That's where the knocks on Dead Money end though, because it brings a great deal to the table that is both much-appreciated and sorely absent from previous Fallout titles. Namely: tension. The new enemies, the mysterious "Ghost People," feel somehow more sinister than anything yet devised for a Fallout game, and in any event are surprisingly difficult to kill. This, combined with the first ever genuine shortage of weapons and ammunition in a Fallout game (odd, considering these are "post apocalypse" games), and the introduction of "the Cloud" a toxic gas slowly consuming the Sierra Madre, serve to introduce an element of dread, making Dead Money worth playing for the adrenaline alone.
Plus, it's damn hard. The game warns you before you begin the quest that it is recommended for characters at level 20 and above and I would urge you to heed this warning. I started the quest at level 18 and came very close to having to start over from scratch, having backed myself into a corner with no ammunition and very little health. Triumphing in the face of that adversity felt genuinely rewarding, but the trial and error involved was time consuming. A stronger character would have been more fun to play.
In addition to the companions and enemies, Dead Money adds new outfits and weapons which will be a treat for players already bored with New Vegas's offerings. The Assassin Suit provides bonuses for stealthy play and the Sierra Madre armor is just plain cool in that Mad Max kind of way. On the weapon front, the Police Pistol offers 357 Magnum punch in a concealable package, while the Automatic Rifle gives fans of the powerful .308 ammunition the fully-automatic weapon they've always wanted. It's effectively useless at the Sierra Madre, where you will be lucky to find enough ammo to fill a single clip, but once you take it home it may easily become your favorite weapon of all time. You will also get a Holo-Rifle as your first new weapon, which fires some kind of holographic projectile and looks way cooler than it actually is.
In short, Dead Money is a near-perfect expansion. It breaks the style and mechanics of the original game just enough to offer something truly unique - but not so much that it feels out of place - and adds enough new content to give players a reason to spend even more time with the game than they already have (I'm at 200+ hours and counting). The story is inventive and enjoyable (if a touch overwrought at times) and all of the new elements are welcome additions. I finished playing Dead Money wishing it had been longer - or that the main game of New Vegas had shown as much polish and inventiveness.
Bottom Line: Worth the shekels for those who are enjoying New Vegas in spite of its technical flaws and are curious to see what creative minds can do with the powerful and engaging Fallout mechanics.
Recommendation: Buy it.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: Fallout: New Vegas - Dead Money
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: December 21, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Available from: Xbox Live