I can see Russia from my Xbox!
Fallout 3 is a massive game that has been made even more massive by its DLC. The DLC has taken us to Pittsburgh and Adams (in reality Andrews) Airforce Base and will be taken us Point Lookout and on board an alien spaceship in the coming months. But of all the locations to choose from, what could possibly prompt Bethesda to choose Alaska? Well for that, we’d have to delve into Fallout lore, where Alaska was a major site of conflict in a ten-year war (2066-2076) between the USA and China before the Great War that created Fallout’s post-apocalyptic world in 2077. Basically, China invaded Alaska (Anchorage more specifically) in order to seize control of one of the world’s last resources of oil from the US, which started off the conflict. This is an event long chronicled in Fallout’s timeline since the intro to the first game and now, with the miracles of technology (in the game world that is), you can fight in the most important battle of all during this war, the reclamation of Anchorage. Operation: Anchorage, the first DLC add-on for Fallout 3, provides this experience and more, but does justify the standard $10 price tag?
As a quick note, I should mention that Xbox and PC users now have a choice of two other DLCs to choose from (three in about two weeks) so you may want to consider your other options when reading this review. As for PS3 owners, this will be your first DLC (and only DLC for a while) so you may want to consider that, as well as this review, when deciding whether or not to purchase it when it releases on PSN in late June. Anyway, on with the review.
The first question you may be asking yourself is “How the hell in a post-apocalyptic world am I supposed to travel from DC to Alaska, let alone Alaska 200 years ago?” Well, the answer is that you don’t really go to Alaska. You see, the story of Operation: Anchorage has you in league with the Outcasts, the group of deserters to the Brotherhood of Steel in DC. You receive a distress signal from them and, upon venturing there; find the Outcasts have uncovered a military simulation that, upon completing, will unlock an armory filled with some pretty powerful technology. Unable to complete the simulation themselves, they recruit you to do it for them, with your Pip-Boy allowing you to access the simulation. This is what allows you to venture to Alaska and fight in the greatest battle of the Sino-American War, the Reclamation of Anchorage.
Once “arriving” in Alaska, you’re tasked with destroying various pieces of Chinese opposition, such as Chimera Tanks and giant artillery guns, before killing General Jingwei to win the simulation and unlock the armory full of tech. It’s pretty much a relatively standard military operation plotline set in Alaska, which is a pretty unique location in video games. Not only that, but I must say that it looks really good. Everything is colorful, even the interior of the building where the simulation itself is located. It’s a nice change from the grays and browns of DC and pretty refreshing. Blue skies shine in the simulated Alaska and there are snow-capped mountains stretching out to the horizon. Oh yeah, and as I just mentioned, there’s snow. It’s not just on the ground though; sometimes there will be gusts of snow blowing across the landscape. Overall, it just looks really nice and is a finer aspect of the DLC.
Back to the story though, I guess I have to give Bethesda props for not using something ridiculous like time travel or having you be some soldier in the war and not your character to get you fighting in the war. However, Operation: Anchorage’s story is still not all that good and in fact, it’s the weakest aspect of the DLC. I’m not saying that I’d expect something spectacular given the context of the DLC but it is Fallout, and the lack of karma choices and any sort of deep storyline is disappointing.
Building on this though, Operation: Anchorage is focused on combat. To some, this may be a very appealing concept in that it takes away all of the exploration that makes up the rest of the game and replaces all of it with constant action and killing. Going by this, the combat is at least well executed. Unlike the rest of the game, you won’t have access to all of the super powerful weapons and with the ones you do have, you have a small supply of ammo. Plus, there are no stimpacks so you can’t constantly heal yourself. Instead, you are forced to rely on health and ammo replenishing stations, which you’ll find in several locations per area. So while high level characters can still rip through enemies with ease while they have the means to do so, you might find yourself low on health and ammo with several enemies attacking you and no means of defending or healing yourself in sight, which presents a worthwhile challenge.
Now let’s look at this DLC’s focus on combat from a perspective that I’ve found the majority of the people to look at it from. The combat is handled well and considering how much there is of it, that’s a good thing. But despite it being handled well, there are still some problems that don’t make it quite so solid. One is that if your character is at a high level and built well, they will have no problem with the DLC. Possibly the only hard enemy to defeat is General Jingwei, mostly due to his obscene amount of health, but that fight can be avoided by a speech check. Furthermore, enemies that are supposed to be tough, like the Chimera Tanks, are pretty easy, you just run around them in a circle and shoot them from behind. There are some mines that look like spiders and can move but those can be easily avoided or taken down. That just leaves the standard Chinese Soldier, which is no tougher than a Raider. I found myself in a snag once when I played through this at level 14 but the rest I just blew through. That was the second time I played it though and when I played it the first time on another character, I ran into the second problem this DLC has, lack of weapon variety.
