Fallout: New Vegas - Honest Hearts Review (PC)

In general, I preferred Fallout: New Vegas to Fallout 3 or Oblivion. The story was better, the characters more interesting, the world more believable and the struggle between NCR and Caesar’s Legion a lot more compelling than Brotherhood of Steel versus the Enclave. Consequently I was happy to return for this DLC, but should I have left robotic dogs lie?

Honest Hearts begins the way all Fallout DLC begins, with your character receiving a radio message and a location. In this case it’s from the Happy Trail Caravan Company, who are attempting to reopen trading between themselves and the religious town of New Canaan. They need someone to escort them, and you volunteer (if you don’t you’ve just wasted 800 Microsoft Points). However while journeying through Utah’s Zion National Park the group are ambushed and you’re the only one left alive.

Don’t get too attached to these guys

In the course of events you’ll discover the fate of Caesar’s lieutenant Joshua Graham, better known as the mysterious and legendary Burned Man, and fight for the various tribes inhabiting Zion against the vicious interlopers called the White Legs. The story is merely okay and isn’t particularly gripping compared to the main campaign, which I really got involved in.

Going off the beaten track though (which is always the best way to appreciate Bethesda’s open-world RPGs) you’ll discover the side-story of The Survivor or Father In The Caves, a man who survived the nuclear war and made camps in the various caves around the park. These caves are covered in traps and ambushes and are great fun to get through, at which point you’re rewarded with another part of his tale. It’s definitely the best part of Honest Hearts.

The trouble is though, beyond that and Joshua Graham there’s not really much to find or care about in Zion National Park. The thrill of discovering new areas you usually get in Bethesda’s games is almost completely absent. There’s nothing really exciting to discover, and some landmarks are literally just piles of rocks. It possibly means a lot to anyone who’s been to the park, and it seems an accurate representation, but I personally need more a reward than that – or at least something more substantial than some rocks with a name.

I didn’t find any decent new weapons to replace the ones I had in the whole of Zion, so searching through caves for loot (the old standby of the RPG) is totally absent, especially for someone who’s finished the main game. I have, so I won’t be going back to New Vegas wielding my Yao Guai claws in triumph. This DLC seems better suited for a Game of the Year edition and someone playing through for the first time.

The other way the main Fallout games kept interest (better than the Elder Scrolls games in my opinion) was by having every location have their own story to uncover. I found none of that in Honest Hearts - all locations were just there, with nothing particular of interest in them and no tale to be told. Consequently despite the beauty of the park it’s very likely you’ll get bored fast, and there’s one thing open-world RPGs cannot do it’s let the player lose interest in exploration. That’s the biggest sin they can commit.

The Burned Man himself. Like Two-Face, but all scarred and without the chance fixation

Speaking of the beauty of the Zion National Park though, it is a lovely place considering it’s just a load of rocks. It’s a very attractive place to set a game inside and works well as a setting. The aging Gamebryo engine has been tweaked a little I believe, as I don’t remember rain in the Mojave Desert. It’s just nice enough to make you keep on exploring it long after you realise there’s actually not much to find in it besides the odd nice rock formation.

Combat’s still just like New Vegas of course, which I quite liked, especially the introduction of iron sights so you don’t have to rely on VATS all the time. Zion’s home to plenty of fearsome beasts, most notably packs of Giant Yao Guai that made short work of my highest-level character. Maybe I should’ve used a gun on them instead of punching them all in the face.

Aside from them and a few geckos the White Legs tribe are the main opponents, and are pretty formidable considering they’re mostly dressed in loincloths and twigs. You’ll have a choice what to do about them in the end which will have ramifications. The final part of Honest Hearts isn’t particularly difficult, but for me concluded with a difficult conversation rather than a boss fight, which is exactly how I like my RPGs to be. For anyone else it could end up completely different, which is definitely a reason to see it through to the finish at least.

Side-quests most consist of boring scavenger hunts, but the best is by far the search for the mythical Yao Guai known as “The Ghost of She”, which I won’t spoil for anyone who gets the DLC. More of this type of entertaining quest would’ve been much appreciated, and as it is there’s just simply not enough of interest here. The combat in Fallout is okay but it by no means can support the rest of the game. Exploration, quests, story, loot, surprises… these are the things open-world RPGs have to have in order to draw the player in, and Honest Hearts has a real deficit in all of them. Surprises in particular are low on the ground.

Even the characters, usually the best thing about Obsidian RPGs, aren’t particularly likeable. Joshua Graham, the bandage-covered Burned Man, is easily the best as he’s scarred mentally as well as physically. He was once the biggest monster in Caesar’s Legion before being betrayed by Caesar. He’s now turned to God and a righteous cause, but he’s still clearly haunted by his past. If nothing else, I enjoyed bringing his story to a conclusion. That alone at least makes me feel my time in Zion wasn’t wasted.


The funny thing is, Honest Hearts has the opposite problem to the previous DLC Dead Money. Whereas that pack held a good story and surprises but in a boring location, Honest Hearts has a wonderful location but one that has very little of interest in it. A few hours exploring Zion National Park and you’ll start actually ignoring places of potential interest on your map, and that’s probably the most damning criticism I can think of for a Bethesda RPG.

Honest Hearts has a wonderful setting with some fun things to do in it, but “some” just doesn’t cut it. The majority of the DLC is utterly devoid of surprises, treats or interesting characters and places, and you’ll soon start getting bored. It commits the worst sin an open-world RPG can do: it makes the player not want to explore. Stick to the Mojave: ain’t nothing here but rocks and broken dreams.

Top Game Moment: Carefully navigating trap-filled caves to find more of The Survivor’s tale.

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By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Jun 30, 2011
That's sad, I mean, to have a nice area to explore, but no quests to support it :(
By hamparr0 (SI Newbie) on Aug 25, 2011
Seems a shame that they work on and release an area but don't actually put much content in with it