Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage (Downloadable Content)

I started writing this a while ago and only recently found time to finish it up. If you know that any of the bugs mentioned below have been patched, feel free to post so in the comments. To my knowledge, most of them still remain.

For this review, we return to the Capital Wasteland, but only for short while. While we are still in the wasteland that most are probably familiar with by now; Fallout 3’s first downloadable content, Operation Anchorage, has a virtual reality simulator that will takes us to Alaska to fight in one of the famous battles in the Fallout timeline: the liberation of Anchorage.

When I first heard about this download, I was skeptical. It was pretty much decided at the time that this was going to take place in virtual reality and not the “real world” of Fallout 3. Sure, a new area and weapons would be fun, but I’d be unable to bring them back to the real world and use them there. However, it turns out that you do get to keep your new toys and you have a chance to earn a new perk.

The story behind the expansion is fairly simple. While out in the wasteland, you will pick up a distress signal on your radio. Listening to this and following the quest objectives it gives will lead to a new area of DC where a bunch of Outcasts are fighting off super mutants. You can help them out, but it probably isn’t all that necessary, as the Outcasts seem to be able to hold their own. What is important is that you follow them back to their base.

After speaking to the people in charge, they’ll inform you that there’s a vault (a regular vault, not one of the Vault-tec vaults) in their base that is locked and the only way to open it is to complete the simulation that’s being run. Unfortunately for them, they can’t work it because it needs a specific type of interface. Namely, the Pipboy 3000 on your wrist. So, they ask you to help them out and agree to give you part of the loot inside if you do.

The actual simulation is much more linear than the rest of Fallout 3 has been. Also, it’s very combat-oriented. So, if you’re one of those people who have gone through the game by talking your way out of situations, then you probably won’t like this download. Those, like myself, who prefer to run and gun will find this is more up their alley. Even then, the simulation has none of the things I really liked about Fallout 3.

As I said above, Operation: Anchorage is very linear with very few places to explore. I felt almost like I was playing a first-person shooter that had the Fallout 3 combat system. Ammo and health is dispensed to you at regular intervals and you can’t search any of the containers that you normally could outside of the simulation nor can you search bodies (they disappear after being killed).

Also, for some reason, items aren’t picked up the same way as they are outside of the simulation. Instead, an ammo piece is “activated” and it disappears and ammo is added to your inventory. While this has little difference from the regular system, for some reason you can only activate something that you have your crosshairs over it perfectly instead of like normal where you just have to point it in its general vicinity. This made picking up ammo take longer than it should have as you had to move over every individual piece and pick it up (I envy those of you who are playing on PCs.)

I also mentioned that there is a new perk that one can get. It’s the “Covert Ops” perk and one can get it by getting all 10 of the “intel” suitcases spread throughout the simulation. It’s a pretty good perk, increasing small arms, lock picking, and science. However, at this time you cannot go back into the simulation. Whether or not this is a bug or if it is intentional, I don’t know. I’m rather hoping it’s the first. However, this means you have one chance to get all of the suitcases. So, if you’re gunning for the perk, I’d suggest getting a guide to tell you where they are so you don’t miss one (as I have twice.)

This is another thing that annoyed me. There are some places, like the first place you land in the simulation, where you can’t go back to once you pass a certain point. If you’re just going through the simulation to get the vault open, this probably won’t bother you. However, it was annoying to get 9 out of 10 suitcases and then learn that the last one is in a place where you can’t go.

The toys that you get once you’ve gotten through the simulation are pretty nice. The most talked about is the Gauss Rifle. Players of the first two Fallouts will recognize this weapon as being one of the most powerful projectile weapons one could get. The weapon has been changed to an energy weapon in Fallout 3 and uses mircofusion cell ammo, but is still quite powerful and very accurate. However, the gun is tarnished by several bugs that will make you reach for some of the other guns in the Fallout arsenal instead. One of the bugs has the projectile sometimes going through the target and not doing any damage (though the knockdown critical effect will take place.) This combined with the single-shot magazine, which forces you to reload after every shot, made the weapon get old really fast. Hopefully, they will fix the bugs soon.

The other toys in the vault are not quite so broken. For those who like melee weapons, there is a Chinese sword with an electric damage over time effect. Those who like stealth will find the Chinese stealth suit, which gives a never-ending stealth field (a la stealth boy) when crouched, is right up their alley. I’m sure that those with the Ninja perk will find both quite entertaining.

Along with a new knife, the other new item is a set of snow camouflage T-51b Power Armor. Very protective with no stat debuffs and a slight charisma buff make the armor very useful for your average run and gunner. As of right now, it is also bugged, but in a fairly good way. The armor given to you is the simulation version, which degrades at a very show rate (imperceptibly slow) and so won’t need repairs for a long time. The downside is that if it ever does need repairs, you can’t use other power armor to repair it. And don’t worry about not having the Power Armor perk yet. You automatically receive it when you complete the simulation.

The downside to all of this is that if you’ve gotten to the level cap in the game and you’ve done all the quests, you will probably get through the new content in an afternoon and get tired of your new toys soon afterwards. It seems the content is more geared towards low to mid-level range characters; who will find the simulation more of a challenge and will actually put the new items to good use as they travel through the wasteland.

Good news is: there are more downloadable content packs on the way. So, even if you are at the level cap and you aren’t going to be starting up another character, if you like the sound of any of the items above, you should get the content pack anyway so that you can use them in the new content packs that are to come where they will raise the level cap and give us completely new areas to explore in the wasteland.

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