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Page 1 of 2With Chris Avellone back in the writer's chair, it was pretty much expected that the brand-new Fallout: New Vegas DLC, Old World Blues, would sport a more adventurous design than Honest Hearts, and perhaps even the survival-horror experiment that was Dead Money. The end result, though, is perhaps even a little overboard for what most fans of the series could have expected - it's equal parts Planescape: Torment in terms of morbid absurdity, and 1950s cheeseball sci-fi film. Despite the odd combination, though, Old World Blues is the strongest DLC for New Vegas yet. The real question isn't so much "should you get it", but what it represents for the Fallout franchise, and for its fans.
Like all previous DLCs, Old World Blues begins with the Courier receiving a radio invitation, this time to a midnight screening of an old film, drive-in style. Upon arriving for the event, however, it's pretty clear that things aren't all they seem, with a crashed satellite projecting a strange image on-screen. Like clockwork, the Courier loses consciousness, and, after the opening title crawl, finds him or herself clad in a hospital gown, surgical scars still healing, overlooking an unfamiliar industrial wasteland from above. That wasteland, the Big Empty, or more correctly, Big Mountain, is an ancient pre-War science complex, home to all sorts of lost technology, housed in forgotten laboratories.
It doesn't take long for the residents of Big Mountain, old scientists whose brains have been preserved in robotic exoskeletons, to make themselves known. Housed in the Think Tank, a massive dome structure at the centre of the Big Empty, the unsettling brain-bots, led by one Dr. Klein, are tenuous allies, making it clear that, in a world ruled by the fleshless, a mere human has little status. To add injury to insult, the Courier's brain, heart and spine have been removed, replaced with a set of mechanical replacements. The Think Tank use these brainless human shells as caretakers and guardians, but it seems that the Courier is the first one who has maintained any sort of intelligence post-surgery. During introductions, Dr. Mobius, a rogue brain-bot who has sealed himself away from the others, interrupts and begins taunting the Think Tank, setting up the villain for the majority of the story.
What begins as scientific fascination for the brain-bots slowly turns into partnership, as they need help in gathering blueprints and schematics from many of the outlying facilities, and the Courier, well... needing one's brain back is as good a motive as any. From here, the Big Empty opens up for free exploration, with a number of additional side-quests becoming apparent upon speaking to several of the Think Tank's curious inhabitants. It's all standard New Vegas fare - travel here, collect this, kill that, but it's all handled with a degree of freshness, creativity and design focus that makes for a more entertaining experience than it sounds, helping to dress up what are ultimately fairly standard quests. The structure is altogether predictable, with the three main quests eventually converging into a finale, but it all works well given Old World Blues' gameplay, which goes back to open-world exploration and dungeon-delving.
Of course, the usual set of features is offered up, which seem targeted more towards high-level characters. There's the expected level cap increase and new perks to be had, both gained through gameplay and through leveling up, but an assortment of new weaponry ensure that Couriers devoted to Energy Weapons especially will have some exciting new toys to play with. Some of these are just incidental to the environment: Proton Axes provide melee characters an anti-robot option, for instance. Others, like the Sonic Emitter (a gun that weaponises soundwaves), are used to advance the plot and open up new areas to explore. These touches help flesh out the world and give a bit more meaning to the new gear, ensuring you use it even if it's not necessarily as powerful as some of the rest you might have. Meanwhile, the new Robo-Scorpions are about as ludicrous and ineffective in combat as they sound, but some of the other enemies, including ancient, skeletal corpses trapped in automated "trauma suits", put up a fairly serious fight.
The Courier's time at the Big Empty also sees him or her set up with some interesting accommodations. The Sink, a guest room on top of the Think Tank itself, can be spruced up by installing computerised personalities into many of the appliances scattered about, providing both gameplay functions (smelting down coffee mugs into spare parts) as well as a few additional quests. I'm not the type of role-playing fan who feels the need to own a house, but even I felt compelled to finish everything simply because there's both good loot and some entertaining dialogue attached to it. The simple fact is that this wasn't a necessary thing to include in Old World Blues - it's not integral to my enjoyment, and Obsidian could have done well enough without including that bizarre cast of eclectic appliances, but it's yet another extra touch that helps to make Old World Blues feel like more than just another run-of-the-mill, "three bullet points" DLC. Even the lengthy dialogue sequences with frequent skill checks (which can bring up new quests in some cases), additional locations, the tie-ins to the franchise history and lore, all go beyond what might be expected.
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