I don't really know what happens at the end of Lonesome Road, the final add-on instalment for Fallout New Vegas. I mean, I know what happens in the nuts-and-bolts sense of what is actually on the screen. What I'm still unclear on are the less tangible, but no less important, questions of who and why.
This is a problem, as I've played it through twice, paying attention to the dialogue. The fact that the intricacies of the story still remain vague doesn't speak very highly of Lonesome Road's success as the de facto conclusion to Bethesda's epic post-apocalyptic adventure.
Lonesome Road has you contacted, out of the blue, by Courier 6, aka Ulysses. He's the guy who passed on the platinum chip delivery job that kick-started the main game and led to you being shot in the face and left for dead by Chandler from Friends. Ulysses insists you meet with him in The Divide, a desolate new area plagued by earthquakes and populated by the feral Marked Men gang.
It's a journey that allows you to keep all your current equipment, but as the title suggests, companions must be left in the Mojave. That's because Lonesome Road gives you a new companion - one essential to its completion - in the shape of ED-E, or at least another robot from the same batch. He'll activate commissary machines for your trading needs, unlock vital quest areas and also spin a rather sad little tale as you go along.
But it's the big story we're interested in, and it's here that Lonesome Road suffers. Ulysses pops up periodically, speaking via ED-E, and dribbles mouthfuls of mushy exposition into your lap. He talks in the sort of elusive quasi-mythical twaddle that made the later seasons of Lost such a chore to get through, and long before you actually meet him face-to-face, you'll be wondering if all that purple prose is being used to cover up the fact that the story isn't particularly compelling.
It's not as if the journey to reach Ulysses is terribly memorable either. Arriving hot on the heels of the excellent Old World Blues, with its richly populated pocket universe of side quests, substantial secret areas and funny characters, Lonesome Road feels more like a trial run for a rather drab Fallout first-person shooter than the climactic chapter of a massive RPG.
It's linear to a fault, for one thing. There are virtually no open areas, or at least none that take more than 30 seconds to traverse. Progress is always in one direction as Ulysses tugs you through seven standalone areas, the arrow on your compass providing more motivation than the wisp-thin plot. Each area is considered a quest, and reaching the next one is the only goal you need to worry about.
There are no side quests, no supporting characters, few secrets and no sense that this is a real place you've been brought to. Achievements and Trophies are handed out for such mundane meta-tasks as finding abandoned warheads, upgrades for ED-E or buying weapon upgrades. Ongoing environmental challenges simply require you to find posters or journals dotted around the generic landscape. Fetch quests, one and all: there's about as much exploration here as you'd find in Gears of War 3.