Grading the Games: Fallout 3 DLC

fallout-31Before I delve into my opinions on the downloadable content packages for Fallout 3, I want to apologize to the four people out there who read my articles (thanks Mom!).  I had to take a bit of a hiatus due to a 2,000 mile move across the US during July.  I have since settled into my new apartment, reconstituted my gaming setup, and started accumulating fresh opinions.  In the future, I should have articles up more often, provided I can motivate my lazy self.

After finishing the final piece of Fallout 3 DLC recently, my saved game clocks in at well over sixty-five hours.  Now that I have entered the world of corporate wage slavery, that is a very rare occurrence.  Much of this playtime was due to the additional content Bethesda released on the Xbox360 and PC over the past 8 months.  While most of this additional content does not take place within the Capital Wasteland, it is easily accessible to characters at any stage of the main story line, and provides some unique experiences that enrich the game universe.  I’ll evaluate each piece of content by itself, while assigning an overall grade for the entire run of DLC as well.  Each individual piece of DLC will be evaluated based on its storyline, the new equipment it contains, and game play.  As per my usual schtick, each content pack will start out with a grade of ‘C’.

Operation: Anchoragefallout_3_operation_anchorage

Operation: Anchorage was the first piece of DLC for Fallout 3, and released on January 27, 2009.  This content pack allowed the lone wanderer to take part in a virtual reality simulation of the historical battle to liberate Alaska from  the Chinese.  Due to the constraints of this simulation, none of the player’s wasteland equipment or items can be accessed, and in simulation replacements must be utilized.  Operation: Anchorage added more depth to the Fallout 3 universe by allowing the player to experience this past event that is referenced in the main storyline of the game.  For that addition, I’ll raise its grade to a ‘B+’.  The new equipment added in Operation: Anchorage is a lot of fun and generally useful both inside the simulation and in the wasteland afterwards.  I’ll raise the grade again to a ‘B’ on the strength of the equipment contributions.  The game play element is where this particular content suffers.  While the story is interesting, the actual game play is very linear, which is a striking contradiction against the generally open nature of the content that came before it.  The pack introduces some additional artificial difficulty as well at the beginning by stripping the player of their equipment and forcing them to use what is provided, which may or may not play to the strengths developed up to that point.  There is also a collection quest that involves looking for “intelligence cases” that is totally arbitrary, but doesn’t take away from the overall game play.  Finally, there is an interesting strategy element in the middle portion of the content where the player is able to choose a squad of allies from a variety of unit types to assist in certain objectives.  I really liked this unique touch, but overall I thought the gameplay was the weak link for this particular add-on.  Due to this factor, I’m reducing the grade to a ‘C+’.  Operation: Anchorage was a good first effort as a DLC package, but left plenty of room for improvement.

The Pitt

thepittThe Pitt was Bethesda’s second DLC addition to Fallout 3, and released on March 24, 2009.  However, the content was broken on release date, and wasn’t playable for everyone until April 2.  For this gaffe, I’m reducing the initial grade to a ‘D+’.  This content pack focused on an area that wasn’t part of the capital wasteland, what remains of the former city of Pittsburgh.  The wanderer journeys to The Pitt to search for a cure for radiation, and potentially to help free the slaves living in The Pitt.  The story potential of another post apocolyptic city was immense, unfotunately, the story line within the Pitt really didn’t deliver.  Compared to the story lines in the original content of the game, the Pitt’s story was underdeveloped and abrupt.  The characters had little to no depth, and the only real “choice” to be made was a binary one that didn’t make much sense in my opinion.  I’m lowering the grade to a ‘D’.  Additional weapons and armor are added to the game in this expansion, however, unlike Operation: Anchorage, the new equipment isn’t of much use once the wanderer returns to the Capital Wasteland.  I won’t lower the grade based on the equipment, but I can’t raise it much, so I’ll give it at a ‘D+’.  Finally, outside of the different location, the game play within the Pitt content differed very little from Operation: Anchorage.  It was a bit less absolutely linear, however, it still involved losing all of your gear, combat, and an optional collection quest.  There was a choice to make, but I felt it was pretty ambiguous in a confusing way.  Overall, I’ll take away from the grade just a bit, and we’ll leave the Pitt with a grade of ‘D’.

