rocket launcher and vicious Deathclaw fist), a level cap raised by five (potentially taking it to 50) and some new perks that have the potential to make the already high-levelled player suitably overpowered.
Obsidian has dealt with the RPG ‘problem’ of extremely high-level players romping through this final DLC by packing it with enemies who can dole out some major damage. It’s an imperfect solution, but should at least make people wary of Deathclaws again (as they now scale up in danger with the player). Two other new foes should also provide at least a momentary challenge for couriers of level 40 or above.
It can seem a bit much at times, as a Deathclaw slaps you down in a single hit for the third time in a row, but it serves to prevent anybody waltzing down the Lonesome Road with too much ease.
One of the bigger strides taken by the DLC is in fleshing out your character’s past. The courier character has never been a pure ‘blank slate’ (as he or she clearly has a past and receives hints about it throughout New Vegas), but this is the first time when an event in ‘your’ life has been revealed in a semi-detailed way. This reveal adds convenient history between yourself and Ulysses and provides some explanation for his actions towards you. As a narrative device it does its job, but it feels a bit jarring to suddenly have an ‘off camera’ event imposed upon you like that.
Well-written as he is, Ulysses does an awful lot of talking in this release, and he has … a rather slow … deliberate … way … of delivering lines. He tends to place emphasis in unusual places in sentences too, which makes a certain amount of sense (he’s supposed to be a troubled individual), but could definitely get on some peoples nerves. You get a fair amount of “dude, shut up, I just want to kill you” dialogue options to use if you lose patience, but as the bulk of the satisfaction in Lonesome Road comes from the Ulysses narrative and its thematic depth, players irritated by the character will be missing out.
Ulysses’ dialogue takes into account which faction from the Mojave you represent, but the slightly wonky New Vegas faction system means he may not always pinpoint your loyalties accurately. My character walked the Lonesome Road as an Independent, but Ulysses insisted that I represent NCR (probably due to the number of quests I’d done for them prior to going all anarchist). Others have noted that he’ll align you with Mr. House, even if he’s already dead. However, it’s hard to get too annoyed at the DLC for trying to offer player-tailored dialogue, as the scope of the idea itself is terrific.
In each of the four New Vegas DLC releases, Obsidian has used the opportunity to both expand the Fallout universe and add depth to the characters within it (as well as sprinkle it with new guns and playthings). Together, they form a wonderful collection and present a superb reference point for how to expand your original title in unique ways.
None of the add-ons can really be subject to the oft-repeated (and justified) claim that the material should’ve been included in the main game, and at seven or eight hours in length they all provide pretty fine value for money. Each one has its flaws (with linearity being Lonesome Road’s biggest drawback), but overall they’re a fantastic, collective achievement by Obsidian and should make the (surely) inevitable New Vegas ‘Collectors Edition’ a must-buy for anyone who hasn’t yet sampled these expansions.
The lights may be going out in Vegas, but the irradiated glow will never dim.