When Fallout 3 came out on the PC, extra content couldn’t be far behind. Sure enough, Bethesda announced no less than three mini-expansions to keep players wandering the wastes in search of adventure. Operation Anchorage would be the first in, but it would also be a further test of how much PC players were willing to put up with Microsoft’s Live service under their Games for Windows banner.
As Fallout 3 players know, the game loads the Live client on the PC, the new standard by which Microsoft wants to deliver game content, updates, and other neat things in that space the same way that their Xbox 360 console audience is locked into. The concept sounds great on paper, but its rough history on the PCs has rubbed more than a few players the wrong way.
If you’re a PC fan of Fallout 3 and want Anchorage, you may need to convert some hard earned cash into points, or as a friend likes to call them, Microsoft Bucks, to be able to purchase and download the 800 point priced content through GFW Live. If you don’t have any, you’ll need to purchase a point card with the necessary code to feed your online account with. You can also purchase points from Microsoft directly through GFW with a credit card.
But after downloading the content through the Live client and watching the installation message, the quest didn’t start up for me as it said it would after a few minutes spent in the game. I could see that it was in the Download section as installed content once I had logged into Live through the main menu and it would say that the content was actually loading when the game began, but I never received the radio signal that would actually start my journey to Anchorage. And that was after an hour of wandering around the wasteland looting raiders and killing radscorpions when it should have only been a minute or two.
Fallout 3 was built atop Oblivion’s framework so I looked for it as a Data File next to the main campaign module. It wasn’t there, nor was it in the Data folder where I had expected it to be. GFW put it somewhere else and once I found it, I copied the needed files and activated them as I would a mod. After fixing what GFW should have automated, I was off to Anchorage. From what I had seen on the ‘net and the unofficial Fallout wiki in researching this, I’m not the only person that has had this problem, so I also added in my two cents here in case anyone needs a little help.
But now that the technical issues were out of the way, I was finally heading to Alaska. It wasn’t the Annexation of Canada, but Operation Anchorage did play a part in starting WW3 so I was all excited to see this to the end, especially when there were more toys waiting for my arsenal.
Operation Anchorage covers the battle that led to the liberation of Alaska in 2077 from the Communist forces of China which had taken it over in 2066 but instead of traveling back in time, the player will be running through a simulation of it instead. A distress call from the Outcasts, members of the Brotherhood of Steel that broke away from the main group in Washington DC over ideological differences, is what begins this virtual vacation from the Wasteland. The player picks up the signal and after a fight with several Super Mutants, earns their trust…especially when they notice that he or she has a shiny, if slightly used, Pip Boy attached.
It turns out that their newest find, an untouched, secured vault deep below DC supposedly filled with all sorts of pre-collapse tech, won’t open unless someone like the Pip Boy armed player completes a simulation sequence that the lock is tied to. They’re desperate to get in there and promise you a share of what’s inside if you’ll help them first. What’s a player to do especially when there’s loot to be found?
Starting this mini-quest can be done at almost any time during the game once the player picks up the Outcasts’ radio signal and heads on over. Once in the simulation pod,they are dropped into the shoes of a soldier who had parachuted in with a Sergeant Benjamin Montgomery to take out a Chinese artillery position. Players are stripped of everything and given a simulated inventory to reflect their new career, but they retain their stats and their skills.
To reflect that it is a simulation despite the safeties being turned off, scattered devices providing healing and dispensing an endless number of bullets are found throughout the mission area. Weapons and armor remain brand spankin’ new and corpses simply disappear into digital smoke or allies “teleport” in to fill empty squad slots. This is a combat heavy sim as you can probably guess and the player can still die if they’re completely careless.
Along with the usual grunts, the Chinese army will throw in soldiers armed with sniper rifles, missile launchers, and flame throwers to mix things up, none of whom you can loot as weapons are provided as needed. Elite Crimson Dragoon troopers in stealth suits will avoid VATS by cloaking, but can be forced back into the light with a few well placed shots from the hip. The player will also get to sample the Gauss Rifle and witness the first deployments of the vaunted T-51b armor against the Chinese war machine as they rampage through Anchorage’s outskirts right along with the player. It’s too bad that Liberty Prime wasn’t ready for the big party, but you get the feeling that the simulation has scaled back the Battle for Anchorage for a specific purpose.
