So far, I haven't been impressed with Games for Windows Live.
The main reason for that stems from my experience with how it handles the DLC for Fallout 3. The third official, and reputedly final, downloadable add-on for Bethesda's apocalyptic wonderland has made it out after a two-day delay because of issues with the service that have apparently caused even more of a headache for PC players than The Pitt did.
As with the last two DLCs, Fallout 3: Broken Steel is on sale for 800 Microsoft Points ($10) and currently only available as a purchased download from the Marketplace on the Games for Windows Live service. On the day it was due, it was dutifully released and then suddenly pulled from GFWL's Marketplace due to issues concerning the service and with Achievements, although Xbox 360 owners were still able to grab it, frustrating quite a few PC players in the process. When the "fixed" version finally came out two days later, I still had to do a little jury-rigging and disable a custom mod in order to get it to work. Once all of that drama was out of the way, though, Broken Steel turned out to be the best of the three add-ons.
As players may already have heard, Broken Steel rewrites the ending of the game. For those who haven't made it there yet, it's safe to say without spoiling the ending that certain choices that you may not have been able to ask of your fellows can now be made, and the adventure won't come to a screeching halt when the credits roll. The story until that point remains relatively intact, although there are a few reasons for adding this to your present game despite what it does after you save, or ruin, the world.
Broken Steel's main quest won't begin until after you "finish" the game, and when it does, it fast-forwards two weeks with the Boy Scouts of the Wasteland, the Brotherhood of Steel, victorious over the nefarious forces of the Enclave. Thanks to your work, clean water is available to everyone, and the surrounding region, and those who live nearby, is slowly transformed by it. The Brotherhood's efforts to speed up the recovery of the Wasteland, however, has also created a few new problems, and it doesn't take them long to call on your services again.
One would think that a bay filled with clean water would be enough to satisfy everyone, but it turns out that it's still going to take some time to purify all of it, so the Brotherhood has gone into the bottling and distribution business to help spread it around. Unlike the real world, however, they're more than happy to give the stuff away for free to whoever is brave enough to send a caravan over to their plant. Unfortunately for them, there are more than a few people eager to take advantage of their humanitarian efforts by earning a few bottlecaps on the side for something that should be a handout. Then there's the Enclave, who are busily working behind the scenes to take revenge with atomic ordnance. To say that they're upset is something of an understatement.
The end of the game continues with roughly three hours of questing and pillaging as plenty of new toys make their way into the Wasteland, along with a few new playmates who will be looking to roast, irradiate or fill the hero with plenty of plasma-cauterized holes. Perhaps the most compelling reason for this DLC to be a part of your adventures is that it raises the level cap from 20 to 30, along with providing a host of new perks that can ultimately turn your character into a nearly overpowered juggernaut of annihilation. Since this is supposedly the last official DLC from Bethesda for Fallout 3, it makes some sense that they would want its players to end things with as much bang for their bucks that they can muster.
I wasn't too thrilled with most of the new perks, such as the one that allows you to slowly reduce your rads over time — as if Rad Away were difficult to find in the game. Granted, it probably wasn't easy to think of something new and worthwhile for players to buff out their characters this late in the game, but there are a few others that have some potential for amusing fun. The "Puppies!" perk gives canine companion Dogmeat, if you have him, a form of immortality in case he's turned into super mutant chow. Another one, "Quantum Chemist," allows you to convert 10 Nuka-Colas at a time into the rare and Action Point-enhancing Nuka-Cola Quantum. The "Nerves of Steel" perk allows AP to regenerate faster so that you can obliterate your enemies more efficiently. There are also those other perks from the main game that you might have wanted to pick up earlier.
Veterans heading into these new perks will also find a few new toys that build on the implication that they will end up with characters of godlike power. If players are going through the original quest's final chapter, the first one that they might run across is the Enclave's Heavy Incinerator, which is apparently issued immediately by their forces. This weapon is a portable cannon that lobs fiery balls of death at whoever you point it at, setting them on fire for your marshmallows ... if you had any. Then there's the Tesla Cannon, a quest item that you help the Brotherhood put together; it can bring down Vertibirds, the flying machines of the Enclave, in one shot. When used against more human opponents, the lightning can almost kill anything it hits with a single blast thanks to the sticky, flesh-melting afterglow of the electrical field that wraps around the target. Shot for shot, it's probably one of the most overpowered weapons in the game, automatically making it a favorite for many.
