Fallout 3: Broken Steel – Staff Review

The path to recovery begins with the simplest but hardest action a person can take: admitting they’ve done something wrong. So some applause is in order for Bethesda, who finally saw fit to take another crack at Fallout 3‘s ending after the near unanimous criticism it earned. The ending was one of the few truly uncontested blights on an otherwise excellent long-awaited sequel, and that Broken Steel addresses this weakness goes without saying; the game is unquestionably better for it. Whether Broken Steel hits the right notes on its own, however, is another matter.

Continuing shortly after the climactic showdown at the Jefferson Memorial, you awake in the Brotherhood of Steel compound alongside an unconscious Sentinel Lyons and your other comrades. Elder Lyons explains that an energy spike knocked out everyone present, but the Brotherhood caught up to you just in time, presumably with a big bag of Phoenix Downs or something. In your stead, the Brotherhood has been consolidating its position around the water purifier at the memorial, as well as chasing down surviving Enclave cells. With you back in action, the Elder humbly asks for your help with both matters. Ever the free agent, you are compelled, but not forced, to join up and put the Enclave on the defensive.

Once again, the downloadable content doesn’t radically change Fallout 3‘s gameplay: the controls, the graphics, the mechanics of leveling up, it’s all the same. There are, however, substantial new additions and the plot is expanded beyond the endgame. Thus, Broken Steel will be scored independently.

All right, the purifier's up, Enclave's on the run, guess there's nothing to do but kick back and relax, right?  Wh-why's everybody getting all quiet all of a sudden?
All right, the purifier’s up, Enclave’s on the run, guess there’s nothing to do but kick back and relax, right? Wh-why’s everybody getting all quiet all of a sudden?

First, a word or two about the new additions. Yes, the level cap has finally been raised to 30. And not a moment too soon, as at last playtesting one can easily crack level 20 on existing sidequests well before getting to the purifier. With the higher cap are a host of new perks. Some are disappointing; simple karma switches, no penalty for low radiation poisoning, no ill effects from alcohol abuse, that kind of thing. Others present interesting options, like getting a replacement dog whenever the Dogmeat NPC dies, or slowly recovering from radiation poisoning over time without Rad-Away. Mass stat-altering perks exist for dedicated min/maxers, and one perk can make the player explode like a nuclear bomb when close to dying. While some are enticing, most players will likely use the opportunity to snag earlier perks they missed.

New creatures have been added to test your mettle. A new ghoul variant, the Reaver, is obscenely durable and will hurl radioactive gunk at you from a distance. Super Mutant Overlords fulfill a similar role, equipped with high-end weaponry and possessing almost as much health as the mighty behemoth. The Enclave has a few new tricks too, including souped-up gun turrets, Hellfire power armor, and special flame launchers with a staggering reach. Even the simple giant scorpion now has an angry big brother, the albino, and these scuttling beasts can hold their own against the worst the wasteland has to offer. None of these are particularly intelligent creatures, and even Enclave troopers don’t do anything special in combat. Still, they do present formidable challenges due to sheer durability, if nothing else.

Not to fear, for your arsenal has been expanded as well. You’ve likely seen the tesla cannon in screenshots, and it’s pretty much as powerful as it looks, able to down Enclave vertibirds with one shot. Just don’t miss, because it only chambers one round at a time. Overlords sometimes carry tri-beam laser cannons, trading ammo efficiency for more damage per shot. The Enclave also wheeled in a few new variants of existing guns, including more unique gatling lasers and flamethrowers. The mentioned flame launchers are effectively portable artillery guns, with a range rivaling that of rifles and respectable damage. And lest we forget, Liberty Prime’s got your back against the evils of Communism… for a while. To say more would be telling.

Good, I've got, like, fifty mini-nukes left over from the main quest.  Let's do this.
Good, I’ve got, like, fifty mini-nukes left over from the main quest. Let’s do this.

Speaking of which, quite a few quests and points of interest have been added throughout the Capitol Wasteland. The sizable Brotherhood-versus-Enclave questline brings you to several new areas, ranging from an intact satellite relay station, to a derelict power plant, to even an old air base. Some locations are set on their own mini-maps like The Pitt, complete with fast travel, while others are integrated into the existing world map. The overworked scribe Bigsley is overseeing water distribution from the purifier, and he has a few goodies he can pass your way if you make his life easier. As you can imagine, getting free water all over the wasteland isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There are other assorted new things scattered around the wastes, mostly random encounters, water caravans, and the occasional unmarked quest. Despite the occasional spike in difficulty that the added enemies provide, the content in Broken Steel is generally welcome and a natural evolution of Bethesda’s earlier DLC packs. However, Broken Steel does miss a few opportunities in the process, and in spite of all that you do it’s hard to feel like you’ve changed all that much.

Unlike The Pitt, which featured a plot branch with unexpected moral ambiguity, there are few opportunities to pick sides in a meaningful fashion here. A confrontation with a certain Enclave official in the vanilla game has little impact on the wasteland after the purifier is activated, nor does it seem to affect how the Broken Steel quests play out. Whether you play good or evil, the Enclave is always going to be shooting at you, even if you spared their two key players from the original game. What makes this confusing is you have a last-minute opportunity to betray a friendly in the main questline and, other than said friendly being angry with you and you losing a lot of karma, the real impact isn’t as big as it should be.

If you'll excuse an expression I use, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love!
If you’ll excuse an expression I use, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love!

Apart from people gathered at the purifier or involved in one of the sidequests, nobody’s really talking about what’s been happening lately. The Outcasts don’t have anything to say about remnants of the US government flying around with their coveted old technology. Three Dog is curiously quiet these days despite a raging battle involving a giant robot mere blocks from his station. Megaton is plagued by water thieves, yet nameless residents have more to say than people like Simms or Moriarty. Dr. Li is missing in action, reportedly wandering off by herself to the mysterious Commonwealth — a foreshadowing of future involvement, perhaps. Basically, it feels like the only people reacting to the Enclave and the purifier are quest givers and people in the room with quest givers.

In spite of this, it’s hard not to recommend Broken Steel if you liked Fallout 3. 800 points feels a reasonable asking price for what’s offered here. The conflict with the Enclave is intense and builds to a memorable finale, and local troubles with water distribution do add flavor and help build an atmosphere of a world finally on the rebound. Fawkes, at least, now agrees to do that thing if you ask him to, the Lone Wanderer gets a few new toys, and the player gets more time with Liberty Prime. The new locations are well designed and fun to explore; a collapsed building in Olney lends itself well to a tense multi-story firefight with the Enclave, and an old Presidential metro system provides an interesting alternative to the cut-and-paste crumbling DC transit tunnels.

And yet, when the Bethesda folks say things like “We got the message, no more endings,” one can’t help but feel they missed the point. Broken Steel doesn’t really make Fallout 3‘s ending better, merely makes it less of an issue. For all its positives, it too feels like it’s missing something.

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