Broken Steel

fallout-3-broken-steelBroken Steel released on May 5, 2009 in a different context from the previous two pieces of DLC.  Where the first two sets of additional content served as single serving adventrues, Broken Steel continued the main storyline of Fallout 3.  The plot focused on the management of project purity after the final confrontation of the original content as well as the continuing conflict with the Enclave.  However, the transition to this new content remains as clumsy and awkward as the original ending to the game.  While that transition left a lot to be desired, Broken Steel also raised the level cap on the player character from twenty to thirty, and added considerably more gameplay than either Operation: Anchorage or The Pitt.  Additional side quests were added that restored some of the open world feel I came to enjoy during my original playthough of Fallout 3, and once the transition passed, the additions to the main quest felt consistent with the game play before the “end”.  I’ll raise the grade to a ‘B’ based on the story content.  The new equipment felt like a continutation from the main content as well, which was a definite difference from the first two sets of DLC.  I continued to use some of that equipment even after finishing Broken Steel as well, so I’ll raise the grade to a ‘B+’.  As I alluded to a bit earlier, the gameplay really felt like an authentic continuation of the main game (after the horrible transition) and returned an open feel to the game.  For the first time, I was able to use the equpiment I had acquired so far in an entire DLC package, which was a welcome change of pace.  Since Broken Steel played like Fallout 3, I’ll grade it just like I would have graded Fallout 3, with an ‘A’.

Point Lookout

fallout-3-point-lookout-screensPoint Lookout was released on June 23, 2009.  Both Point Lookout and the final DLC package, Mothership Zeta, were revealed after the release of Broken Steel.  Originally, only the first three DLC packages were announced.  The story in Point Lookout focuses on an area near the Capital Wasteland along the coast where the bombs didn’t actually fall, but the world has more or less abandoned.  The story in Point Lookout is completely seperate from the main story of Fallout 3, but it examines an area destoyed by neglect rather than bombs.  It is an interesting and completely original subplot for Fallout 3, and on its strength I’ll raise the grade to a ‘B’.  The items to be found in this locale are very appropriate for a backwater area seperated from the rest of the world, and are decidedly low-tech as a result.  While they may not have a ton of use in other areas of the game, they help set the scene for this DLC very well.  It’s not the largest contribution, but enough to raise the grade to a ‘B+’.  The game play in this content is fairly unique.  While the mechanics don’t change from the rest of the game, the feel and the ambiance is much different.  Point Lookout plays a bit like a survival horror game, with “zombified” locals and constructed set pieces.  While this DLC was excellently constructed, it doesn’t quite contain the depth of content we saw in Broken Steel.  It is however very strong, and I’ll give it a final grade of ‘A-’.

Mothership Zeta

more-fallout-3-mothership-zeta-screensMothership Zeta is the final DLC package announced for Fallout 3, and was released on August 3, 2009.  This package of DLC focuses on aliens, which are reference in the main game of Fallout 3.  The entire DLC package takes place on an alien mothership, which follows a very retro science fiction aesthetic that is very consistent with the Fallout universe.  The story element in this particular pack is vague at best, but involves people abducted from Earth throughout its history trying to escape from the mothership.  I’m calling the narrative decidedly average, and will leave the grade at ‘C’.  The setting of this content may be its strongest point, and the items and equipment found on the mothership have a great science fiction element to them.  I’m not sure how useful they would be in other areas of the game (being as this was the last content I played), but they seem like they could be useful.  I’ll raise the grade slightly to a ‘C+’.  Finally, this content plays fairly linearly.  The player can choose in which order to tackle certain sections of the mothership, but that order has no real effect of the plot.  There is not a lot of exploration to be done, which I think contradicts the feel of Fallout a bit.  Mothership Zeta felt a lot like playing the first two content packs again, but with a much better setting.  This pack was good but not great, and it gets a final grade of ‘B-’.


Overall, I thought Fallout 3 did a great job with DLC.  Bethesda certainly released more additional content than we have seen for most games so far.  I thought that the amount of content and the fiarly regular interval at which they released it really helped keep their game hold momentum and keep people engaged over the nine months since its release.  That’s a very long cycle these days, and allowed people who really bought in to the Fallout universe to stay engaged in it if they choose.  I spent a total of $110 on this game, but at almost seventy hours of entertainment, I certianly don’t feel short changed.  The content itself was also very interesting, rather than making packages of equpiment or additional characters available as add-on content, Fallout added entire experiences and story arcs.  While this has been done by other games to an extent, I thought Fallout set a new standard in terms of the variety of and number of stories they added to the game.  Another aspect I thought was intelligently done was the consistent cost.  The packs were certainly not all on the same level in terms of the depth of content added, I thought on average the cost was appropriate.  The content wasn’t all aces, as I’ve said in the earlier sections, but for me the good outweighed the bad by a significant margin.  I’m giving Fallout 3’s catalog of DLC a final grade of ‘B+’.  Hopefully other developers keep some of the aspects of these content packages in mind for future games.

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