Now this is more like it. After the disappointing Operation Anchorage (downloadable content that focused on what was weakest about Fallout 3: shooting) we now have The Pitt, Bethesda's second DLC add-on, which focuses on what was great about the incredible open world RPG.
That is: role-playing, skewed morality, depressing, soul-destroying post-apocalyptic environments and gore. Lots and lots of gore. The Pitt is what, in Fallout 3's world, the US industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has become. It is a horrible place, a home for countless slave workers who are beaten and tortured by ruthless raiders as they carve and weld scrap metal for a mysterious purpose. After downloading the add-on and walking about the Capital Wasteland for a few minutes, you receive a radio distress signal from someone in a settlement to the north. His name is Werhner, an escaped slave who needs help rescuing "his people" from the slave master boss Ashur. This is where you come in. He explains that to get into The Pitt you need to play the part of a slave yourself, conning the raiders that man the city's gate into thinking you're returning after a failed escape attempt.
Via miles of tunnels accessed from the north western part of the map you arrive at a bridge. A battered "Welcome to The Pitt" sign hangs ominously overhead. In the distance a stunning vista reveals the ruins of skyscrapers against a sky bruised red. Flames sporadically splurge; evidence that this once great capital of steel is very much in business. Pittsburgh, spared the nuclear bombs that devastated much of America, has evolved in isolation. There are no Super Mutants here; no Ghouls. Only... Trogs, and a mysterious disease that's killing the entire population. Your journey across the landmine-laden bridge and eventual entry into The Pitt is spectacular, and instantly lays claim to being one of the most memorable moments Fallout 3 has to offer.
Inside, stripped by the raiders of your entire inventory, you begin your adventure as you did your first tentative steps into the Capital Wasteland. This back to basics approach is welcome: it stops you overpowering the entire city with your level 20-fuelled character and devastating heavy weapons. You find yourself scavenging for scraps, for Stimpacks, for bits of radiated meat, as you did when you first left Vault 101. You make contact with Midea, the leader of the slaves, who sets you your first job: to find 10 Steel Ingots in the huge Scrapyard area, a deserted place overrun by Trogs, one of two new enemies introduced by the DLC (the other being Wildmen, who are exactly what their tin says they are). Trogs are Gollum-esque monsters that were once humans but have succumbed to the disease that has racked the city. They make little sound as they approach: the patter of their feet proves a terrifying indication that they're around somewhere. Then you turn around and bang, one leaps 20 feet and is clawing at your face.
Luckily for you, you're given a single-weapon to fend the Trogs off with: the Auto Axe, a huge circular saw made from car parts and a sharp rotating blade. The Auto Axe is the slave's tool of work, allowing them to carve metal in the wonderfully designed (and deafening) Mill area. It's handy for carving Trogg bone, too, which is just as well. You kill many, many Troggs in The Pitt.
Eventually the five or six hour experience evolves into a more traditional Fallout 3 quest than Operation Anchorage ever was. There are plenty of NPCs to interact with, one or two funny moments, some intense action, vibrant and atmospheric environments and plenty of interesting choices to make. At one point you're forced to battle for your freedom in an irradiated arena Gladiator style. The big decision at the end is, unlike many in Fallout 3, a choice between two disturbing outcomes. Throughout much of the game the right and wrong answers are obviously distinct. Here it's the same, but at least you're made to feel a little uncomfortable by both choices.
There is plenty of combat to be found if you want it, too. To complete the DLC you only need to find 10 Steel Ingots, but if you seek out all 100 (the Scrapyard has an impressive sense of verticality that rewards explorers with stunning views of the city) not only will you get an Achievement, but you'll be rewarded with some excellent new weapons and armour, including better versions of the two new weapons, the Auto Axe and the silenced assault rifle The Infiltrator. This sees you battling countless Troggs which, after a while, does start to grind, but you could spend hours doing this, making the 800MS Points (about £6.80) price tag good value.
It's not without its problems. While Bethesda fixed the problems that plagued The Pitt on its initial release, the updated version managed to crash my 360 on more than one occasion (save often!), and I noticed stark performance issues, especially in the Scrapyard and Mill areas, where there's a lot going on. There are plenty of bugs, too, as there are in the main game. On my journey across the bridge that leads to The Pitt, a guard dog had buried its head into the floor and was chomping on concrete. Downtown, a slave master was doing what looked like a funny dance: on closer inspection I discovered his head was warped and glitched into the wall. Some people find Fallout 3's bugs annoying. I find most of them hilarious, and certainly not game-breaking.
Of more concern is that The Pitt is too easy. If you're anywhere near the level cap you won't find any challenge it presents too difficult. I only died once, and that was because I fell off a Scrapyard pipe positioned hundreds of feet in the air. Sure, the Troggs are scary, and will make you jump out of your chair once or twice, but you never really feel as if you're genuinely under threat of death.
Overall, though, I had a great time with The Pitt, and it single-handedly reinvigorated my interest in Bethesda's masterpiece. It's what DLC should be: good value, interesting, exciting and a concentration of what is best about the game it's expanding upon. It just about makes up for the snore-fest that was Operation Anchorage, and will have Fallout 3 fans dribbling with anticipation for the level-cap raising third add-on Broken Steel.