Andrew Bryant steps out of the radioactive post-apocalyptic frying pan and into the freezer.
Bethesda’s concept of a release schedule is a bit of an enigma.
Fallout 3 was released back in November last year with much pomp and praise, but significant criticism was given to both its level cap (20, which is way too low) and its closing moments, which were both sudden and (quite literally) final, with no option to continue trawling the wastelands looking for those elusive quests, bobble heads and collectables.
Bethesda’s have vowed to fix this with the DLC ‘Broken Steel’ which extends the game past the original ending (via a clever retcon), raise the level cap to 30 and, most importantly, allow for further play past the ending (although there’s no word on whether there will be a discoverable hint book).
I suppose the pressing question is ‘why release this after the two other downloadable packs’? Not only have people had to either delay the main endgame or create new characters for the sole purpose of playing them, but it leaves people with nothing to do after Broken Steel. Still, that’s progress for you.
Operation: Anchorage is the name of the first pack and its contribution to Fallout 3 is, surprisingly, Operation: Anchorage. Playing out in a similar fashion to one of the main quests, your character is placed in a computer simulation, this time of its famous military namesake in the Fallout universe.
The problem here is that, as a military simulation, there isn’t much room for what makes all the ‘good’ Fallout games (3 included) great – choice, multiple solutions to problems and character interaction. Instead its shoot this, bomb that, go here, kill this, go there, activate a switch then kill all them repeat ad infinitum, although that’s not necessarily true as there is only 3-4 hours of content here, most of which will be breezed through thanks to health refills liberally scattered around the place and heavy duty weaponry thrust upon you almost instantly.
Operation: Anchorage contains 4 distinct missions. First up, you have to find the Outcasts who frame the whole reason for stepping into the simulation. This involves a potentially dangerous trek across the wasteland into an area of DC, discouraging people from simply heading straight to the DLC from Vault 101, which makes the fact that some people will have to start new games to play it time-consuming.
The first ‘simulated’ quest is a 23rd century re-imaging of WW2 infiltration flick ‘The Guns of Navarone’ as you and a colleague have to destroy artillery that are shelling a US Army base. This is accomplished by shooting, maiming and exploding your way through a base full of Chinese soldiers (including the DLC’s one real contribution to the universe in the form of the Crimson Dragoon stealth troopers, whose Stealth Boy-esque armour renders VATS useless – which unfortunately forces you into the clunky FPS combat…) to explode 3 big guns in true Medal of Honour fashion – even down to placing a large conspicuous timed bombs on glowing parts of the guns before legging it!
The remaining quests are intertwined as you lead what is essentially a one-man assault on the Chinese positions using a rudimentary squad system that simply doesn’t work. In fact, to call it a ‘system’ is stretching the definition too – you hand-pick your squad (from a list of 5 paltry options – infantry, grenadier, sniper, missile launcher and two KILL EVERYTHNG THAT MOVES robots of death) and your pre-determined load-out (since you can’t pick up weapons, although your assigned tools of death don’t degrade) using two computers then roll out to the objective, giving your squad one of the few orders available : manoeuvre up to an objective, hold back whilst you recon (only for them to storm in any way when someone attacks you) and just simply storm in and kill everything in sight.
It’s fairly pointless as the generic squad members die easily, your sidekick who helped you blow up the guns is pretty much immortal (and a good shot too boot) and none of the bad guys (not even the massive Chimera Tanks) pose any threat since you have a ace up your sleeve for almost the entire mission – namely the Gauss Rifle, which has a sniper scope, a high damage stat and plenty of ammo available scattered liberally around the place.
Once the quests are completed, you assist in the final assault on a refinery. It’s then up to you to face off mano-a-mano against a boss who has more health than all main-game enemies (except, possibly, a Super Mutant Behemoth), yet has the intelligence of a mole-rat and will just stand there attacking you with his melee weapon as you blast him to pieces with the gauss gun. This final section serves only to highlight the lack of effort, thought and ingenuity that has gone into the pack, especially when compared with the average quality of even some of the main games smaller undocumented sub quests.
Once the simulation is done and dusted, you’re given access to almost every weapon and tool encountered in the DLC for use out in the wasteland, but if you already had power armour, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, with only the Gauss Gun & Dragoon armour of any consolation. Then there’s a small plot twist that leaves you even more underwhelmed.
Overall, it’s safe to compare the Anchorage DLC with Horse Armour – an overpriced and fundamentally poor addition to its parent game that really should have been free. Let’s just hope that The Pitt (the remains of Pittsburgh, with added morally ambiguous slaver-based questing goodness) and Broken Steel, with its game ret-conning ending and level cap-rise, go some way to resetting the balance just like Oblivion’s later downloadable morsels.