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Page 1 of 2Honest Hearts, the second downloadable add-on for Fallout: New Vegas, is a title I'm still having a little trouble fully making my mind up about, as it finds itself disappointing in some respects but excelling in others. On the one hand, it offers up a sizeable new area to explore with dozens of locations, a totally unique aesthetic style, some surprisingly fleshed-out lore, and characters that are both interesting in terms of backstory and gripping as far as their personalities go, but on the other, the overall structure and storyline are lacking much of the drama, intensity and focus that it hints so promisingly at early on.
It starts off well enough. As is standard for the Fallout DLCs thus far, the player receives a notice regarding a new opportunity for adventure immediately upon loading up a save file. The Happy Trails Trading Company is looking for help on a dangerous trading expedition to New Canaan, a Mormon city and trade capital to the north of New Vegas. Since the Courier is one of the few people in the Mojave with a functional Pip-boy, its mapping features make for an obvious aid to the caravan. and of course, having another gun to depend on never hurts. Once the player has ditched all but the most essential of equipment for the long journey no doubt a compromise to avoid high level-players from unbalancing the game, without stripping all their gear entirely it's off on the expedition through post-apocalyptic Zion National Park, and on to Canaan.
It's a pretty standard start, to be sure, and the relatively middling pay offered for the task may not seem so attractive for players who are no doubt rolling in thousands of by now, but the slight discontinuity is eased by some well-done opening dialogue with a couple of characters, including Jed Masterson, the expedition's leader. Featuring some extensive backstory to inquire about, this sequence, simple thought it may be, serves to set up the story and its characters convincingly, and there's even some skill checks and dialogue that's dependent on progress made in the story that's appropriate to Jed's character (he thanked me for taking out Crimson Caravan near Vegas, as it allowed his own company to improve its business). Unfortunately, the high expectations this sets for reactivity and non-combat skills never actually come to fruition.
Upon arriving at Zion, the expedition quickly comes under attack by some tribal warriors in possession of powerful automatic weapons. Predictably, the entire caravan is slaughtered, save for the Courier, who soon meets up with a scout from the friendlier Dead Horses tribe, Follows-Chalk, who serves as the Courier's companion through the first half of the story (who bears a superficial resemblance to Sulik from Fallout 2). Led by Follows-Chalk's instructions, the Courier soon finds him or herself in the presence of Joshua Graham, otherwise known as the Burned Man, a New Canaanite missionary, and former second to Caesar (of Caesar's Legion, of course). Graham informs the Courier that New Canaan has been destroyed by the White Legs tribe, who were offered the chance to join Caesar's Legion if they were successful in wiping the Canaanites out, along with their other rival tribes. The Canaanites fled to Zion, and in doing so brought the White Legs' wrath upon several other tribes, including the Dead Horses and the Sorrows, who are now the only ones that remain. While Graham and his more reserved missionary partner, Daniel, both want to help the tribes they have unintentionally drawn into their conflict, Daniel wishes to do so peacefully, by evacuating the area, while Graham wishes to exact his own brand of (divine justice) on the White Legs.
From here, it's fairly standard New Vegas gameplay: the player is left to explore Zion National Park at his or her leisure, Follows-Chalk (and later a female tribal, Waking Cloud) in tow, and is given a series of fetch and collection quests to perform in order to advance the story, with a smattering of side-quests as well; these feel neither forced nor irrelevant, and tie in well with the existing characters and companions. While the individual quests themselves aren't particularly interesting (a vision quest to kill a giant ghost bear being one of the standouts), they do a good job at giving the Courier to explore just about every inch of Zion, and are logical and appropriate given the story.
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