There was a time a few months back when I wondered if there was going to be any New Vegas DLC after Dead Money. Fortunately, all of you fans can pick up your plasma rifles and power fists and dive into some new content in the coming months. The first piece of DLC that comes at us with guns and tomahawks a blazing is Honest Hearts. Like most of the Fallout DLC, this expansion lets you explore a new area outside of the main wasteland, but is it worth exploring?
In Honest Hearts the courier ends up exploring Zion Canyon, a National Park untouched by the radiation and contamination of the Great War. At first it is quite a sight to behold. The canyon is a fairly large area, with fresh water, plenty of plants and fruit, and awesome tribal paintings on the canyon walls. The caves and what you find inside of them tend to be more interesting than the main story, so there is an incentive to explore. However, once you start exploring you will find that most of the locations besides the caves are places like abandoned campsites and ranger stations that usually don’t yield many good spoils. All in all, Zion isn’t the best DLC locale, but it certainly isn’t the worst.
You start Honest Hearts like you start every other Fallout DLC, with a radio signal. The source of the signal is the Happy Trails Caravan Company and they are gearing up for an expedition through Zion to re-establish contact with the city of New Canaan. When you meet up with them you will find that they need your Pip Boy to travel, but as you make your way to Zion the caravan is ambushed by the White Leg tribe and everyone dies, except for you, of course. After you deal with your attackers, a member of the friendly Dead Horses tribe drags you into a conflict between them, their allies The Sorrows, and the White Legs.
The story has potential, but it ends up being the weakest part of the DLC. The warring tribes are overshadowed by an argument between Daniel, a missionary from New Canaan, and the mysterious Burned Man. They are on the same side, but they have different views on how their current situation with the tribes should be handled. The story degrades down to a few simple fetch quests, and depending on whose side you choose in the end, you either fight a bunch of White Legs, or you will… fight a bunch of White Legs.
The look and sound of Honest Hearts is on par with New Vegas itself. Zion itself looks great, even if there isn’t a lot going on, but the regular glitches such as enemies getting caught in the environment are still apparent. The voice acting is also just as good as it has been, and the actors who voice your tribal companions do a good job with the stereotypical Native American accents you hear in a lot of Western movies.
Unlike Dead Money, Honest Hearts is more exploration based than story driven. As I said before, the stuff you find while exploring is more interesting than the story itself, so when you find a cave and poke around inside you will usually come across something interesting and rewarding. The “catch” this time around is that you can only carry 75 pounds into Zion with you (up to 100 if you have high strength or other special perks), which means you have to carefully pick and choose your arsenal, especially if you are playing on hardcore mode.
If you are not overly leveled, this piece of DLC will offer a decent challenge. However players who are maxed out will find it painfully easy, and low level couriers will probably get their faces ripped off by a giant Yao Guai. This isn’t a huge problem, but it would be nice if DLC was accessible to all levels, especially since you can’t go back to the Wasteland without finishing it.
Speaking of Yao Guais, they are Honest Hearts’ only “new” enemy besides the White Legs. While this is a little disappointing, the new weapons and loot you get make up for it. There are new guns, melee weapons, unarmed weapons, armor and throwing weapons. The highlight is the Yao Guai gauntlet. Like the Death Claw gauntlet from Fallout 3, the Yao Guai gauntlet acts as an unarmed weapon and lets you swipe your enemies heads off with the paw of a giant mutated bear. You can’t ask for much more than that.
As far as bugs go, the predictable ones unfortunately still exist. My game froze a few times, the “tick” marks that show locations on your compass appeared and disappeared, and every now and then my companion would get lost due to the rocky terrain. The most interesting thing I found is not necessarily a bug, but it can potentially kill the DLC. I was playing through and I was in the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, so I ended up shooting someone I wasn’t supposed to thinking he was an enemy. Doing this made everyone hostile to me and essentially ended the DLC. I guess it was my fault, but when you get ambushed less than a minute into the game you tend to shoot at everybody rather than go up to a tribal and try to shake the hand that is currently holding a tomahawk. Oh wait, now your skull is holding it.
Honest Hearts sits in the same boat as Dead Money. It is fun to play, but it has enough weaknesses to keep it from being a top priority. Exploring is fun in the event that you find something, and fighting is as rewarding as it was in the previous Fallout installments. While Zion is fun to look at, the story behind it fails to make it come alive. If you are a survivalist nut playing on hardcore, then Honest Hearts will give you some interesting challenges, but anyone else should get it when they don’t have much else to play, or wait for the inevitable Game of the Year Edition.