You've just inhaled a potentially deadly swamp fruit as part of a bizarre tribal ritual. A stranger cracks your skull open and rips a piece of your brain out with their hand -- the piece holding you back from embracing spiritual enlighten, they tell you. After awakening, sadistic and distorted memories of your past dance in front of you, the ground has become the sky and there's a never-ending bombardment of Coca-Cola bottles exploding into nuclear bombs. Actually, correction: Nuka-Cola bottles.
I was up until the wee hours of the morning this week diving swamp-first into Point Lookout, the fourth, latest and largest downloadable expansion for Fallout 3. Point Lookout is not only the most open-ended add-on Bethesda Softworks has released for its post-apocalyptic epic since it was released last October, it's also the best content the company has produced post-release, rivaling some of Fallout 3's best moments.
The moment Fallout 3 ended, I wanted more -- we all wanted more. Bethesda was ready to answer that call with downloadable content, though the studio has fumbled along the way. A raised level cap and continued exploration of the wastelands was pushed until the third expansion, Broken Steel, and while Operation Anchorage took the series into a welcomed new arctic environment, it was a bizarrely action-focused, linear adventure. The Pitt…well, moral ambiguity aside, it felt more like a rad weapons expansion.
Point Lookout has taken development lessons and fan criticism from Operation Anchorage, The Pitt and Broken Steel into account, successfully eliminating almost all of their problems, resulting in the Fallout 3 expansion we've all been waiting for. Point Lookout takes place away from the wastelands, but rather than dumping players into a small, contained new environment, Point Lookout is its own new zone. There's plenty to explore, with many new adventure triangles tugging at you in the corner of the screen. I'd tried to keep myself on the main quest path in order to finish Point Lookout as soon as possible, but failed more than a few times -- I just had to see what was hidden away.
These exploratory moments are what made Fallout 3 so special. I didn't care for the main storyline in Fallout 3, but it also didn't matter. The side quests, the missions that fleshed out the world and how a people would adapt to a post-nuclear, government-less society is what has kept me playing for now almost 80 hours (just under, as of last night). Those moments were largely missing from the other expansions, despite fleshing out the mythology. The smaller stories were forgotten -- Point Lookout remembers them.
These moments are supposed to be a happy accident. That's what makes them so personal. While aimlessly walking through the swamps, I came across the location of my next objective, but the game teased an undiscovered location just a tiny ways way. I hesitantly went off the trail and discovered a tiny crashed plane. Next to it, a black box recorder. As I continued to slag through the mist, the audio log played, telling me how the pilot crashed on the swamp. The voice acting felt real, his words depressed me. It only takes a moment like that to remind me why I'm so invested in this world.
I could get into the nitty gritty of Point Lookout, but it's not necessary. If you're reading this, you played Fallout 3. This is more of the best parts of Fallout 3 ahead of Fallout: New Vegas and long before Bethesda can deliver the inevitable Fallout 4. Sold, right?
Oh, and even though Fallout 3 has more powerful shotguns can Point Lookout's double-barreled option, during my hike, it just felt natural to be stomping about the swamplands, fighting off the assaulting populace of mutated, mumbling inbreeds with something straight out of an Evil Dead movie. If only it was a sawed-off shotgun…
I did encounter some minor glitches, which I've seen reported by other gamers, as well. Occasionally, Point Lookout would seemingly freeze up. The music would keep playing, but all control over the game came to a standstill. About a minute later, however, everything returned to normal, no harm done. This happened to me twice.
Is Point Lookout worth your $10? No question. The main quest took me a little under four hours to complete, but that involved rushing from point A to B to C. That's not how I played Fallout 3 -- back then, I was purposely casual because the last thing I wanted to do was rush to the finish line. Sadly, a review necessitates speed. But whereas the other expansions offered little to players after finishing the main quest line, seemingly half of Point Lookout remains explored by me right now. I can't wait to jump back in.