Fallout 3: The Pitt – Staff Review

The Red Menace might have had enough nukes to saturate every square inch of the United States, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they did. The Pitt, a downloadable questline courtesy of Bethesda, suggests just that; the Capitol made such a meaty target that the Soviets didn’t spare a direct strike for a nearby industrial center. As it turns out, they didn’t really need to: what once was Pittsburgh now crawls with gangs, disease, feral mutants, and oppressed workers living at the mercy of a cruel despot and his army of hired thugs. A hijacked radio beacon calls the player’s attention to the plight of an escapee from what is now known as The Pitt, and the adventure begins.

While there are several new additions through the content, they are all attached to The Pitt and do not expand the core gameplay or story of Fallout 3. Thus, it will not be scored separately.

Simply getting to the radio beacon can be a challenge for the lower-level player, as it’s broadcasting from the extreme north edge of the wasteland, west of the Oasis entrance. Arriving there puts you in contact with Werhner, who claims to be an escaped slave from the ruins of Pittsburgh. The survivors are all afflicted by radiation poisoning, and have been enslaved by a man named Ashur, who claims to be researching a cure. Ashur has restarted an old steel mill and, through his army of raiders, forced the infected slaves to operate the mill and scavenge materials from the surrounding steelyards. Werhner’s proposal is blunt: help his people gain access to the cure, and he’ll reward you well.

'State of Independence.'  The irony is not lost on me.
“State of Independence.” The irony is not lost on me.

Getting in isn’t easy. The Pitt is only accessible by a train tunnel close to the beacon, and since the tunnels are intact and huge you’ll need Werhner to show you the way. Ashur has the city locked down, and Wernher’s convinced that only disguising yourself as one of the slaves will get you past the gate. Just getting across the bridge over heavily radiated waters (some have reported a similarity to the Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh; this is unconfirmed) is a challenge in itself, as it is mined and clogged with derelict cars. Hostile scavengers and stray dogs test the player on the approach, and a squad of Ashur’s raiders bars the entrance to the city. Even if you shoot your way in, you’ll be jumped as you get past the gate. Everything about the city makes one thing very clear: if you want in, you’re playing by their rules whether you like it or not.

Unlike Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt is essentially its own little game world. It has a separate world map with functional fast travel, opportunities to rest and trade, and side quests. No matter how you get in you’ll be stripped of your gear, so you’ll have to make do with what you find on the inside. Although you’ll do a fair amount of fighting, there are options for diplomacy or finesse to make your life easier, and the main quest does branch at a certain point. Meds, weapons, and ammo are all scarce at first, and level 20 players used to running and gunning with an endless stack of bullets will have their work cut out for them.

The new additions are fairly substantial, adding quite a bit to the Fallout inventory and bestiary. You’ll get your hands on an improvised chainsaw, the Auto Axe, early on; diligent players may acquire a unique and more powerful variant. A variety of improved slave, worker, and raider outfits can be found or earned, while a custom set of power armor awaits the truly observant. Subquest rewards include excellent new guns: common and unique forms of a scoped automatic rifle with a silencer, and an energy weapon that functions a lot like a shotgun — see also Protectron’s Gaze from the Canterbury Commons quest. New perks have been added, all quest oriented. Some are simple skill or weapon damage increases, while a potential final reward is a permanent improvement to rad resistance.

Pfft.  Welding masks are for chu-OH GOD MY EYES I COULDN'T BE IN MORE PAIN
Pfft. Welding masks are for chu-OH GOD MY EYES I COULDN’T BE IN MORE PAIN

Although some of the new areas are prefab sewers or the like, the vast majority of The Pitt is superbly designed. Across the foreboding and deadly Pitt Bridge, you find yourself in the cramped streets and alleys of downtown, where the slaves reside and are bombarded by Ashur’s propaganda. The adjoining steel mill is dilapidated, but functional and abuzz with activity most definitely not approved by OSHA. Beyond the mill is a derelict steelyard, a gargantuan maze of rusting buildings, burning smokestacks, and ramshackle platforms leading this way or that; scores of mutants known as trogs make the yard their home, hunting the slaves and raiders that attempt to scavenge there. And then there’s uptown, where Ashur’s men reside. Though still surrounded by the crumbling ruins of an industrial capital, there is life amongst the gutted apartments and broken, radioactive streets.

The sound rarely stands out, though it is serviceable. A lot of raider and slave actors are borrowed from the original game, though the handful of voices are paired with a decent script. Werhner doesn’t emote much, but he does show a bit of personality beyond just a quest giver. Trogs make for suitably unsettling enemies; they sound like feral ghouls as they lope around on all fours, but occasionally utter a weak “hunger,” or “thank you,” as you dispatch them. Ashur himself is the most believable of the lot, both through his propaganda and in person. Conscious of how easily he can be seen as a cruel despot, he takes pains to come off instead as a well-intentioned extremist; he refers to the slaves as workers, and constantly speaks of rebuilding civilization by combining their steel industry and medical research. It’s questionable whether he actually believes what he says, but the fact that there is a question is a testament to the skill of the actor and writers.

The only really scary thing about this image is what that ammo counter is reading.  Fallout 3 players, you know what I mean.
The only really scary thing about this image is what that ammo counter is reading. Fallout 3 players, you know what I mean.

Speaking of the writers, The Pitt shows just what a skilled pen can do when paired with talented level designers. While arguably not as complex as the best Fallout 3 had to offer, such as Blood Ties or Tenpenny Tower, it’s still a lot deeper than it appears at first glance. Many players’ first instinct will be to grab a gun and kickstart the revolution, though it won’t be that simple to start with. You’ll have to work your way up from scavenging steel ingots in the steelyard – easily the largest single zone in the game apart from the Capitol Wasteland itself – to proving yourself in a radioactive pit fight. Despite the brutality the raiders clearly show the slaves, your eventual confrontation with Ashur may be more complicated than the build-up prepares you for. Without giving anything away, let’s just say the quest for the cure isn’t so cut and dry as toppling a dictator and his private army.

There are a few minor issues, both contained within The Pitt and in the context of Fallout 3. The start of the steelyard section can be challenging, as trogs tend to attack in large numbers and you have little ammo and weapons with which to fend them off. The steelyard and uptown zones are complicated and mazelike, and your local map does little to show which path leads where. As mentioned, the same few people voice most of the raiders, so it’s not uncommon to hear a man apparently having a conversation with himself; this seemed less of an issue in Fallout 3, perhaps because raiders were typically hostile by default. Most glaring is that it still doesn’t extend the level cap or make any meaningful changes to the core game.

At 800 Microsoft Points, The Pitt‘s 4-6 hours of gameplay is reasonable, though this time the quest itself is the real draw. If Operation: Anchorage was a linear run-and-gun quest with some nifty loot, then The Pitt shows that Bethesda still knows how to attach an interesting plot and setting to the action. This bodes well for the upcoming Broken Steel content, which should finally address the original game’s biggest problem and give players a reason to bother with the game after level 20.

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