One of my favorite game series of all times is the Fallout series. Combining bitterly black humor with a turn based combat system that allowed you to blind, sterilize, and lobotomize your enemies, Fallout, Fallout 2, and even Fallout: Tactics offered a post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore, crush, or conquer as you desired. The demise of Interplay studios put a damper on the possibilities for more trips to the wasteland, but Betheseda brought the franchise back and revolutionized it for today’s systems. Fallout 3 rightfully was one of the most lauded games of 2008. Since its release, we have been graced with three expansion-pack DLC’s. With a recent announcement that two more are on the way, it’s time to look back on what has already been released and make a judgement on the devastation.
1. Operation: Anchorage
The first pack to be released is also the shortest. However, some of the rewards for completing it are amazing. Operation: Anchorage begins with a mysterious radio broadcast summoning you to a Brotherhood Outcast fortress. Assuming you survive a few Super Mutant attacks, you will be taken into an underground armory that has had all the good stuff locked up. Once again, you get to be the savior of the wastes, as the Pip-Boy module on your arm might be what is needed to survive the simulation and therefore open the armory. Just don’t ask what happened to the rest of the poor chumps that tried to take part. You’ll end up wearing an immersion suit and jumping into a simulator pod in order to relive an exciting event in the history of the Fallout universe-the liberation of Anchorage, Alaska.
Your mission begins after you have parachuted onto a series of cliffs, with the mission to destroy a series of artillery emplacements that are pounding US forces. You and another soldier will make a dangerous trek up the cliff wall and into the artillery facility. Once there, you will plant charges to blow the giant cannons the hell up. One of the niftiest parts of this section is that most of your attacks have the chance to knock a Chinese soldier off the cliffs and down the mountain, with the slow-motion V.A.T.S animation beautifully illustrate the fall.
After that, you have the opportunity to lead a team of soldiers in a few pitched battles to clear out a listening post and tank depot. The soldiers have the archetypes familiar to fans of games like Team Fortress. You can choose a sniper, a missile trooper, a grenadier, an infantryman, or even heavy robot troops. This is one of the coolest segments of the entire game, planning an assault and then carrying it out. You don’t get to tactically order your units, but it is still a blast to fight with an army at your back. Finally, you will shut down an energy field and take part in a power-armor assault to drive the Chinese forces out of Alaska.
Surviving the ordeal grants you access to a hangar full of goodies, including the T-51b Winterized Power Armor and the awesome Gauss rifle. I love that the Armor actually buffs your Charisma as well. Why does it do this? The only thing I can think of is that the people who wore it were the heroes of the war. Makes sense, and fits the Fallout idiom. The Gauss was one of the most overpowered weapons in the original games, turning a properly built character into a one shot-one kill death dealer. The Guass rifle in Fallout 3 remains largely the same. The force of this gun knocks even super-mutants on their ass. Just about everything in the game will die if you get a crit hit with the Gauss rifle. The range on it is amazing also. It is barely balanced by the new capacity system that gives you only one shot before a reload. Also available is the Chinese Stealth Armor that makes you look very much like a certain reptilian-eyed ninja from a certain 80’s cartoon that’s making its way to theaters this summer.
The graphics are very, very good. The snow, the mountains, all of it makes you kind of wish that Fallout 3 would take more of a risk and have something other than brown as the main color in its palette. There are two big issues with this DLC though. First, the game becomes amazingly linear. The first segment is basically on rails. The second barely gives you anything more than a decision over where to attack next. Also, it is short. Experienced players can probably knock this out in just a bit over 3 hours, maybe faster. Still, you get some very nice gear for the main game for doing this and it is a nice change of pace.
2. The Pitt
As a counter to Operation: Anchorage and the straightforward, militant style it presents, The Pitt is more of the morally ambiguous, badly distorted lens of humanity that Fallout is famous for. Pittsburgh wasn’t ever nuked, but the irradiated water and nuclear fallout has twisted the surviving citizens into monstrous, cannabalistic freaks known as Trogs.
Gaining access to the ruins of Pittsburgh requires you to divest yourself of all followers and all of the amazing gear you’ve accumulated through your adventure. Donning the garb of a slave, you will travel via handcart far out of the DC wasteland. Once there, you will find a horrifying vision of life as a slave after the bombs have fallen. The images of Pittsburgh, particularly the steel mill and railyards, are beautifully dark and haunting.
Gameplay in The Pitt largely revolves around avoiding the Trogs in the Steel Yard and surviving a brutal gladiator competition. At least, that’s the early events. Later on, you have some seriously damaging choices to make. The old issue of “one life for many” is brought up and dropped in your lap. Without going too deep into spoilers, you get to make one of the choices that the Fallout series is known for. Ammo is also painfully short of supply, so a melee based character has a huge advantage over ranged characters.
Fresh equipment from The Pitt doesn’t really stand out, except for the Auto-Axe. Constructed mostly from spare car parts, this device resembles the concrete saw made bloodily infamous in the movie High Tension. The basic version isn’t amazingly impressive, but the upgraded versions like the Mauler and the Man Opener can really mess a body up. The Pitt is another expansion that isn’t too terribly long, but it is a satisfying story from start to finish.
3. Broken Steel
Now we come to it. Broken Steel is the ultimate conclusion to the Fallout 3 epic. The third expansion pack not only raises the level cap to 30, but allows you to keep playing the game past the finish of the game. Broken Steel takes place two weeks after the end of the original game, with the player waking up from a coma inside the Brotherhood Citadel. The Enclave has a few holdouts left scattered throughout the wastes, and the Brotherhood is mopping them up. You then get to take part in another assault mission helping out Liberty Prime, the massive warbot who helps you breach the Jefferson Memorial at the end of the game. Spoiler in the next sentence, just so you are aware. The Enclave launches an orbital strike against Prime that utterly shatters the mighty robot. With the mightiest weapon in the Brotherhood’s arsenal reduced to scrap, it becomes your mission to finish the Enclave.
Broken Steel also adds a few insanely tough enemies. The Super Mutant Overlord and the Albino Radscorpion absorb damage like nobody’s business. In fact, your best option against the Overlords might be to fire at the legs to hope you can drop them and keep shooting at them when they’re down. Fortunately there are a few extra weapons to help also, like the Tri-Beam Laser Rifle and Tesla Cannon. The typical Fallout humor comes back to with a pistol by the name of Callahan’s Magnum, an obvious reference to Dirty Harry. There is also a lovely little perk called Almost Perfect that sets all of your SPECIAL stats to 9. Of course, if you’d prefer, you can take Nuclear Anomaly. This sets up a trigger so that every time you get to less than 20 health a series of nuclear blasts erupts all around you.
If there are any issues with this package, it is the radio broadcasts from GNR radio jump ahead from time to time. That’s the only serious problem I can think of. Since you don’t need to beat the game to activate the Broken Steel pack to bump the level cap, you can do this right away. I tend to hit level fifteen or sixteen before I’m even a third of the way through the main quest in Fallout 3, so this is a huge benefit.
While I happily recommend all three of the DLC packs for Fallout fans, someone who just wants to extend the time spent with Fallout 3 needs only grab Broken Steel. They are all solid additions, with good and bad points that most fans can ignore. Sure, it is more of the same, but Fallout 3 is one of the best games of this generation. Taken together, you’d be paying thirty bucks for about fifteen hours of extra game. That would be a pretty reasonable price tag for an expansion pack, even if this one is chopped up into three pieces. Feel free to re-enlist in the war for the future. Just keep in mind that war never changes.