I’d like to talk about my journey from absolutely hating Dead Money to considering it one of the best DLCs ever created.
When I first completed Dead Money, I thought it was quite possibly the worst thing I had ever played – and I played Bubsy 3D. There are many reasons, some of them I still consider valid criticisms of the DLC. To list a few:
I found it unnecessarily difficult.
The enemies in the game are often referred to as walking cazadores, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that they are extremely tough. And it should be noted that there isn’t exactly a lot of variety when it comes to enemies; there are only the villa inhabitants and the holograms. The inhabitants are the walking cazadores, and the holograms are literally invincible unless you find their emitter.
The radios were flat-out frustrating, and I’m still not sure I understand why they even exist as an obstacle. Elijah mentions them interfering with the frequency of your collar, but surely there would be a work-around for that? I mean, even Christine, who hasn’t been working with these collars for nearly as long as Elijah, found a way to extend the time you have to evade them. I’m not necessarily saying that the inclusion of them as an impediment was a bad idea – it certainly added more stress and desperation to the game, which is a core theme of the DLC. However, I feel that they could have explained their existence in a better and less confusing way. Maybe they were sufficiently explained for you; I’m simply giving my perspective after playing through Dead Money twice.
For the first time you play, if you aren’t specced in the right skills (melee/unarmed, survival, sneak, etc.), Dead Money will drain your very life force.
It’s fairly linear in terms of game-play.
Sure, you have some choices that affect the other characters’ ending, but the entire sequence of events is entirely linear. You find the others, make them do their objective for starting the gala event, deal with each of them in the casino, and then find the vault and deal with Elijah. The other DLCs suffer from this as well, especially The Lonesome Road. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on your tastes; it simply makes the role-playing less important and story-telling more important.
You are punished for taking the special speech options.
Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair with this one, but it did frustrate me that if you take the speech options with Dean and inform him that his collar is tied to yours, he will try to kill you in the end, even if you were nice to him from there on out (i.e. setting up the holograms for his gala event). I get that there should be consequences for your choices in speech, but I’m not sure that there’s any other part of FNV where you’re punished for taking a speech option. Again, it’s possible that I’m just being a little entitled to expect that every speech option is objectively better than the other options.
It reminded me of Bioshock.
This is probably an issue that only I hold with the game. I know that I’m not the only one who draws the comparison to Bioshock (little shop terminals to buy supplies, linear game-play, gritty theme, anti-paradise, tough enemies, etc.), but I’m likely of the minority in the sense that I disliked it because of its similarities to the game. I hated Bioshock for many reasons, but that could be a whole other Reddit post, so I won’t go into that. Many of the reasons are the same as the ones stated above. I won’t elaborate any further, as that would make this post much longer, I just thought I should add this reason for a little context.
There are other small qualms that I had in my first play-through, but those should suffice, as I’m sure those are fairly common gripes among the other people who played Dead Money (aside from the Bioshock one).
Now, onto how my second run of the DLC made it become my favorite of FNV:
The story is absolutely fantastic.
Since I knew more about the environment and challenges in my second play-through, I could focus more on the story. And, oh boy is the story amazing. The base game talks about Elijah and his fanaticism, but you really get to experience it in Dead Money. I mentioned earlier that the story is linear, but the way that it’s told entirely makes up for that. The legend of the Sierra Madre and its many secrets, nuances, conflicts, and background push the atmosphere to the extreme. It’s already a gritty game, but learning more and more about the casino and its history extends that grittiness to levels I’ve never experienced before. In essence, the story, although in some ways similar to other games/movies, is unique in the way it makes the player feel. It’s simply fantastic.
The characters are compelling.
Again, since I knew more about how to be successful in Dead money, I was able to absorb the characters better. Many people recognize this as the greatest strength of Dead Money, and rightfully so. Dog/God tells a story of inner conflict, Christine tells a story of revenge, and Dean tells a story of jealousy and greed. Elijah forces you to work with these people, and you slowly learn more about their intentions and their background. Each of their stories are unique and their introductions are iconic, in my opinion.
- You can’t have been an idiot to figure out how to release my from my cage. Or perhaps you are, with that leash on your arm and the one around your neck… with our collars and manacles, why, we may as well be kin.
- Get up without my permission, I’ll blast your ass so far through your head, it’ll turn the moon cherry pie red.
The ending is satisfying.
You struggle through all the buildup – finding the others, starting the gala event, getting through the casino, unlocking the vault – and it pays off. The final talk with Elijah feels genuine and I was biting my nails thinking of what will happen. Then, you can either confront Elijah and blow that son of a bitch’s head off, or trap him in the fault, leaving him to rot so close to victory. It’s truly a cinematic and oddly beautiful way to end the story.
To conclude, I’d like to apologize for downvoting anyone who said anything remotely good about Dead Money after I did my first play-through. I was unable to see how good it was because of how much I struggled to not die. Perhaps that’s bad game design, making it so hard that the first play-through is unfun, but I honestly don’t care. I enjoyed the second one so much that it doesn’t really matter. I can’t wait to play it again when I do another FNV play-through. After all, finding the Sierra Madre isn’t the hard part.
It’s letting go.
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