Broken Steel also throws in a few new monsters, ones that can easily kill veteran characters in the time that it takes to reload a new game. You don't even need to run through the DLC's quests to see some of these walking around, either, depending on your level. New creatures, such as the Enclave's Hellfire Trooper, have both new armor and new weapons to battle it out with your character. A few of the other ones, such as the Feral Ghoul Reaver, are incredibly brutal, doing the kind of damage that my Power Armor-equipped, Gauss Rifle-wielding avatar had almost forgotten about. Killing Deathclaws had become routine for my character, but facing a Feral Ghoul Reaver made that feel like a far better alternative while barefisted and without armor.
The quests were actually quite fun and relatively bug-free in my playthrough, which was a huge relief after having to deal with the technical nightmare that was The Pitt. Players who have worked on their Speech skill will find plenty of challenges here to test it out, and most everything can be resolved in a variety of ways: bullets, diplomacy or even a little extortion on the side. Although they won't tickle your morality meter in the way that The Pitt has, the quests made it feel like there was a much larger picture involved. The quests pitting the Boy Scouts of the Brotherhood against the Enclave are particularly noteworthy, as that always results in both sides hurling gratuitous amounts of high-tech firepower at each other, turning the battlefield into a Wasteland Wal-Mart.
The final quest also has a surprising option at the end to satisfy the cravings of those evildoers who may want to cap off their nefarious careers with the ultimate act of remote-controlled self-promotion. Although it might be too much in asking this of a DLC pack that is only supposed to last two or three hours depending on what the player does, it would have been nice to have the choice in joining the Enclave as one consequence of that last act — or have everyone recognize just what you did and think that you might be able to do it again.
A few new areas have also been added alongside the new quests, such as the Presidential Metro, the government's private subway system running beneath the Capitol with its own set of challenges, and a new base for the Enclave to hide in — but this time, they're ready for you. Although there aren't any graphical enhancements, the new areas provide exciting venues for players, especially the Metro and the Enclave's home away from home, and the new weapon effects never really get old, as they add to the eye candy.
There are also a number of Achievements for players to earn, not only during the course of the story arc, but there are also ones related to your karma if you manage to hit level 30. Finishing the DLC's main quest won't be enough to get you through the 10 extra levels, but for players who haven't yet gotten their fill of Fallout 3, getting to the last level can provide plenty of incentive to either wipe out more mutants or start over with a new build. Of course, the new monsters and Enclave soldiers might make it a little more difficult to get to level 20, but the raised experience cap beyond that guarantees that all of the little side-quests and fights within the game will count toward something again.
It's still not perfect, and the most notable change is the effect that it has on a few mods as a result of the patch needed for the add-on to work. Would-be content creators will need to do a little research within the usual forums to find out what their options are before diving into Broken Steel. Some of the new monsters can also feel a little unbalanced, and despite forcing the player to be a little more creative with his abilities, characters without a heavy focus on combat can find themselves dead in no time because of the sheer strength of these new foes.
As great as it was go back up against the Enclave, the group's faceless nature treads the thin line separating a memorable villain and a faceless mob that you just have to shoot through. In a way, it almost feels as if Bethesda were setting up the Enclave to be thrown away in Broken Steel in order to make room for the inevitable sequel that everyone knows is coming. Even if Colonel Autumn survived from the end of the main campaign, he's a no-show in a plot that's as easily as important as that of Project Purity.
Even without a dedicated cinematic at the end, Fallout 3: Broken Steel leaves the bunker blast door open for players to continue their travels for as long as they want to. With solid quests adding flavor to the endgame and with new ways with which to scratch your itchy trigger finger while Perking out your Monty Haul avatar, fans who haven't gotten their fill of Rad Away, Nuka-Cola, and Fancy Lads Snack Cakes may find that this add-on might be as good a reason as any to head back into the wastes.
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