Fallout 3 was of our favourite games of last year – combining a massive world with a sweeping story and managing to make an action RPG that not only accessible but also good, gory fun. The world which Bethesda created was already vast, the countless accounts of different player experiences are a testament to that, but now there’s even more of the Capital wasteland to sink your teeth into. Since January, bite-sized chunks of new Fallout gameplay have been released to the gaming public. Now these 5 DLC episodes have been combined into one massive, incredibly priced package, Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition.
Forced out of the relative safety of the Vault by a series of terrible events, you must find your way in the dangerous new world, born from the ashes of a global nuclear conflict. The main story deals with a teenager’s search for their missing father with the macrocosm concerning no less than the future of the entire human race. But Fallout 3 is so much more than a clichéd post-apocalyptic RPG; every element raises it to a near sublime gaming experience – the often surprising humour, the VATS targeting system (which combines nerdy-stat counting with gore drenched hyper-coolness seamlessly) and the sometimes terrible beauty of a familiar, shattered Earth clinging to the last vestiges of hope in a world gripped for centuries by a nuclear autumn darkening towards an endless winter.
Each DLC episode was previously available (for Xbox 360, PC and eventually PS3) but for those who haven’t expanded on their Fallout experience or have never played the game this is the perfect time to pick up the whole bundle. The titles included are: Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt, Broken Steel, Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta.
Operation: Anchorage feels a little anomalous in the Fallout experience. Players jump into a simulation of the Chinese invasion of Alaska, a major historical event in this shattered future. You must take part in the conflict, ensuring that events take place as they should and generally killing a lot of enemies. This action focus, and a few odd gameplay choices, mean that it feels more like a standard first person shooter. There are health and ammo recharge stations and the levels are designed to funnel you in the direction of the next gunfight.
This is no doubt fun and fast paced and a number of new weapons are enjoyable (like the gauss rifle) but it does betray some of the weaknesses of the game – mainly that it isn’t an FPS. The controls (on consoles at least) aren’t really precise enough for running and gunning and using VATS every 15 seconds is impractical and repetitive. Still, the new landscape makes a nice change from the wasteland and XP scroungers will love the boost afforded by so many kills.
Happily, The Pitt is a very different animal – with a self contained storyline and an atmosphere which is careful to recall that of the main game while carving out its own visual niche.
Players are made aware of the slave trade still rampant in atomically-untouched Pittsburgh and have a chance to thwart (or aid) the slavers. The quest to stop the spread of a terrible mutation adds some game-necessary monstrous enemies and there are some fun new weapons and interesting armour to collect. There is more to see in The Pitt and the looser style of the missions means this DLC could add 5 hours playtime.
Broken Steel is the much vaunted star of the add-ons for two reasons: it allows players to continue past the ill-advised game-ending conclusion of the original Fallout and also raises the level cap from 20 to 30, vital for those who have dedicated hours of playtime to the game. On top of that, Broken Steel also delivers new perks for the additional levels, new achievements as well as all new weapons and several hours of side missions. Your success at the end of the original storyline now results in you waking up two weeks later, set on helping the Brotherhood of Steel in working towards freeing the land from the grip of the Enclave and bringing civilisation back to the wasteland. As a direct extension of the main narrative, BrokenSteel feels most like the Fallout 3 we know and love and some of the set pieces are incredible to play through. For those who simply must find a negative, note that this episode features no significant new locations but otherwise it’s our favourite of the bunch.
Following on the heels of Broken Steel is PointLookout – which starts with an invitation to visit a riverboat and ends with explosions and creepy hillbilly goings on. Originally searching for a missing young woman, players find their way to the damp and swamp filled Maryland coast, where the inbred locals are less than pleased to meet you and a local cult of self-mutilating tribals want to free your mind... by removing a piece of your brain. The five or so missions feature some of the best splinter stories in any part of the game, with the ghoulish, foul-mouthed Desmond a personal highlight. Point Lookout is also incredibly hard, our low level character was repeatedly destroyed by the locals both up close and with their viciously accurate lever-action rifle. The mix of brooding visuals and dark humour along with the great atmosphere makes this the most memorable episode.
After the thrilling PointLookout and game enhancing BrokenSteel, it seems like Bethesda ran out of steam in coming up with MothershipZeta. You are abducted by aliens and must escape – and the whole self-contained adventure never rises above that remit. Like Operation: Anchorage, it quickly devolves into nothing more than corridor-based FPS and with plentiful ammo and health stations everywhere, sometimes feels like nothing more than a cosmetic redesign.
At least on this occasion you have some time displaced companions and a little girl reminiscent of Newt from Aliens who add some much needed personality but when you have rounded the hundredth corner and filled another bubbleheaded alien with extra-terrestrial lead it becomes beyond repetitive. Stepping outside in a space suit is a little fun and happily the whole experience won’t last much longer than three hours.
The DLC for Fallout 3 is wildly variable in terms of content and fun factor but underneath it remains a brilliant game, and now there’s even more to love. Some of the episodes verge on spoiling that splendour (why transform the game into a corridor-crawling shooter?) and there’s no denying that their integration has led to some unfortunate technical hiccups including crashes and game-breaking bugs within missions. However, with the increase of the level cap, players will be aching to get more time in the game and these additional missions mean that we can gain access to the hitherto unknown goodness of levels 21-30 without having to fall back on some horrible fetch missions which we previously avoided.
Add in some fun firefights, a lot of headshots, great new characters, some incredible images, a space-walk, some morally grey choices and a brilliant post-apocalypse laced with jet-black humour and the best game of 2008 is still a worthy choice in the closing weeks of 2009. If you’ve been away from the capital wasteland for a time, then it’s time to dip your toe into its waters once more. And if you have never visited Fallout's incredible universe, then there’s nothing left to stop you!