Review: Fallout 3: Operation: Anchorage (XBL)

Operation: Anchorage isn’t exactly a waste of time, but it’s close.

Bethesda Softworks’ first Fallout 3 DLC is by no means lacking polish or the studio’s high production standards, but it’s truly not much more than a three-hour treasure hunt with a few unwelcome gameplay additions and a shiny, non-wasteland setting to cover its overall shortcomings.

This lackluster nature makes Anchorage a frustrating piece of content to plod through as Bethesda certainly isn’t new to the idea of extending their core titles. The numerous releases for their last game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, first began with pointlessness but later ended with something epic; it certainly appeared that the company learned from its initial mistakes and mastered the delivery of DLC packages.

Unfortunately for Fallout 3, the development team manages to repeat its history of initially poor downloadablecontent with the uneven and unsatisfying Operation: Anchorage, which ends up looking like a failed attempt at streamlining Fallout into a first-person shooter experience.

In Operation: Anchorage, the Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts have found a locked cache of 200-year-old weaponry and are desperately trying to unlock the tasty tech treats within. The only problem is a door locked via a virtual reality program, a program which runs a simulation of the pre-apocalypse Chinese invasion of Anchorage, Alaska. Only when the training sim is complete will the vast treasures within be available to the Outcasts.

Players showing up to the Outcasts’ hideout in the D.C. ruins are told that their familiarity with the Pip-Boy 3000 is integral to interfacing with the V.R. program, and as such are suited up for the simulation pod with the promise of sharing whatever lies behind the doors.

Bethesda clearly wants to get the DLC moving along here, as the process of arriving at the Outcast base to getting into the V.R. program takes less than five minutes. It’s certainly one welcome change to the sometimes overwhelming exposition found in Fallout 3 proper.

While cool, this screen is from one of the only decent missions in the DLC

While cool, this screen is from one of the only decent missions in the DLC

Once inside the simulation, Operation: Anchorage as a piece of content begins a systematic destruction of most of Fallout 3’s more enjoyable mechanics. While the battle for Anchorage is a virtual reality program and thus Fallout 3’s typical rules are free to change, players nevertheless shoot weapons that don’t degrade, access infinite ammo supply containers and recharge their life with unlimited health stations.

Because of these gameplay changes–new approaches intended to speed up the Fallout experience–Anchorage feels like Fallout: The FPS, and that’s not a good thing.

For the first add-on to a game all about the utter hopelessness of carving out some sort of existence in a ruined, mad world, it’s certainly a strange change of pace technically and visually. Fallout is a world of tans, greys and browns–the colors of death and destruction.

So, while Anchorage is certainly impressive with its snow-covered tress and blue-hued color palette, it’s unsettling considering the visual rules Bethesda created in the Capital Wasteland. To be fair, players are dropped into a different world 211 years prior to their stepping out of Vault 101, but it’s easy to see why the developers forgo the alien look of Anchorage and return to familiar nuclear wasteland scenery in The Pitt and Broken Steel.

With unlimited health and ammo available at every turn and guns that won’t break, literally blasting through the content is nearly effortless even without the easy-to-kill enemies. The Chinese forces in Anchorage are basically the same with a few variations as the content progresses. There are snipers, stealth units called Crimson Dragons (which look like Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 4), flamer-wielding enemies and a few Communists with missile launchers.

Chimera tanks: dead before they can do any damage

Chimera tanks: dead before they can do any damage

The only interesting adversaries are the Chimera tank and spider drones. Yet the drones are porcelain-weak, and the Chimera, for being described as an insurmountable death machine by U.S. troops, can be taken out by an explosives expert using three standard hand grenades. It’s a shame that one of the only non-human or mutant enemies in the entirety of Fallout is a complete pushover.

By the time the last mission is finished, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume a lot of gamers think, “Wait, that’s it?” Anchorage comes to a full stop in the middle of the most exciting mission in the entire add-on. After exiting the V.R. pod, the Outcasts are ready to open the door to the stash. Inside are likely the main reasons for purchasing this DLC: the Gauss rifle, an electricity-charged Chinese swordwinterized T-51b Power Armor and the Chinese stealth suit.

The new weapons and armor are certainly both fun and powerful, but they’re all simply upgrades to Fallout 3’s other devastating weaponry. Anchorage can’t necessarily be faulted at its time of release for being a short romp through a new setting and offering completely different play mechanics in a quest for overpowered gear, but it can be faulted now for lacking value when compared with Fallout 3’s other DLC packs.

This armor can be yours for the not-so-low price of $10!

This armor can be yours for the not-so-low price of $10!

To put it bluntly, this DLC isn’t worth the 800 Microsoft Points ($10) if gamers have already purchased Broken Steel, a piece of content costing the same amount as Anchorage. The post-level 20 experience gains (unlocked in Broken Steel) in Anchorage amount to only one-and-a-half levels. Even the weapons will be quickly replaced with those found in the other two add-ons.

Taken as a whole experience, Operation: Anchorage tries its best to be a sharp turn for the Fallout series while offering some back-story on a conflict first mentioned in Fallout 1. But instead of being a decent companion to Fallout 3, the DLC acts like a very easy shoot’em up with only super weapons as a pay-off–it’s not exactly a worthwhile privilege.

Recommended for:

  • Fallout 3 fans pining for more content, but for some reason don’t want to purchase The Pitt or Broken Steel
  • Players of Fallout 3 eager to add more gear to their characters’ stashes, slowly amassing everything available in the game
  • Anyone interested in more of the world’s lore, as the battle for Anchorage is an integral point in the backstory of the franchise

Not Recommended for:

  • Mostly everyone else. Completionists will want the DLC just to play the content, but what’s included isn’t exactly fun
  • The fact that two more interesting content packs are available makes Anchorage the bastard child of the DLC offerings
  • How the add-on injects FPS and action game elements into a title that didn’t need to have them, and worked fine with its unique take on shooting (V.A.T.S.) to begin with

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