Welcome back to the Wasteland, and some new locales

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Welcome back to the Wasteland, and some new locales

When my friends and I, with fond memories of the unforgiving gameplay and twisted humor of the first two “Fallout” games, finally got hold of the third installment, we had our quibbles. But we didn’t have time to articulate them - all our waking hours (and a few we once spent on something called “sleep”) were consumed by this RPG’s sophisticated post-apocalyptic story and hours of side quests set in a detailed and gargantuan, if bleak, world.

So when Bethesda announced add-ons to the game in the form of downloadable content, I feared for my health and my job. At the same time I wondered how they’d pull it off - my character’s ending seemed fairly definitive, with her sacrificing her life for the sake of the inhabitants of the Wasteland.

All five add-ons are now available for PC and Xbox 360, with the PlayStation 3 versions out this month. The first two episodes of the downloadable content, “Operation Anchorage” and “The Pitt,” skirted continuity problems by setting the action before the end of the game’s storyline, using entirely different locales.

The former is an in-game “simulator” that focuses mainly on combat. Leaving aside just how lame it is to play a video game inside another video game, it was the story that drew me into Fallout, so Operation Anchorage held little interest for me.

The Pitt, however, was a return to form, delivering a bizarre futuristic Roman slave-gladiator story that ended up being one of the most memorable parts of the game. Set in irradiated Pittsburgh (a.k.a. The Pitt), it sees you deprived of all your stuff (don’t worry, you get it back) and, disguised as a slave, fighting your way through a string of brutal cage matches on the way to either freeing the slaves and curing the blight that keeps them under control or depriving them of all hope, depending on your moral choices (which the game records as “karma”). Then again, one of the add-on’s “good” choices involves kidnapping an infant from its mother, so Bethesda’s morality is (perhaps deliberately) a little warped.

After playing through The Pitt, you’re dumped back in the Wasteland with a new toy - the Auto-Axe - but still bumping up against that pesky level 20 ceiling. The next downloadable episode, “Broken Steel,” takes care of that, however, lifting the limit to 30 and adding new perks. It also neatly changes the once-final ending, having your character survive to fight the Enclave another day. If you don’t want to read spoilers about the end of the original Fallout 3, skip the next paragraph.

When your character wakes from her monthlong coma, it seems the Brotherhood of Steel has overextended itself, delivering the purified water all across the Wasteland while still trying to fight the newly resurgent Enclave forces. The hilarious anti-communist giant robot Liberty Prime (“Embrace democracy or you will be eradicated!”) has fallen to an orbital strike, and it’s your mission to get past Enclave lines and take our their satellite uplink.

The set pieces are wonderfully laid out - linear without feeling linear in a way that’s strongly reminiscent of the best parts of “Half-Life 2.” If you only buy one piece of Fallout 3 add-on, Broken Steel has to be it. This is the climax of the Fallout 3 experience.

Alas, there are two more episodes left to go - “Point Lookout,” set in the swamps of Maryland, and “Mothership Zeta,” which finally introduces the aliens whose existence is subtly hinted at in the original game. Neither raises the level cap any further, and though Point Lookout contains some interesting quests, you’re likely to suffer from Wasteland fatigue.

On the whole, however, Bethesda should be proud of the support it’s given this flagship title. These additions deepen an already great game even further.

Fallout 3

Developer: Bethesda Softworks

Genre: Role-playing

Rating: ★★★★

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

By Ben Applegate [bapplegate@gmail.com]
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