Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta is the best downloadable add-on for any game released, and the pinnacle for what DLC used to represent. Microtransactions have taken over the scene, somewhat diluting the term “downloadable content”. Many games today follow a free-to-play approach with several, sometimes egregious, microtransactions available for purchase.
This, however, is not a new practice. After the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released, Bethesda unveiled the Horse Armor Pack where any player could, well, dress their horse in armor. The price point was meager at best, but most players questioned why they would ever spend a dime on cosmetic armor for their horse. Bethesda definitely learned from their mistakes, right? Cut to the much maligned Fallout 76, where the developers revealed their “Fallout 1st”, a premium subscription plan that grants private worlds and unlimited storage for crafting components! All for the trivial cost of $12.99 a month or $99.99 a year – after you’ve paid for the base game as well, might I add.
The free-to-play structure is a smart business model, but one that has unfortunately become commonplace. Fallout 3 released nearly twelve years ago, with Mothership Zeta coming shortly after launch in August of 2009 – back when DLC actually expanded universes and narratives from the base game. Mothership Zeta knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it delivered an experience straight out of the Twilight Zone – a rather simplistic, expanded side quest that oozes style from the environment and creature design. The aliens, who have been a recurring easter egg in the series, are modeled after the ridiculous grey skinned, large brained monsters of Western cinema. The Mars Attacks, probing-you-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of aliens, if you will.
The set-up goes as follows: the lone wanderer falls upon a crashed UFO after receiving a strange transmission. Shortly after discovering the ship, you are beamed up into the mothership for medical experimentation to which you pass out. After breaking out of your cell and teaming up with the other abductees, you’re tasked with discovering the horrors of the ship and ultimately impeding the sinister intentions for Earth. Every corridor offers a piece of storytelling, whether it’d be through interactable notes and dialogue or through the environment itself. It’s lovingly realized and extremely faithful to the retro ideation of future technology and extraterrestrial life.
Fallout 3 is a fantastic game, praised for its open world and writing. Staying true to those claims, Mothership Zeta offers a fantastic three-to-four-hour experience. Its side characters are memorable, and I often found myself caring for them in the short amount of time on Zeta. Colonel Hartigan is a character with a tragic backstory, mostly told through logs on the ship. He was returning from a low-orbit mission in his capsule Carabella 7, but failed to return to the ocean rendezvous point. This was eventually covered up by the United States Space Administration by claiming that his capsule crash landed after being entangled in high-altitude weather balloons. Hartigan was one of the first to make contact with the aliens who then placed him in a cryogenic space pod, but due to complications and pod malfunctions, on top of the stress endured from the encounter, Hartigan died. Since most of the other abductees are thawed out of cryogenic sleep, their origins span back hundreds of years. Toshiro Kago, or “oriental” as the others appropriately refer to him as, originates from Japan. Born sometime before 1562, Kago is a samurai warrior draped head to toe in uniform. The depth behind side quests and characters brings the world to life, and it’s an aspect of the series that I truly admire.
Though the environment on display is not nearly as large as the Wasteland, Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta grants similar freedom as in the base game. Upon my first playthrough, I was jealous of Kago’s armor. When the others turned their backs, I melted Kago with the Alien Disintegrator and equipped his armor. Definitely not the way to experience the quest, but I wanted to point this out to showcase player freedom. Adding to the new setting, Mothership Zeta includes new armor and clothing, weapons, ammunition, edibles and other items like the alien epoxy – used to increase the overall condition of your alien weaponry.
Mothership Zeta unfortunately wasn’t as well-received by both critics and the community. On Metacritic for the Xbox 360 release, Mothership Zeta stands at a 65 Metascore for critics and a 6.0 for users. Most of the negative reviews stem from the length and price point of the game. GameCritics writes, “If Mothership Zeta had been half as long and available at half the price, it might have been worthwhile simply for giving players a quick peek behind the origins of the main game’s enigmatic alien wreckage.”.
I guess my fascination with aliens and B-movie cinema overshadowed some of its shortcomings. But after a recent venture through the horrors of Mothership Zeta, I can still confidently commend it as one of the best DLCs to release in recent memory. As one of five different DLC expansions for Fallout 3, Mothership Zeta, to this day, continues to leave a lasting impression. I will never forget my first encounter with aliens, nor do I want to.