Stranded in a spooky seaside town, a sombre mist obscuring eager views inland, the first thirty minutes spent in the peninsula of Point Lookout are a master class in feeling unwanted. With a population dominated by the dead, the few disparate seaside attractions – a towering Ferris wheel, crumbling pier, weather worn promenade – serve only to amplify the immersive moody ambience.
As with The Pitt and Operation Anchorage before it, Point Lookout takes place entirely outside of the familiar DC Wasteland. Arriving by ferry with only the slyest of warnings, a brief cut scene demonstrates the scale of this fourth instalment of DLC. The murky swamps, veiled caves, marooned ships and infrequent settlements far outsize anything previously offered by Bethesda. Estimates at Point Lookout being a fifth of the size of the original Wasteland aren’t far off.
It’s never wasted either. The forests and marshes are littered with points of interest, many of which hide lengthy missions or treasures, though none of the new weapons are as iconic as the Auto-Axe or the Tesla Cannon. The double-barrel shotgun may be all kinds of awesome, but sailing into Point Lookout armed to the decaying teeth, it’s going to feel almost as unwanted as you by the end. That in itself is somewhat disappointing, made worse by a finale lacking in a robust suit of armour or titan sized weapon to return home with, as seen in all three previous episodes.
The decision to conceal missions prompting exploration over linearity proves choice though. Side quests are still made up prominently by proverbial retrieval quests, (case in point: collecting ingredients for an alcoholic) but the narrative strengths are derived from discovery – a note on the corpse of an executed cultist detailing his sins provides a far greater insight into the world of Point Lookout than a cut scene or dialogue tree. As such racing through Point Lookout will provide little satisfaction and as with the Wasteland, the best parts are almost always concealed and stories narrated subliminally.
That’s not to say the personalities habituating Point Lookout aren’t as memorable or the script lacking in excellence. Far from it, feisty ghoul Desmond in particular is intriguing as he is ill tempered. He’s a joy to converse with if only to see where he’ll drop another ‘fuck’ into his fiery speech. Other characters act as a welcome audio break from habitual meetings with the roaming salesman and brotherhood soldiers scattered about DC. Arguably the best character besides Desmond is the deceased Chinese spy who, in death, has you trekking all over Point Lookout completing his unfinished mission to destroy a sunken Chinese submarine.
The main quest centres around the feud between a disillusioned religious cult, similar to the one in the Wastelands’ Oasis, the native swamp-folk and Desmond himself, and has its fair share of modest twists and surprises that are by now to be expected. There’s a choice of two endings though neither wield the dramatic conclusive prowess of The Pitt or Broken Steel; the finale is a little jaded at a most generous.
Where Broken Steel suffered from some derivative and somewhat customary quests, Point Lookout dares, on occasion, to match the strength of quests like Tranquillity Lane. One mission mid way through in particular is as memorable as any from the Wasteland, constantly flittering between reality and disillusion, forcing you to question just what the hell is going on and even more so what is chasing you. It’s a shame most of the other missions are of a more familiar design but the VATS system and prodigious arsenal of weapons keep firefights interesting even after the hundredth hour has passed.
After a few hours spent exploring the intricacies of Point Lookout, having successfully laced the dank swamps with the limbs of Trackers or Swamplurks the initial blanket of grandeur begins to slip a little. Enemies are almost all reskinned variations of foes found in the Wasteland, the few original adversaries make up a small percentage of those fought and despite being tough, aren’t radically different (though undoubtedly more humourous with their redneck vernacular) to the super mutants back home. They’re challenging and battles can last several waves of VATS but that only inspires another grudge to bear against Point Lookout. Those having reached level thirty have little reason to engage in lengthy battles perfect for grinding through ranks but yielding little in the way of reward. The game never fails to inundate you with stimpacks and ammo, but going into a brawl, and coming out without gain doesn’t inspire a desire to continue engaging when battles can be largely avoided through tactical use of Stealth Armour.
That aside Point Lookout can pride itself on being the largest, most atmospheric and immersive of all the Fallout downloadable episodes yet and points promisingly towards next months Mothership Zeta. It’s a testament to the quality of Fallout 3 that even by the fourth instalment people are queuing up for another post-apocalyptic vacation and as with Operation Anchorage, The Pitt, and Broken Steel, Point Lookout comes highly recommended.