Fans of Fallout 3 got a nice little bonus this week with the release of the first in a series of DLC content for the game. This primary expansion, tilted Operation Anchorage, takes the player into a virtual simulation of one of the most important historical events in the world of Fallout: the liberation of Alaska from Chinese forces. In addition to the new interactive experience that this expansion pack offers to compliment what is already a very deep and intricate game, the Fallout 3 DLC offers the player brand new items and equipment that can’t be obtained anywhere else. Without further ado, then, let’s break this game down by the numbers.
First, let us discuss the quality of the graphics. Said simply, if you’ve been satisfied with the graphics of the rest of Fallout 3, then you will have nothing to complain about with Operation Anchorage. In this DLC you can see much of what made Fallout 3 great: views of stunning vistas, well constructed structures and buildings, and lifelike characters. The expansion pack does distinguish itself graphically in some unique but small ways, such as the soldiers that fizzle out upon death, the stealth effect you can see on some Chinese units, and the shimmering effect of the fields that keep you moving along the linear path that the game has established for you. The graphics are representative of the rest of the game: small but unique improvements that open up a new sphere of gameplay for the player.
Although the main chunk of the expansion deals with the Operation Anchorage simulation itself, it also opens up new interactions with a faction that up until now couldn’t be reached as easily as the other factions in the game. The Brotherhood Outcasts, who typically shun the inhabitants of the Capital Wasteland, are brought closer to the main stream of the game with a new, more easily found location and a new crop of characters to meet with.
The way that the xenophobic Brotherhood Outcasts are introduced to you is rather well done and is kept within the theme of the game. They wouldn’t have anything to do with you unless you have something to offer them. In this game, that would be your Pip-Boy. So you help them out, they return the favor, and then you both go your separate ways. To complete the deal, however, you need to put yourself at risk by engaging in a simulated live fire exercise that could result in your death. It is the simulation of Operation Anchorage, the climatic last military expedition by the US before the nuclear bombs fell.
The gameplay is intrinsically the same, in that you use the same type of controls you use in the rest of the game, but the expansion broadens the gameplay experience. In the early moments of the game you are given command of a squad of soldiers that you can control in a variety of ways, depending on the mission ahead of you. It’s true that you have followers that can tag along in Fallout 3, but they simply do their own thing with a minimum of input from you.
In the Operation Anchorage expansion pack, however, you can pick and choose the kinds of soldiers you want to have follow you, dismiss them, and replace them whenever you like. You can also create various combinations to create a team that is more varied in its combat styles then what you can do in the rest of the game. Before, your one follower at a time and could only use one combat style without you giving them additional weapons and ammunition to use. Operation Anchorage’s updates are not as complex or varied as some other squad-based combat games, but it is a nice change of pace.
This expansion also brings with it a new collection of voice actors who, while playing minor roles in the game, do capture the spirit of their characters very well. The voices behind the Brotherhood Outpost garrison are a good example of this: you have Defender Morill at the entrance who is the most sociable of the group, the bland and rather placid Protector McGraw, the obnoxious and aggressive Defender Sibly, and the hard-nosed Specialist Olin who has an enormous chip on her shoulder. All of these personalities nicely dovetail into each other to create what is a well crafted and believable (albeit not exactly healthy) degree of personal interaction between these new characters. It’s good to see that Bethesda continues to apply the same care to all areas of their games, even with characters and environments that are only needed for one purpose.
It is true that Operation Anchorage is very linear, having you leap from one mission to the other with little exposition in between, but the four or five hours it will take to complete the game will more than equal the 800 Microsoft Points spent to play. It’s not just the length that makes it a worthwhile purchase, but also the fact that playing the game gives you a unique experience — a game within a game — which results in gaining equipment and materials that will give you a whole new edge in gameplay. I’m not crawling out on a limb to say that this expansion is a must-have experience for those who want to broaden their horizons on the game, but that it is start of a new shift in direction for the game makes it important.