Honestly, there is one energy weapon in the entire simulation, the Gauss Rifle, and it can’t be restocked with ammo from the machines, just scattered Microfusion Cells (I’ll get more into the Gauss Rifle later). Other than that, there are probably several weapons that are not Small Guns but the rest (and the majority at that) are Small Guns. This wouldn’t be a problem in another DLC where you have access to all your weapons but considering you are so limited in Operation: Anchorage, it’s a big problem. There are definitely a lot of people who don’t realize just how many weapons the Small Guns skill applies to and thus, it’s something that makes this DLC more difficult than it has to be. I mean really, there were no Laser Rifles in Alaska? Seems pretty unlikely.
That brings up another problem about Operation: Anchorage, its length. Let’s take a look at the other DLCs for comparison, shall we? Each of the DLCs out right now had a main quest that took about 3-5 hours. However, The Pitt had the ingot collecting if you didn’t finish that up one your first go at it and some unmarked quests, one of which was virtually endless collection quest, that gave you some incentive to go back, which you could. Broken Steel, besides raising the level cap, had two endless collection quests and four side quests. Also, you could revisit any of the areas you went to in the DLC. But of course, Operation: Anchorage has these amazing quests afterwards in which…oh wait, it doesn’t have anything! Yep, there are no quests of any sort after your done. What’s more, you can’t access the simulation again. I guess I can understand the reasoning behind this but there’s a problem with that too. You see, there are ten pieces of intel scattered throughout the simulation. Getting all ten gives you the “Covert Ops” perk. Seems fair enough but if you miss any intel, you can’t go back and get them unless you have an earlier save in which case, you’d have to replay the DLC all over again. Not only that but as the simulation is divided up into two areas, once you finish one, you can’t go back to that even. So if you miss a piece of intel and don’t have an earlier save or don’t want replay anything, you’re not getting that perk. And as the only new perk in the whole DLC, that’s kind of a rip off.
So what will keep you occupied from the DLC after you complete the simulation? Well, how about all the cool technology from the armory? Seriously, that is the best aspect of the whole DLC, the new items. There’s a Winterized T-51b Power Armor (which is just like the T-51b in the game except it’s white), a special Chinese Officer’s Sword called Jingwei’s Shocksword, which does a good deal of damage and has electrical effects, and a unique Combat Knife called the Trench Knife. Also, the Energy Weapon I mentioned earlier, the Gauss Rifle, which is originally from Fallout 2 except as it now has a scope. This basically makes it an Energy Sniper Rifle that’s immensely powerful, although you can only fire one shot before having to reload. Also, it can only be repaired by traders. Most notably though (or at least I think) is the Chinese Stealth Suit. You can see these in action on cloaked soldiers called Chinese Dragoons and although you can’t use it in the simulation, it is an infinite Stealth-Boy when crouching outside of it. So overall, Operation: Anchorage has some of the best weapons you can get in the game. I liked this set of weapons better than any of the other DLCs and although entertainment-wise as a new thing for your to do it will only keep you occupied for so long, the weapons will continue to always be useful.
The last thing I should mention about Operation: Anchorage is the glitches. Unlike the main-game of Fallout 3 or the other DLCs, the glitches in Operation: Anchorage seem to happen to everyone. Therefore, everyone’s game is going to be affected by them and I cannot let that slide. In a weird twist though, these frequent glitches in this DLC are actually beneficial. You get Power Armor Training early for completing the DLC and you can wear an infinite amount of headwear if you put it on while wearing the Chinese Stealth Suit are two of them. However, they are still glitches and thus, since they happen to everyone, still inexcusable. The only one I can let slide is more of an exploit that let’s you take your simulation inventory, which had unlimited condition, out of the simulation. This nets you the Winterized Combat Armor, which looks awesome but is the only item not in the armory at the end of the DLC, and an unlimited condition Gauss Rifle, which saves you the trouble of repairing the only item in the DLC that you can’t repair yourself. But besides that, there are still glitches and despite the more frequent ones being beneficial, they are still glitches and thus, still a problem.
Operation: Anchorage is the black sheep of Fallout DLC. Despite the scenery looking cool and the weapons being awesome, its combat-centered gameplay is unappealing to most, and flawed at that. Plus, its short length with nothing to do afterwards and the glitches, no matter how helpful, are just more thorns in the side of this DLC. If you own a PS3 and are looking for something new to do in Fallout 3, this DLC may be worth a look. If you don’t have XBL, you may even want to get the retail version of this in a bundle with The Pitt. But if you own an Xbox or PC and have held off on getting any DLCs until now, I’d go with one of the other two instead. I suppose Operation: Anchorage was a good first effort and certainly a good idea on paper but as much as it lets you relive one of the crucial points of Fallout canon, it just doesn’t fit in with a Fallout game, let alone Fallout 3.
+ The awesome weapons, the great scenery, and the fact that low-level characters will find the combat solid and challenging give this DLC some strong points.
– However, the fact that the DLC’s combat-centered gameplay is mostly an unfavorable choice, as well as flawed overall and easy for high-level characters, coupled with this DLC’s short length with nothing really to keep you occupied after your done with it, aside from the new items which will only last you so long, and the glitches (no matter how helpful) drag this DLC down.