Monday, August 31, 2015

"Fallout: Honest Hearts" Review

I finished playing "Fallout: New Vegas" the other week. It is the 2nd time I have played thru it and I played all of the DLC. I decided to play "Skyrim" a bit and it is good, but I miss playing Fallout. It is just a more interesting universe.  Fallout, for those who do not know is a dark comedy action RPG, it is set in a post-atomic war wasteland, but contains technology that is akin to a 1950’s vision of the future, personal computers that have black and green displays, robot security guards that look like Robbie the Robot of “Forbidden Planet”, an emphasis on the “Golly Gee” era of television, and Norman Rockwell like fashion.
Fallout has laser weapons straight out of sci-fi b movies of the 1950’s, and it makes lots of commentary on social engineering, forms of government, and perceptions of who people are, what they believe, and why they believe it.  While the 1950’s is key to its foundations the post-apocalypse angle is also at the forefront as ruins dot the wasteland of the old world, most of civilization is based around scraping together resources from the past, and making due with what they have (for instance, the currency of the wasteland is Bottle Caps, because they last for a long time, and are difficult to replicate).
            Until the upcoming “Fallout 4” due later this year, I guess I will just talk about the four DLC adventure packs for the last game with each of their positives and negatives, because none of them are flawless… And some of them are more slag than ore.
Let’s have some categories for evaluation: Story (which considering how this is an RPG and writing is probably the biggest draw, it is pretty important), Environment & Characters (because Fallout has always been about exploration), Enemies and Loot (who do you kill and what do you get from their corpse), and lastly any Gameplay issues (cause it is a game and that is a big deal).

"Honest Hearts": Make of it what you will.

            You are left alone in Utah after a trade caravan you are traveling with is slaughtered by a war tribe called the White Legs.  Managing to hitch your wagon to a pair of honorable tribes, the Dead Horses and the Sorrows, you must help them fight back against the White Legs and then get the hell out of Utah and back to Vegas.
            As far as stories go it is a good adventure outside of the urban and into the wild world, the emphasis being less on politics and a more straightforward good vs evil conflict.  Of the four, “Honest Hearts” is the straightforward DLC Narrative, and that sort of simplicity can be appreciated, the first time I played “New Vegas” the dizzying levels of choice available caused me to quit the game (4 years ago) and this provides a respite from that.
Sometimes it is good to have a world worth fighting for.

Environment & Characters:
            I liked this environment.  Canyons with rivers, trees, bridges, and a sense of not-being-a-wasteland-beyond-saving.  There are views that were graphically very pretty when the game was released, now they are merely good.  I like how much of the game is exploration of old camp grounds, encountering wild animals, and looking into caves.  Reading Gary Paulson survival fiction when I grew up fostered an affection for these types of stories.  It is also cool to see an area of Fallout that is made up of Indian tribes, tourists and campers, and survivalists that evolved into a new society in the isolation of the canyon.  It also has one of the coolest characters learned about only via lore and reading journals, Randall “The Father in the Cave” Clark who is just such a bad ass.

"Saw to the old couple. Sat them up against car, let them hold and comfort each other. Told them I was going to get help, everything be okay. One bullet through both heads. Instant."
            The 4 prominent characters to the story are each interesting, one is a young tribal scout who wants to see the world, another is a tribal warrior and mother who just wants to get back to her family in a new home safe from the White Legs, but the last two are where the narrative shines.  One is David, a Mormon missionary that presents something you don’t see a lot of in Fallout, religious conviction that isn’t presented ironically or subversively.  David legitimately wants to help people as an act of faith in god, but is also wracked with guilt for all of the other tribes that the White Legs destroyed and the loss of his home this puts him in contrast to the best character, Joshua “The Burned Man” Graham.
            Graham is a former general of Caesar (the biggest villain in the main game), he is wrapped in bandages after having been burned alive as part of a failed execution by Caesar.  Joshua is a fiercely intelligent psychopath who sees himself as an instrument of divine wrath and has been evading assassins since his escape from execution.  Joshua has become a legend in Vegas, and seeks to use his skills to destroy the White Legs, in contrast to Daniel who wants to flee to safety.  You ultimately have to decide between the two’s methods, either brutal enough fighting to win, or crafty enough evasion to get away.

Enemies and Loot:
            While the White Leg tribals are the primary antagonists there is also a lot of giant lizards, mutant bears, big bugs, and killer plants.  Things are colorful, bright, and at times weird in a fun way.  For instance, one mission has you get high on sacred fruit and fight monstrous flaming bear so that you can fashion a claw weapon from one of its paws.  The Mutant Bears are established from the series’ canon and are the most difficult things you will fight, so be aware of that.
            There are lots of guns and tribal gear, but there is also a variety of poison to use and a number of weapons, like the bear claw and a type pf war club.  Joshua has a signature pistol that is actually pretty nice in that it has easy to use sights.  I can’t classify the loot as a draw of the game, just that it is adequate for the game.
"Drink.  Tea is strong.  Tea is bitter.  Wisdom is strong.  Wisdom is bitter.  You see?"
            This is a little mixed, often enemies will spawn in areas like a Dungeon Master rolling dice on a random encounters sheet, “Let’s see, two giant mantises, a giant cazador, a trio of baby giant geckos, and one White Leg warrior with a 9mm machine gun.”  Or you will just be ambushed by encounters that are obnoxious, “Oh you thought the last encounter was silly, okay tough guy how about three giant killer mutant bears!?”
            The companion abilities are lame, which is to be expected, they are meant to be used for a little bit and then forgotten about, they can only be used in this little adventure, so rather than having broad utility powers they have abilities that are contextual to Utah.
            Ultimately the final mission is too long, stretching to areas all over the map it feels decompressed, and when I got to the end and found out I had missed a group of survivors I was supposed to save… I just shrugged my shoulders and left them to die because going back meant walking so far thru uninteresting fights.
            Lots of perks can be useful in this area, the variety of animals and insects along with all of the tribal opponents, and the number of literal camp sights and need for rapid movement all indicate some useful abilities.  “Hunter”, “Animal Friend”, “Travel Light”, “Entomologist”, “Home on the Range”, “Tribal Wisdom”, and my favorite “Sneering Imperialist” which gives some condescending speech options with your enemies and allies.
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Remember, O Lord, The Children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem who said, "Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation." O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed. How happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
Overall Final Verdict:
            It might prove to be too straightforward considering how open the environment is.  Kind of a paradox.  You can go anywhere, but there seems to be no option to join the White Legs and sell out the good guys.  Considering you can be a villain in the main area of New Vegas, the idea that you are a good guy here by default is a little thin in the story department.  There are bad endings and you can be a foe to everyone if you want, but that limits the story even more.
If you like the environment you can walk back to the area where a chest full of all the unique guns and costumes will be waiting for you, which sort of cheapens your efforts to get treasure and participate in the world.  You also can’t tell Caesar about Joshua because Caesar can’t acknowledge that Joshua is still alive… it would be to admit weakness, you see, and a violent dictator can’t do that.  So even with a story that is kind of tied into Vegas well, it also has no impact.  At the very least you should get to keep 1 or 2 of your companions to go back to Vegas with, but no you don’t get that.  “Honest Hearts” is fun enough, but is simple and lacks impact.  Make of that what you will.


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