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Like all New Vegas DLCs, Lonesome Road starts with a radio message, though unlike the prior DLC packs, this message is one that is carried forward to the end of the world. The burden handed down by the mysterious courier Ulysses, the task of reaching the Divide, isn't driven by a promise of riches, or loot, but by a want for answers. The journey is long, and difficult, but that hasn't stopped the Courier before, nor should it this time... and by the end, those answers will be felt by the entire Wasteland, with the world, or the Courier, left scarred by the final decisions made.
More than any other New Vegas DLC, the returns provided by Lonesome Road are going to vary significantly based on personal investment into the New Vegas canon. This is not the kind of DLC that's going to give instant gratification, oodles of new gear to try out, and two-dozen side-quests to tick off one-by-one. Moreover, as the name Lonesome Road implies, it's a far more linear experience than what fans of New Vegas may be used to, winding its way from location to location in a set progression. This is, no doubt, going to be a source of contention between players, as many associate Fallout with open-ended gameplay, both in terms of exploration and play-style. Lonesome Road is hardly Gears of War, and even within the relatively narrow confines of the Divide there is still a significant amount of exploration to be done, but for those who wanted more locations like Zion and the Big Empty, Lonesome Road isn't going to provide that.
I hesitate to touch on Lonesome Road's story, because, as the prime focus of the experience, even small spoilers would hurt the sense of discovery. More generally, though, Lonesome Road is an introspective piece - it's smart enough to remain understated, and lets the Divide and its inhabitants speak for themselves, rather than forcing exposition and monologues down the player's throat. The narrative, while generally straightforward and sparse compared to prior New Vegas DLCs, isn't content being self-contained - its themes of the role of individuals within history, the nature of nationhood, and the unforeseen consequences of actions all provide food for thought, and more often than not claw at the fourth wall, speaking not to the Courier, but challenging the player instead. That it's also able to smartly tie in and shed new light on a prior companion character, and in doing so weave its A and B plots together so tightly, is yet another testament to the quality of storytelling on display.
Much as how Dead Money was driven by its ensemble cast and the stressful situation they were all forced into by a mysterious figure, Lonesome Road's focus is dead-center on another mysterious figure testing the Courier's limits. Ulysses is one of the most effective, well-realized, and refreshingly non-standard characters in any game I've played in quite some time - a complex man whose very nature is tainted by a label like "villain". Fans of Chris Avellone's prior works, whether that's Fallout, Planescape, or Star Wars, will find his trademark all over Ulysses, and the result is a character who can stand comfortably beside the RPG genre's finest. That said, Ulysses is also of the "philosophical, vague, and esoteric" school of antagonists, and most of the storytelling falls on his shoulders; combined with the fact that many plot points are left open to interpretation, some players may find him more frustrating than intriguing.
Lonesome Road is, again true to its namesake, distinctly bleak, desolate, and haunting in tone. The Divide, and the wreckage of the Old World on the way, is a mass of jagged rock, twisted metal, caved-in skyscrapers, and roaring winds and sandstorms. If there has ever been a strength in Fallout: New Vegas, it's been its world, but more than ever, the Divide is the star, singularly desolate and forlorn, even when put up against famous Fallout locations such as the Glow and Necropolis. It revels in mass destruction and devastation in a way no other Fallout game has in the past, and the impression left behind is a strong one. More than that, it makes for great gameplay - climbing the husks of ruined buildings, stumbling through off-kilter corridors of forgotten military bunkers, and beholding the torn skyline not only make for excellent set-pieces, they also demonstrate Obsidian's mastery of the Gamebryo technology and a strong design vision. Even taking into account the infamous game engine New Vegas is shackled to, the Divide is one of the most impressive and atmospheric environments I've had the pleasure of exploring.
Like all of the New Vegas DLCs, there are still complaints to be made of Lonesome Road. While the lack of side-quests and sandbox gameplay didn't bother me in the least, other elements wear the telltale limitations of most DLC add-ons and New Vegas as a whole. Most of the "new" art assets have been imported from Fallout 3 (though these are used to better effect than Bethesda ever managed), and many of the new weapons and enemies are mere reskins with some switched-up stats. Yes, it might seem a bit petty to complain about, but as good as the environment design is, the linear nature of the DLC draws more attention to the fact that much of the content is old hat by now. Considering that other games on the market offer richer and more unique experiences via DLC, I do think it's a legitimate complaint, especially when the more focused, sandbox-free design invites comparisons to more polished games that New Vegas can't possibly live up to.
Additionally, while Lonesome Road is quite challenging in places due to the way it throws high-level enemies like Deathclaws at you in tight quarters, the same old problem of turning enemies into huge damage sponges remains, and while it's a general complaint against New Vegas as a whole, it becomes even more clear when stomping around as a level 50 chem-cocktail, with perks up to the eyeballs and the most advanced weaponry ever known to mankind in hand. Combine this with a general lack of puzzles, non-combat options and the fast pace of encounters, and the variety in play-style that Fallout as a franchise is known for is generally lacking in favour of combat. While this isn't much of a surprise considering New Vegas still required a lot of bloodshed to get through, it's a bit sad to see skills like Survival, Repair, and Science go by the wayside, as they would fit in perfectly with the harsh environment and the pre-War missile silos you explore.
Last, the Lonesome Road is not a particularly long one. Getting through the story will take no more than three or four hours, and while one can easily get two or three times that out of exploring the rest of the Divide, it's something to be aware of all the same. If you plan to blaze through this DLC in a single sitting, you may find yourself disappointed. Take the time to soak the Divide in and you'll end up with a more enjoyable experience, but as not everyone is interested in playing the game in a slower, methodical way, or in contemplating the narrative side of it, like Dead Money, this is an add-on that not every player is going to enjoy.
Despite the issues, however, Obsidian have crafted a compelling story with a distinctly memorable antagonist at the center, and for those who have become invested in the New Vegas lore, the conclusion to this chapter of Fallout is a solid and definite one. While it's impossible to recommend Lonesome Road as an absolute "must play" for all fans of New Vegas, due both to its linear, more combat-driven focus, and its emphasis on story over sheer volume of content, for players who have been following the Fallout: New Vegas DLC history, Lonesome Road is a fitting and thoughtful end.