In the Fallout universe, nuclear war has ravaged the country, but religious faith abides. In Fallout: New Vegas - Honest Hearts, men of God struggle to find peace in a land where strife is inescapable--a powerful theme for a downloadable add-on. The story in Honest Hearts doesn't take advantage of this fertile premise, but that premise still enriches this formulaic yet enjoyable adventure into Utah's Zion National Park. As its name would suggest, some see this region as a promised land, and it's here that two religious leaders struggle to maintain control in the face of a warring tribe that would drive them out. Zion is a big and atmospheric setting for a new adventure, and there's enough new content here to keep you busy for four or five hours as you shoot up charging geckos and get to know the local tribes. That said, Honest Hearts doesn't make a lasting impression; none of its characters, places, or events stand up to those of the main game or even those of Fallout 3's better content packs. Yet, this enjoyable excursion gives you several welcome chances to exercise the power of choice, and it rewards you with new perks, new weapons, and an increased level cap.
These geckos are angry because they didn't get choice parts in a car insurance commercial.
The two men at the center of Honest Hearts are good, sincere blokes that nonetheless don't see eye to eye on how to deal with the White Legs, a violent tribe of nomads eager to scalp anyone that dares oppose them. One of these men is Daniel, a Mormon missionary with close ties to a tribe called The Sorrows. The other is Joshua Graham, otherwise known as The Burned Man. Joshua favors an aggressive approach toward the White Legs, which is no surprise given his violent past with Caesar's Legion. He is beloved by the Dead Horses tribe and preaches that mankind should shun the greed of the outside world. You stumble upon both men after the trading caravan you join falls victim to the White Legs, though neither makes a very strong impression. Joshua needs supplies like lunch boxes and walkie-talkies; Daniel sends you to find maps and disarm traps. These are nice men that nonetheless make you wonder how they managed to inspire the devotion of the locals. Joshua tells you that he was put on Earth to show people how to fight, yet he speaks in even tones, without an ounce of passion. For someone called The Burned Man, his personality lacks fire, and the tasks he needs performed are hardly extraordinary.
As mundane as the narrative is, you still get welcome opportunities to make decisions, though they would have more weight if you felt more invested in the consequences. Standard quests allow for a bit of flexibility. You might kill the gigantic Yao Guai creatures threatening the camp or collapse the cave in which they live. You could convince a tribesman to follow his heart and explore the "civilized" world or encourage him to stay with his people. The final series of decisions determine the future of several characters and their tribes, and these are outlined in an epilogue that closes the adventure in traditional Fallout fashion. Some of these characters include a few that join you as followers, and they, like Joshua and Daniel, are remarkably even tempered. It's nice to have their company, however--particularly that of Waking Cloud, a pious Sorrow tribeswoman indebted to Daniel for her saving her life. It's too bad that some of the quests these characters join you for are so routine. Find a key, open a cabinet, search for a compass: These are simple fetch quests that needed some dressing up with better context.
Hooked on Phonics doesn't work for everyone.
A few quests offer some variety, however, including one that pits you against a giant creature in Honest Hearts' best battle. The reward is an excellent melee weapon that nicely complements an intimidating helmet you might also grab before you head back to the Mojave. Other tangible goodies in this content include weapons (such as tomahawks) and new perks (extra damage when limbs are crippled). In addition, the level cap has been increased by five. Zion also serves as its own reward; its prickly cacti and red-orange plateaus provide a great backdrop to your travels. This graphics engine is showing its age, what with the bland textures, frequent pauses and jitters, and awkward animations. Yet campsites dotted with empty beer bottles and abandoned communal grills are an effective reminder of the civilization from which Joshua wants to shield his followers.
This being a Fallout game, it's no surprise that you could run into a number of bugs. These include some enemies you cannot damage or target in the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System because they are standing in water; VATS sequences that get stuck for 30 seconds or more before continuing on; and non-player characters sprinting through the air rather than across land. Don't let such typical bugs dissuade you from considering Fallout: New Vegas - Honest Hearts, however. The story and related quests don't surprise, but this add-on gives you the opportunity to once again influence those you meet and accomplish your goals as you see fit. And, you do those things in a desert environment harboring enough creatures and caves to make it worth exploring.