Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage
Apparently the first of at least three, the episodic content party for Fallout 3 kicks-off with Operation Anchorage - an extra quest line for the post-apocalyptic game crafted by Bethesda. As the game is based around a main storyline with a few side-quests, it offers some additional activities that your character can take part in.
Once installed, your character can tune into a new radio transmission which can be tracked down to find a stronghold for the Brotherhood Outcasts. They are trying to get into a storage centre where some decent technology is rumoured to be hidden, but the security system will only let someone in who has a PipBoy and has completed a computer simulation - namely, a program that was designed to train soldiers for the liberation of Anchorage (not the state capital of Alaska but the largest city - yes, I looked it up) from the Chinese. If you accept, your character is strapped into the simulator and is warped back in time to help liberate Anchorage from the Red menace.
There isn't really any plot involved in the quest, and the simulation has two distinct sections. First, a commando-style strike into an enemy base to destroy some large artillery installations, and then the main liberation itself. The first part is really classic Fallout 3 combat - shoot some soldiers, move on, shoot a few more. There are a few differences, however. To reflect the simulation situation that you are in, dead bodies disappear shortly after hitting the ground, and you cannot loot any items from your enemies. However, you will find glowing red icons around which allow you to "activate" weapons for use in the simulation. There are also health points and ammo points - again, these glowing red items can be activated to completely replenish either health or ammo for all your weapons. There is never too far to go between such points.
Once you have made it through the enemy base and blown up the artillery, the next phase begins at the point where you must choose your team to take out a few installations between the US army and Anchorage. A listening post, some fuel depots and a pulse field must all be neutralised. You can choose any mix of robot or human troops, but the robots cost more points and you can only spend a maximum of five. You also need to choose your weapon set - it will depend on how you like to play Fallout - sniping from afar, or getting up close and personal with your shotgun. I went for the sniping option, with a few standard infantrymen to draw enemy fire.
There is not really much more to say about the gameplay, as from here on in it is simply a case of clearing enemy camps and destroying your objectives. So how does it all hang together?
I found the episode really very easy - the combination of frequent health pickups and ammo replenishers made it almost impossible to die. The enemies also seemed a lot more fragile than in the "real" world. In fact, I only died once - and that was because I was standing too close to an artillery gun when I blew it up. This may also be due to the fact that I was playing with my buffed-out level 20 character.
This brings me to the second, and more acute, problem with the game. I will assume that people interested in this game have played and enjoyed the main experience - otherwise why would you be looking at an expansion? Once you complete the main quest in Fallout 3, the game is over and you cannot continue playing and exploring. This means that, when I went to play the new quest, I had to reload my last save and head over there. So I entered the world in the middle of the climactic final battle and had to leave it half-finished. In my opinion, when releasing an expansion, a game developer has to assume that interested players have all played the main game to completion. For me, it did spoil my experience that I had to resurrect a character that I had finished with. I felt I was re-treading old ground, even if I hadn't completed that particular quest before.
Finally, Fallout's strength has always been found in the moral decisions and branching pathways. There is simply none of that to be had in this episode - it is simply combat. While it can be fun, and possibly challenging with a lower-level character, it's not what Fallout is about. There is no real plot, either - it is background information to the Fallout universe, and that's all.
Overall, this episode was a little disappointing for me personally, and possibly not worth 800 points, either. The upcoming episodes appear to be more plot-based, so let's hope that they can improve on this one.