Well, that was underwhelming.
Operation Anchorage is the first of a planned three downloadable add-on quests for Fallout 3. This one focuses on a virtual reality simulation of the ‘Battle of Anchorage’ – part of the war between the United States and China that escalated into the nuclear exchange that forms the backdrop for the Fallout series.
And… well, it does what it says on the box – and little else. Plus points – it fits into the established game world well. There’s a new Outcast base on the main map, and I couldn’t tell you how much of the base was there before the addon. When you show up, there’s a full scale battle going on between Outcasts and mutants. You help them out, and they explain they’ve uncovered a pre-war weapons cache. Problem? The only way in is to convince the computer you’ve completed your ‘training’ – ie, the VR simulation. Not a problem, except the Outcasts can’t access the VR program. Only you can, because you’ve got a Pipboy computer that’s compatible with the VR system.
So, you agree to do the VR, and in exchange, you get a share of the goodies in the base. You plug in, and away you go with the meat of the quest.
That’s where things fall apart. The actual Battle of Anchorage is pretty linear. You shoot a bunch of simulated Chinese soldiers, run through some bases, and blow the things up you’re meant to blow up. The problem is, the simulation doesn’t have the depth or freedom of the ‘real’ wastelands, but doesn’t really do anything with the concept of a simulation either. Hell, it doesn't even really do much with the concept of Anchorage! Simulated Alaska looks and plays a lot like the regular Capital Wastelands, only with snow. Effectively, you go from a computer game to an inferior version of the same game.
It’s a real shame, because the Tranquillity Lane simulation in regular Fallout was one of the highlights of the game. Off the top of my head, I can think of two ways they could have massively improved Anchorage. They could have played the simulation as being a US Army training exercise, not a pure historical recreation – make it a full on propaganda piece, with your character taking down thousands of enemy soldiers unscathed at the head of an army of clean-cut, newly liberated Alaskans ready to give their lives for the American way. Throw in a guest appearance by the Liberty Prime robot and a diabolical Red Chinese villain to thwart, you’d have a simulation the Enclave could be proud of!
Alternatively, they could have gone with the idea that the simulation is malfunctioning. You defeat the Chinese, only to have it reset itself, over and over, with increasingly bizarre variations of the scenario. You’d have to work out what was wrong and find a way to shut down the scenario – with bonus options for characters with high Science, Repair, or Speech. Ideally, you’d only get out when you completely break the scenario by siding with the Chinese forces…
But instead, we get neither. The scenario is played completely straight, and feels like a rejected level from a rather dull FPS. There’s some fun details here and there – you can pick your own squad of simulated soldiers to take with you, with five or six different types of soldiers and robots to choose from – but there’s nothing very memorable.
In general, Operation Anchorage just plain lacks polish. It feels like a moderately well-done user mod, not a commercial product. The voice acting is below average, and there’s more than a few bugs. Oh, and Bethesda? Your official mods don’t need to bellow their existence the moment they’re installed. I already know I’m using it, there don’t need to be pop-up boxes the moment the game starts.
It’s funny, because I just found a whole bunch of free user mods for Fallout 3 that add so much more to the game as a whole – for example, ‘Explosive Entry
’, which lets you use grenades and mines to open locked doors and crates, making land mines more useful while rendering lockpick less of a must-have skill. That strikes me as a hell of a lot more exciting than a half-assed linear quest mod.
To be fair, the other two downloadable missions sound a hell of a lot more interesting than this one ever did, and Bethesda can do decent downloadable addons - the Knights of the Nine questline in Oblivion was one of the best in the game. Here's hoping the next two are a hell of a lot better than this one.