The near universal penetration of broadband Internet connections on home video game consoles is giving rise to a new business model for games. With publishers able to reach consumers directly through Xbox Live, Nintendo's Virtual Console shop, and the PlayStation Network Store, there's a growing trend toward offering small, variably priced, incremental content to expand existing games, rather than focusing on a handful of expensive tent-pole projects that can take years to develop.
One of the games to best take advantage of this is Bethesda's Fallout 3, a post-apocalyptic role-playing game that topped many best-of-2008 lists. To augment the game's 50-plus hours of content, Bethesda has previously released two downloadable expansions, called Operation: Anchorage and The Pitt, both of which add several hours of new storylines and characters to the game (both are available for around $10 on Xbox Live or the Games for Windows marketplace).
The third, and most ambitious expansion, called Broken Steel, will be available May 5, and we sat down with Bethesda recently for a preview to find out what we can expect.
Taking one of the biggest complaints about Fallout 3 to heart--the abrupt ending that comes after completing the game's main quest--Broken Steel instead rewrites that ending, allowing players to continue to explore the game's world at their leisure. The plot is an epilogue to the original game's main story arc, and has you mopping up some of the left-over villains (remnants of the evil Enclave army), and adds the opportunity to go to new locations, find new weapons, and fight new monsters (such as the imaginatively named Super Mutant Overlord).
More importantly, the Broken Steel expansion makes it possible for characters to continue to gain experience and new skills in the game (if you're conversant with RPG lingo, the level cap has been raised from 20 to 30). The open-ended design that removes the game's hard ending also leaves the door open to further expansions.
From what we got to see of Broken Steel, it looks like the most ambitious of the three Fallout 3 expansions, and fans will be especially pleased that it takes place in the actual bombed-out Washington, D.C., ruins Fallout 3 is set in, rather than a smaller, stand-alone area, as in Operation: Anchorage (which took place in a virtual version of Alaska), and The Pitt (set in Pittsburgh).
Note: if you can't get enough Fallout, Bethesda promises an entirely new game in the series sometime next year, called Fallout: New Vegas.