Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fallout 3: Broken Steel (Xbox 360) Review

Fallout 3: Broken Steel is the last of Fallout 3's DLC that I've played through, and it's a rather different offering than the four other add-ons. Whereas the previous additions were Quests with new enemies, items, and Perks available as soon as the player leaves Vault 101, Fallout 3: Broken Steel continues the game's main Quest line. This means that in order to experience the new Quests you have to finish "Take it Back" first. Of course, anyone who's completed Fallout 3 knows that once you complete the main Quest line, you kind of die, making a continuation rather tricky.

For those players who begin Fallout 3: Broken Steel with an existing save, your character will wake up in the Citadel recovering from severe radiation poisoning two weeks after the Brotherhood of Steel took Project Purity back from the Enclave. In a nutshell, you survived somehow. For those players who install the DLC and then play through the game, you can still sacrifice your character in "Take it Back" and have the game continue into the DLC rather unbelievably, or you can actually send certain Followers, like Fawkes or RL-3 who're immune to radiation, in to activate the Purifier. If you take this route, both yourself and Sentinel Lyons are knocked unconscious in a resulting explosion, and this path makes much more sense when you awaken two weeks later.

Though dealt a serious blow with the loss of Eden, Autumn, and the Purifier, the Enclave is far from defeated and the Brotherhood of Steel could use your aid once again to go on the offensive, and yes, Liberty Prime is back to kick butt giant robot style! Since you're once again alive in this free roaming world, you can help the Brotherhood take the fight to the Enclave remnants scattered across the Wasteland or you can strike out to keep working on other side Quests you didn't finish.

Fallout 3: Broken Steel adds three new main Quests and three new side Quests, and while the main Quests are all focused on ending the Enclave's reign once and for all (and these Quests take place in both familiar and new locations), the side quests all revolve around Project Purity and the sudden availability of clean water for all. Well, it would be for all if the shipments the Brotherhood are sending out were actually getting to their destinations. In addition to the normal Trade Caravans that you're familiar with, the Brotherhood is sending Water Caravans out to the settlements of the wastes, and not only is it a logistical challenge, but of course things are going wrong with the shipments. That's where you come in as you get to participate in three non-linked side Quests, all of which are interesting but rather simple and predictable.

In terms of the quality of the Quests, both main and side, they're alright but nothing that I was overly impressed with. The first of the main Quests was definitely my favourite and the large battle in the finale is rather cool, but overall the new Quests featured in Fallout 3: Broken Steel feel more like Bethesda's trying to force the story further when it simply isn't required. Sure, it opens the game up so it no longer "finishes" and there's new high level weapons and enemies to use and fight respectively (many of which are quite well done), but it honestly felt like more of the same and I really had to grind through the last few Quests.

One gripe players had with Fallout 3 was the Level cap at 20, which many gamers hit before they were even finished the core game. This took away from further reward and character building later on, and Fallout 3: Broken Steel addresses this by raising the Level cap to 30 and adding a host of new perks to boot. The great part is the Level cap is raised right from the get-go, you don't actually have to start the new Quests to gain access. In fact, with the character I used, who started the main Quest and all the DLC from scratch, he had already reached Level 30 by the time the "Broken Steel" Quests began.

While this sounds good in theory, Bethesda didn't seem to pay much attention in balancing to the new Level cap. By the time you hit Level 30, you will have maxed out nearly every S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Stat and Skill, meaning you can do pretty much anything. You're so powerful, in fact, that new and supposedly imposing enemies, like the Super Mutant Overlord or the dreaded Feral Ghoul Reaver are push-overs. Granted, these enemies begin appearing as you're reaching Level 20 and are hard then, but it doesn't take too long to go from 20 to 30 and with powerful new weapons like the Tri-Beam Laser Rile or the Heavy Incinerator, they're a cakewalk. So much for careful character building and Skill specialization.

Regrettably, Fallout 3: Broken Steel introduces a host of new bugs as well. I encountered my first Enclave Soldier in a random encounter in the Wastes around Level 6 or 8, and this was before I had advanced the main Quest to the point where the Enclave were supposed to start appearing. Three Dog also started talking about how Project Purity was liberated and that clean water was flowing for all even before I had advanced the story far enough to reveal that Project Purity existed. I also noticed a sharp increase in texture flickering game-wide after installing the DLC and by the time I was wrapping up the last of Fallout 3: Broken Steel's Quests, I was having some rather unpleasant frame rate drops in random areas. Sloppy.

I can't complain about playtime, however, and fully exploring all of what Fallout 3: Broken Steel has to offer took me about 11 hours, which is solid. That's about a grand total of 186 hours I've spent in the Capital Wasteland and beyond spread between three characters, so I do need to thank Bethesda for putting together such an immersive and detailed world to explore. Having said that, however, I personally didn't find Fallout 3: Broken Steel to be anything invigorating, and the unbalanced raising of the Level cap actually hurts the game by allowing the player to experience pretty much every Skill no matter how they play.

If you are looking to continue your character or simply looking for more Fallout 3 to tide you over until Fallout: New Vegas launches, you can certainly give Fallout 3: Broken Steel a whirl, but there are more innovative DLC add-ons available for the game that will leave a much more positive impression with you. Really, when it comes down to it, Fallout 3: Broken Steel is simply more of the same, and I can't help but wonder if it would have been more polished had it been included in the retail package and original development cycle instead of being released as an add-on about half a year after launch.

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