Platforms: PC | PS3 (Delayed) | Xbox 360
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Seven months have passed since Fallout: New Vegas first hit the shelves, and with most gamers having already completed the experience several times over, Bethesda have arguably completely missed the boat with their episodic series of small expansion packs. The need for its DLC to deliver new experiences and challenges is absolutely paramount - and on the face of it, Honest Hearts is set to deliver. Dead Money offered a creepy and claustrophobic experience with a laser-sharp focus and tight storyline back in December, but taking the opposite tack, Honest Hearts bolts an entirely new segment of wasteland on to the Mojave.
After receiving a call from the Happy Trails courier company, players agree to escort a convoy into the Zion National Park. The caravan is headed for the religious city of New Canaan, but as you'd expect, an unfortunate series of events traps The Courier in the park and throws him into the middle of a full-blown tribal war. Based on Native American influences, this conflict is set to purge several innocent and peaceful clans from existence - and players will need to decide between the machinations of the mysterious Burned Man and a missionary healer in order to decide the destiny of the valley.
This is the perfect premise for an exciting expansion pack, but Honest Hearts completely fails to capitalise on its potential. The questing boils down to some very lacklustre scavenger hunts or assassination missions (collecting lunch boxes, anyone?), and the clan war feels hilariously overblown considering that each tribe only seems to have a dozen people apiece. Vexingly, the much-vaunted dispute between two characters actually ends up being a binary choice between two obvious options - but even though the courses of action are different, the end result is pretty much the same. At least it isn't a moral decision.
Your new companions are bland, devoid of personality and difficult to relate to, standing in stark contrast with Dead Money's nuanced cast. You'll take on a couple of the natives as guides - but you'll never get to know them to any great degree. What's more, their tiny selection of random quotes will start to repeat themselves within minutes... and drive you to distraction.
In fact, the only engaging part of the experience is a selection of hidden computer logs written by a rugged survivalist. The diaries tells a heartbreaking tale of hopelessness, isolation and despair that's genuinely more moving than most videogame plotlines in recent memory- and all but the most jaded gamers will find themselves going out of their way to scour every nook and cranny in order to find all six.
Aside from the main questline and its sole binary choice, there are also a handful of side missions to occupy your time. These are generally good fun, and range from tracking down a lost Bighorner calf to dropping Peyote and hunting a ghost bear. They're certainly few and far between, but I'd urge gamers to sniff them all out to make the most of the experience.
The Zion National Park is a breath of fresh air compared to the vast majority of the Mojave wasteland. Soaring peaks and deep ravines provide specacular views and vistas, with a deep red and green palette that makes a change from the usual dust and grime. However, this steep topography comes at the cost of being frustrating to traverse, as locating the right rope bridges or hidden gullies to access objective locations can be galling to the extreme. There are over thirty locations to visit and plenty of caves to delve through, though most of the interior locations are deceptively cramped.
But a bigger area doesn't mean better value. Even though I'd urge you to explore every square inch of the map, complete every quest and grind through every dungeon, you'll need a maximum of six hours to see most of what Honest Hearts to offer. Only two if you tend to blow through the storyline or have a level thirty character. Dead Money was smaller in scope, sure, but its unnerving atmosphere and steep challenge actually made it a meatier experience. The area remains open after you've completed it, but few will find any reason to return (unless you really, really love Cazadors). The lack of new enemies is a serious oversight that stops the experience from feeling as new and exciting as it ought to.
Where Honest Hearts excels is its willingness to cater for Survival and Melee-centric characters. The handful of new guns isn't particularly inspiring, but melee characters will enjoy a powerful selection of animal gauntlets to batter enemies to death with. What's more, stimpacks and traditional aid are in short supply - but the national park is full of ingredients, food and resources to craft your own healing items with. Liberally-spaced campfires mean that you're never too far away from cooking up a recipe, and some new survival-oriented perks mean that this underused skill becomes significantly more powerful.
There's a caveat to this review, which I'll admit is fairly damning up to this point. Whilst Honest Hearts is a bit limp, Fallout's addictive core of exploration and character building is still present... and increasing the level cap by five is an attractive prospect that carries over to the main game. Fans will enjoy the experience, but taken by itself, Honest Hearts is probably not worth the download for most gamers.
- The survivalist diaries are exceptionally poignant and well-written
- Sizeable map area and plenty of locations
- A real breath of fresh air... especially if you're specced for Survival
- Predictable, samey and forgettable quests
- Little in the way of new rewards, challenges and interesting characters
- Surprisingly short, nothing new
The Short Version: Honest Hearts feels made to order: an expansion pack that's simply designed for the sake of making a little extra cash. Fans will relish the opportunity to leap back into wasteland, but considering the lack of rewards and lacklustre quests, I simply can't recommend it. If you're starting a new playthrough or favour the survival skill, Honest Hearts might be worth checking out. If you can play it without having to wait for the patch, that is.
Note: Apart from some fairly standard clipping problems, I didn't encounter any technical issues during this review. However, bug reports are rife, and players should beware that completing the ED-E My Love subquest can completely brick this DLC pack.