Bethesda's long-promised triumvirate of Fallout 3 DLC has finally come to fruition, as the final pack, Broken Steel, currently sits on Xbox Live awaiting your download. This last bit of add-on goodness promises some true game-changing elements, such as the removal of the game's hard-stop ending and the bumping up of the level cap. All this on top of brand-new missions, weapons and enemies make this the ultimate batch of Fallout 3 DLC. It's been a long wait, but your patience is about to pay off.
The first thing you need to know about Broken Steel is that you need to beat the game in order to access it. If you haven't yet completed your honor-bound duty to bring clean water to the wastes, then stop reading now and go finish the game. Then, come back and we'll talk some more.
Back now? Great, so the game picks up two weeks after the events in the Jefferson Memorial. In the original ending, whoever wandered into the sealed chamber was killed by the radiation, paying the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the region. This time around, though, the entire ordeal was more like a bump on the noggin, and your character emerges from a two-week coma back in the Citadel and ready for more action.
It would seem that while the Enclave was severely wounded by the retaking of Project Purity, they still aren't routed. However, the Brotherhood has been hunting them down one camp at a time with the assistance of Liberty Prime and wiping out what little resistance is left. As it happens, though, the Enclave is a bit better equipped than the Brotherhood imagined, and what starts out as mop-up duty quickly escalates into an all-out war for control over the Capital Wastelands.
It may not be a wasteland much longer, as Project Purity has proven to be a complete success and fresh clean water is now flowing through the Tidal Basin. While the sudden added responsibility of distributing this precious but still-scarce resource has taxed the already stretched Brotherhood, it's quite breathtaking to walk by the Jefferson Memorial and see the previously dry pipes belching forth great torrents of water. I was so amazed at the sight that the very first thing I did upon leaving the Citadel was run down and jump into the radiation-free water for a quick swim. In a desolate landscape filled with ugly browns and grays, this newfound source of life is a joy. It's impressive that Bethesda has managed to take a simple thing like clean water and inject it into the game in such a way that it completely alters the landscape.
As mentioned above, most of Broken Steel's campaign, which is about five hours long, is centered on flushing out the Enclave and wiping out their final remaining stronghold at the new Adams Air Force Base. The difficulty level of the game has been jacked up for this task, forcing you to work through military bases chock-full of the Enclave's new Hellfire Troopers (heavily armored soldiers who carry a "heavy incinerator," which shoots extremely deadly fireballs), subway systems teeming with Ghouls and sentry robots, and even a harrowing run through Old Olney, a.k.a. Deathclaw Country. Helping you through all this are a few new toys, including the Tesla Cannon that you get access to late in the mission. This bad boy can wipe out just about anything that stands in your way with one shot, and thanks to the fact that it uses a fairly common source of ammo, you'll be able to enjoy its destruction long after the Enclave has been thoroughly decimated. While the first half of Broken Steel may not feel like a fair fight, once you turn the tables and become a one-man wrecking crew, all will likely be forgiven.
The DLC also tosses a couple of new side-quests your way, each of which introduces a new faction. Unfortunately, these detours are rather short and don't amount to much, but if you need a break from the incredibly stringent fighting, the option is there. After the first two DLC packs set players on a very linear path with little incentive to stick around, it's nice to have a few distractions to let you wander off the beaten path for a while and meet a crazy new cult or take out a group of raiders who look like they fell right out of a 1950s sci-fi show.
Arguably the most important and enjoyable facet of Broken Steel, and the reason why a lot of folks have been waiting to get back into Fallout 3, is the increased level cap. Players can now take their characters all the way up to level 30, and there are plenty of new perks along the way. Favorites include the option to reset your karma level instantly or the ability to set all of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. parameters to nine, thus making you a king or queen of pretty much all aspects of development. It's also great to be able to dump ability points back into your character again, as I was able to top off a few more skills and vastly improve some long-neglected talents. I had missed the "cha-ching" of racking up experience points; it's good to get that feeling back again.
With this increased level cap, Bethesda has done something truly brilliant yet evil, making an already addictive game even more impossible to put down. While I still had a ton of loose ends to tie up from my first trip through the wastes, the previous level cap made it kind of hard to stay motivated. Now, I find myself looking for every last bobblehead, weapon schematic and Super Mutant Behemoth simply because I'm once again working toward a goal. Also, each level requires a substantial amount of points, so players don't have to worry about burning from level 20 to 30 in a couple of hours and then being left with nothing to do once again. For once, you may actually be hunting out Deathclaws for the sake of the reward you get in experience points once they're dead.
Broken Steel does a great job of both extending the Fallout story a bit longer and creating incentive to keep playing even after you've "beaten" the game. The only real downsides are that the same ending cinematic still plays after you finish the stopping point of the main game, proclaiming the "end of the story of the lone wanderer" even though you wake up two weeks later and keep right on adventuring. Also, the difficulty level may be a bit of a shock to some players, as there are some incredibly hard moments for characters that aren't fully leveled and packing amazing equipment like the alien blaster. Still, the third time is truly the charm for Bethesda, as they have released what is an absolute must-own DLC pack for Fallout 3 fans. With the Tesla Cannon, increased level cap and great new perks, I think we can finally forgive them for the horse armor.
More articles about Fallout 3