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Gaming: Fallout 3 – Operation: Anchorage

Operation Anchorage: The briefing room.

Wikipedia fact: "The content focuses on a titular event in the Fallout timeline before the Great War took place, in which the United States Army liberated Anchorage, Alaska, from its Chinese Communist invaders."

Year of release: 2009

Available for: PC (version played), Xbox 360 and PS3. In all cases it is available either as an individual purchase or packaged with all the other downloadable content in the Game of the Year Edition.

Summary: The Lone Wanderer assists the Brotherhood Outcasts by entering a simulation of the invasion of Anchorage by Chinese soldiers.

Thoughts: As the first piece of DLC to be released for Fallout 3, Anchorage is a bit of a strange beast. If I were to list Fallout 3’s strengths (in my opinion, at least), at the top of the list would be the open nature of its world, leaving you free to go off in any direction you choose and find enemies to fight, new quests to complete and locations to explore. Following that it would be the survival elements, scavenging abandoned locations for much-needed supplies and never knowing quite what you might find, looting fallen opponents, fixing up your damaged weapons, trading what you’ve scavenged for what you need and taking advantage of a bed in a safe haven to rest away your injuries. It all adds up to an experience I’ve returned to three times now. For Operation: Anchorage, Bethesda decided to throw out pretty much all of that.

As almost all the DLC takes place in a computer simulation the scavenging elements were already going to be lessened because nothing you pick up in there could be taken out to the main game world, so Bethesda just did away with it almost entirely. There are no lockers or crates or toolboxes to search, dead bodies disappear immediately, there’s nowhere to sleep, and you gain health and ammo through dispensers, machines that you click on that instantly put your health and ammo up to maximum. These dispensers are so densely packed that there really isn’t any need to worry about playing conservatively. In one small section (a battle through a trench) I took a screenshot of the map every time I encountered a health dispenser, which I pieced together into the following image:

Operation Anchorage - Health dispenser density.

Fallout 3's retro-futuristic themes means the map is perhaps a little hard to decipher, but each arrow represents a health dispenser, which are placed at the end of every short route.

The main problem with this approach is that it essentially turns the game into a corridor shooter, and while Fallout 3’s combat system is perfectly functional for an RPG I don’t think it really stands up well as the sole aspect of the DLC. For a lot of the time you’re progressing through very linear places – cliff tops, buildings, trenches, carefully barricaded settlements, etc. – and those areas that are open have nothing extra to do in them, so there isn’t really any opportunity to wander off the main route to explore and find secrets or little bits of randomness like in the base game. There is a squad mechanic in the game that allows you to customise a team of soldiers to follow you in later missions, a larger extension of the companion system in the main game, but the AI is still the same as that of Fallout proper and they don’t really seem to do much before dying.

Even the story is fairly light as within the simulation it’s essentially just a military campaign. Infiltrate here, destroy that, kill enemies there, and so on. It ends with a boss fight of sorts against the Chinese leader, but he has no presence throughout the rest of the add-on so it’s not particularly dramatic. The story outside of the simulation is a better one, with the Brotherhood Outcasts needing the Lone Wanderer (the player character) to run the simulation so that they can access a locked armoury within the installation to obtain much-needed supplies. The armoury will apparently only open for people who have completed the simulation (which is a slightly strange security procedure) and the simulation can only be run by people with a Pip-boy (the small wrist computer that your character has on their arm), making them possibly the only person in the wasteland who can help. There’s a nice little extra bit to the story that takes place after you’ve completed the simulation and it seems like all that’s left to do is collect your rewards. It took me by surprise and has some very minor alternate outcomes, which I hadn’t been expecting.

Operation Anchorage: Dead body.

Bodies glow and disappear immediately upon death and can't be looted.

So that’s Anchorage then, an add-on that takes out most of what I liked about Fallout 3 and focuses on the things I wasn’t particularly impressed by. It took me about two hours to complete and gave me about three levels of experience overall (I started the add-on at level 6 and came out of it halfway through level 9). The biggest draw is perhaps the items you get for completing it, as there’s a special sword, Chinese stealth armour and a Gauss Rifle (a powerful energy weapon) in the armoury (you can pretty much take everything in there if you wish), and it also grants you power armour training upon completion and gifts you a suit of T-51b power armour, which at this point in the game is very nice to have. It isn’t really enough to justify buying the add-on separately, but as part of the game of the year edition there’s no reason not to play it.


Image Sources:

All images: Personal screenshots.

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  1. July 24, 2010 at 17:00

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