Itís a testament to the joys of exploring the irradiated wastelands of Fallout 3 that, with every DLC expansion Bethesda releases, itís hard not to be sucked back in time and time again. It also speaks volumes about the developerís ability to hone their DLC-crafting skills, with each improving noticeably upon the last. While the most recent one, Point Lookout, isnít quite the leap over its predecessor as Broken Steel was over the previous two, itís still a wonderfully worthy addition to the experience.
Drawn by riverboat to the sleepy swampland of Point Lookout just outside of the Capital Wastes, itís not long before you find yourself drawn into a battle between the isolated areaís various inhabitants. As always, things are not what they seem, and before long, youíre protecting ancient mansions from raiders, digging through local tribal customs, and uncovering a centuries-old struggle for power. This central questline takes a handful of twists and turns that are better experienced first-hand than spoiled by reviewers, and although the plot itself is nothing spectacularly epic, itís a satisfying diversion that should take from four to six hours to plow through.
What really pulls Point Lookout in a different direction is its locale. Set in an area slightly outside the real ravages of nuclear devastation, Point Lookout is a thick, swampy marshland filled with grasses, weeds, trees and yes, even fruit. Even this place couldnít entirely escape irradiation, however, so all of these living elements are twisted and gnarled, much like the so-called redneck swampfolk who manage to eke out a life of their own amongst the putrid bogs, creeks and rivers. The feel of the region is completely different than that of the core Fallout experience, though still heavily tinged with darkness and foreboding, lending a Post-Apocalyptic Deliverance vibe to the proceedings.
The other main advantage of this locale is that, unlike the other DLC offerings, itís entirely free-form. Youíre encouraged to randomly wander the area, not only through the many locations to discover but also through an Achievement youíre awarded for finding every single one. Not that youíll need much incentive, as the new area is chock-full of unique spots to check out, each lending their own shade to the distinct flavour of Point Lookout. Whether itís the abandoned beachside fair as you step off the boat or the moonshine cabin buried deep in the swamps, thereís more than enough to see and do here, and in a style thatís much more reflective of the central Fallout experience than any of the previous three DLC releases.
This free-roaming approach also allows for the discovery of a handful of surprisingly compelling side quests, which were also noticeably lacking from prior DLC releases. From unearthing the centuries-old trail of a Chinese spy to participating in a ghoul-blasting, arena-style ďsafariĒ, this expansion has a decently diverse range of tasks to undertake. Whatís more, these quests are built into the various discoverable locations, meaning youíre really going to have to scour the place to find them all. Theyíre generally well-executed and a blast to work through, but with poor rewards, the quests are really only about having fun while hiking your XP ever closer to Level 30.
In fact, the rewards for hacking your way through the new landscape are all rather underwhelming. A few new headwear items Ė youíll trip across your fair share of Confederate hats, and finally see the Pint-Size Slasher mask Ė have been thrown into the mix. There are also a few weapons, such as lever-action rifles and double-barreled shotguns, but none really stand out as being anything more than just another generic gun. To be fair, completing the main quest gives you an item of some moderate significance, but if youíre already of a decent level, itís hardly anything youíll use to replace whatever item youíve already got in hand.
This is a slight problem, since those arenít well-equipped and sufficiently levelled will likely find themselves crushed beneath the muddy heels of Point Lookoutís mutated inhabitants. New variants of mirelurks appear in droves and put up a hell of a fight, and some of the tough-as-nails ghouls seen in Broken Steel make a return appearance here. Toss in heavy-hitting swampfolk and well-armed smugglers, and youíre likely find yourself dying more than a few times. This isnít a bad thing, as it can finally represent some decent high-level combat for players who fail to find a real challenge even on the higher difficulty settings. The running exceptions to the rule, once again, are stealth players: if you could bring down your enemies in one or two well-placed stealth-critical melee shots, youíll likely find combat to be one notch above ďcakewalk.Ē Still, with few medical supplies to be found, adventurers are advised to carry a crateload of stimpacks.
By returning to the spirit of what made Fallout 3 so compelling in the first place, Point Fallout stands out as a worthy DLC offering that handily matches the top-notch Broken Steel. With death waiting around every gnarled tree and in every bubbling bog, the new area offers a terrific sense of foreboding that really enhances the free-roaming approach. Side quests are relatively abundant and sharply written, and atmosphere is stellar. Although the quest rewards may be lacking, the sense of discovery that was missing from prior DLCs has returned here, making exploration its own benefit. Itís a fine piece of DLC, and a solid addition to the Fallout 3 experience.