After the 1980s TV comedy Sledge Hammer! ended its first season by killing off its cast in an massive bomb blast, the second-season première laughed off the cliffhanger with a title card explaining that new episodes would take place “five years before that nuclear explosion.” Fallout 3: Broken Steel opens with a different slugline—“TWO WEEKS LATER”—but it’s the same sleight-of-hand. Forget that (spoiler alert!) your character gets nuked with a bone-melting flash of radiation at the end of the original game. According to Broken Steel, the Lone Wanderer isn’t dead at all, just tired. Those who want to play more Fallout 3 won’t question that.
Broken Steel’s revisionist narrative does so little to expand the world of the Capital Wasteland that it shows what a complete work Fallout 3 was in the first place. After deflating the finality of the original ending, Broken Steel is unsure what to do next, beyond sending you on a few entertaining but hollow missions to snuff out the remnants of the para-military Enclave. Thankfully, the expansion’s B-story is more thoughtful, as it plunges into the chaos and profiteering that result when a limited supply of clean water starts flowing into the Wasteland.
The most welcome change in Broken Steel is the ability to build the Lone Wanderer’s skills beyond the austere limits set by Fallout 3. There are now 30 levels of experience (increased from the original 20)—enough to give character development room to breathe without turning the process into a World Of Warcraft-esque grind.
Beyond the game: Broken Steel continues the tradition of early-adopter bugs in Bethesda games. The Windows version was temporarily pulled from Microsoft’s online store when glitches rendered it unplayable, and some Xbox users have reported problems, too. It may be worth waiting a bit to let the dust settle.
Worth playing for: The robot-electrocuting Tesla Cannon is easily the best of Broken Steel’s new weapons, firing focused beams of high-voltage joy.
Frustration sets in when: By the end of Fallout 3, the hulking Super Mutants were too easy for your hero to pick off, so Broken Steel resets the balance of power with Super Mutant Overlords, tank-like freaks who test your endurance and patience.
Final judgment: Fixes gameplay elements that were broken and a story that wasn’t.