And with Mothership Zeta, we reach the fifth and (supposedly) final downloadable episode for Fallout 3. If this is indeed the end, it's a fairly fitting summation of both the highs and lows of how Bethesda has handled the expansion of its post-apocalyptic role-playing game. Previous episodes have taken us outside the confines of the Capital Wasteland, but Mothership Zeta represents the greatest departure from that familiar place, both literally and figuratively. As agreeable as I find the premise of a good old-fashioned alien abduction story filtered through the gallows humor of Fallout 3, I'm disappointed by how combat-focused Mothership Zeta is. It's not without a few interesting characters and some good set-piece moments, but the constant corridor crawling can be fatiguing.
As per usual, Mothership Zeta slips itself into the Fallout 3 continuity by way of a mysterious radio signal that you pick up, one that leads you to a crashed alien spaceship in the Capital Wasteland. Approach the ship, and the next thing you know, you're being held captive as a guinea pig miles above the Earth in that titular mothership, a massive starship full of marauding little green men and their test subjects. You'll form an interesting little rag-tag group of abductees as you make your way through the ship and try to figure a way off it, though you'll be spending most of your time running solo through the ship's winding corridors, murdering wave after wave of ill-tempered aliens and blowing up every power generator you can find.
These are the two aspects of Mothership Zeta that I take issue with: structure and variety. Once you're on the ship, your sole concern is getting off the ship. There are a few distinct steps to this process, but they usually come down to fighting a bunch of aliens and then blowing up a power generator. The whole thing plays out a little more predictably than I'd hope, without any of the terrific left-field twists or the queasy bad-or-worse moral choices that have been the hallmark of Fallout 3's best missions. The aliens are formidable foes, and the sleek energy weapons they drop will serve you well once you return to the wastes, but there's effectively only three types of enemies that you'll face in Mothership Zeta, and you do enough fighting that you definitely could've used more.
Aesthetically, Mothership Zeta tries to do for the 1950s sci-fi vision of an alien invasion what Fallout 3 did for the 1950s sci-fi vision of the future, a task that it's intermittently successful at. The aliens themselves look like slightly more sinister versions of your traditional little green men, and all the smooth stainless steel surfaces and indiscernible alien technology are unlike anything you've seen in the Capital Wasteland. It doesn't feel like you're looking at a lot of recycled content, but it also doesn't feel so much alien as it does futuristic in a different way from the rest of Fallout 3. That's not to say it isn't a fully realized location, but the fingerprints of human design are all over Mothership Zeta.
What's most interesting to me is the interplay between the alien abduction premise of Mothership Zeta and the savage, nothing-to-lose world of Fallout 3. Usually when you're dealing with an alien invasion, the whole world is at stake, so what happens when the aliens arrive and we've already blown the place up? These are two sci-fi staples that rarely co-exist, and Mothership Zeta provides a different perspective on the world below.
There's something so audacious to me about stacking aliens on top of the apocalypse, and Mothership Zeta does it well enough that I'm willing to excuse some of its structural bluntness and over-reliance on combat. It's not the best Fallout 3 DLC, but it's still pretty interesting, and not a bad way to spend four or five hours.