After the initial trial-by-fire, the player will be invited into assembling a crack squad of AI driven soldiers accompanied by your always present and indestructible buddy, Sergeant Montgomery, offering a creative twist to sidekicks. A number of ‘tokens’ are initially given to the player to ‘purchase’ potential members that can fill in the three slots of their squad and each class, such as sniper or a robot sentry, have different token values assigned to them as a ‘balancing’ measure so that you can’t stack a crew with overpowered classes. Once the tokens are spent, your choices are locked in for the rest of the game, although there’s no need to worry if they fall in battle as Sergeant Montgomery can call in as many reinforcements as needed.
They also have a tendency to ignore orders. Even when you tell them to stay put, if you start a fight they’ll come right in after you to help wipe everyone out even if you’re doing just fine. Players coming into this thinking that they will be able to tactically guide these guys and gals into combat with a variety of colorful orders will find that their new friends are simply self-propelled weapons on two legs that only help take some of the pressure off. The only orders that you can really tell your team via Sergeant Montgomery are to either stay put or go to a certain preset location and wait for you there.
Aside from the opening mission, three additional objectives must be completed for Anchorage to be liberated and the player is free to tackle two of them in any order before heading into the third mission and after that, the final push against the Chinese HQ. There are number of conversational challenges that rely on your character’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes or their Speech skill, but most of these usually result in a slightly different dialogue or action on the part of the NPC than in actually changing the course of the simulator in any dramatic fashion. Players looking for another intense session of juggling the lives of NPCs here are going to be let down.
The pack can last around three or four hours depending on whether the player decides to barrel their way through the action or stop and take their time in immersing themselves into the material. After the final battle, that’s when they receive their just rewards along with a batch of Gamerscore points for their card on Live and a perk if they’ve met all of the conditions.
Most of the items received at the end are unique and powerful additions to the player’s arsenal, but are balanced against the fact that they can’t be repaired to full strength. The Gauss Gun, in particular, is probably the most powerful sniper rifle in the game, if not weapon in terms of versatility, even in comparison to those of extraterrestrial origin. But the player can’t fix it themselves when it starts to wear out after heavy use, although I’m sure modders will creative ways around that.
There are also one or two oddball bugs in the game such as one where the game completely crashed, corrupting both my quick and autosave slots. Loading either one of those started me outside of Vault 101…sans any clothes, items, or anything else that I might have had. Even my appearance was changed. Another glitch had all of the trees in one part of the game float in the air until I restarted the game. In the last battle, I’m not sure if I was or wasn’t supposed to be able to do anything, but I was stuck in one spot until it played out by itself after a conversation with the Chinese general in charge. It would have been nice to mix it up, but I guess I should be thankful it didn’t crash and corrupt my last quicksave again. Other than those few incidents along with jury rigging the installation to work, though, Anchorage ran well enough for the most part.
Some of the new NPC conversations are interesting to listen to including a few loose holotapes that can be recovered, all of which add some much needed flavor to the background of the era being explored. There are also one or two oddball dialogues that mar some of the polish. Even after helping the Outcasts, walking by them usually elicits a negative response even after everything that you had done when only seconds earlier they were singing your praises.
Fallout fans that can’t get enough of the fiction behind the game will probably get the most mileage out of this self-paced tour through Operation Anchorage’s final moments, although the small scope can sometimes feel as if it were only a tiny part of a much larger conflict. Fallout fans that want more than a few new toys and an extra helping of VATS may be a bit of a disappointed by its single-minded linearity, especially when the simulation ends and prevents the player from experiencing it again. This is especially bad if they had missed their chance at getting the bonus perk unless they’re willing to load up an earlier save, if not replay the whole simulation all over again. And players heading in with an extremely skilled and stats improved wasteland warrior may feel the degree of challenge whittled down even further.
Still, despite its shortcomings and its current integration into GFW Live, much of the fun fiction expanding on Fallout’s setting comes off as a solid, if not spectacular, imagining of a part of its history. If you don’t mind the combat or are looking for another reason to immerse yourself back into the world of Fallout’s lore for a few more hours, Operation Anchorage might provide just enough of a recruitment incentive to see past the battle that it may take to get there.