Version tested: Xbox 360
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.
Lonesome Road compensates for this disappointing corridor construction by ramping up the difficulty. If you spent the main game studiously avoiding Deathclaws, then you're out of luck here; this DLC has a charming habit of dropping three or four of those two-hit-kill bastards right in your path, and the narrow design means there's often no safe way past them without judicious use of Stealth Boys.
Tunnellers, the only new monster type introduced, are much the same. They don't hit quite as hard as Deathclaws, and look worryingly like Sleestaks from Land of the Lost, but they travel in packs and can easily rip you to shreds. Like the Deathclaws, they're used as obstacles in your one-way path rather than free-roaming fauna, their arrival often heralded by convenient caches of flamer fuel and flare guns, as fire is the only way to scare them off.
Having the right weapons appear just before they're needed is but one of the FPS traits that has leaked into the game via Lonesome Road. Crude monster closets are another, as enemies appear magically whenever you cross certain invisible boundaries.
There's a bus containing a useful ammo stash on an elevated highway section. As soon as you go near the ammunition boxes, the Deathclaw spawns on top of the bus. Every. Single. Time. It's more Call of Duty than Fallour and, inevitably, beating such clockwork foes becomes a question of knowing when and where they'll spawn and planning accordingly, rather than actually using any of the RPG skills you've accrued over however many dozens of hours of gameplay.
So Lonesome Road has already squandered most of what made New Vegas so much fun by the time it reaches its rather garbled conclusion, which leaves the loot to tip the balance. Here, again, it's a bit of a let down. The flare gun is fun, and the new nail gun is a useful, silent way to cripple enemy limbs. The Red Glare rocket launcher is extremely handy, though you'll need around 50,000 caps to upgrade it fully.
There are also some cool new perks that allow you to reset your karma, but mostly the new additions are functional rather than essential. In fact, I found that the superior weapons obtained during Old World Blues got me through more encounters than anything introduced here.
Fans angry that they need to fork out more money to see the "real" ending of the game can rest easy. The events of Lonesome Road build to a suitably apocalyptic climax, but it has none of the depth, pace or meaning of the face-off between House, Caesar and the NCR that rounded out the original storyline. Completists will want to see it through, just to say they did, but it's a shame to see such an epic atomic age narrative go out with a whimper rather than a bang.
5 / 10