Tue., June 7, 2016
Lurking in the fog: ‘Fallout 4: Far Harbor’ review
Title: Fallout 4: Far Harbor (DLC)
Release Date: May 19, 2016
Genre: Open world action survival
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4 ($24.99)
Also available on: Xbox One, PC
This game is rated Mature, for audiences over the age of 17, by the Electronic Software Ratings Board.
Beware what’s lurking in the mist.
Far Harbor is the first meaty expansion for last year’s megahit Fallout 4, which I called, “an incredibly deep and atmospheric world that is somewhat hindered by technological limitations and frustrating bugs” that failed to fundamentally change the Fallout formula, which was both the main game’s blessing and curse.
In many ways, the Island – the coastal Maine setting that plays exclusive host to the action in the “Far Harbor” – is more atmospheric and engaging than the Commonwealth. Its characters are more engrossing, its secrets more tantalizing and its options to the player more numerous. Radioactive fog at times slows the already buggy Fallout 4 to a chug and constant rads will make you think you’re playing the survival mode recently added to the game, but if you’re a fan of vanilla Fallout 4, the bang-for-your-buck practically begs you to play this expansion.
Like its predecessor, Automatron (which plays like a fried cheese appetizer to the meaty, hours-swallowing steak present in this DLC), Far Harbor begins with a radio signal on your Pip Boy. I abandoned Nick Valentine early in the main quest of Fallout 4, as my character build rendered his terminal hacking useless, so returning to his Diamond City detective agency was a welcome reminder of our adventures together. Valentine, a prototype synth, trades some interesting dialogue with one of the key characters in this expansion, and I recommend recruiting the gumshoe and keeping him at your side for the roughly 10 to 12 hours you’ll spend exploring the Island.
Bethesda promised the largest land mass in any of its expansions to date, and the Island does not disappoint. You’ll visit Far Harbor, home to humans who have set up the last safe camp on an island shrouded by the aforementioned fog, which kills both with its radiation and in hiding the DLC’s new enemies: radioactive sea creatures and human “trappers” driven mad by their environs. The fog will constantly cause your Geiger counter to tick, but if you have a handful of RadAway and other tonics handy, this radiation is nothing more than a nuisance that serves as a kind of “survival-lite” mechanic by forcing you to remain vigilant with your inventory and health.
The story hits many familiar beats, including the reason you visit the island in the first place – to find a lost child. But the game quickly branches out, introducing you to new factions full of characters with their own motivations. Though you’ve met synths and members of the Children of Atom cult before, their presence on the island feels different from their appearance in the Commonwealth, and your understanding of their motivations will change as you play through the main quest.
That’s to say nothing of the additional tasks you’ll receive, which unfortunately are slim in the variety department. Save one quest that has you solving a “murder” mystery, most of the optional tasks come down to killing a group of enemies and returning with an object. This is a criticism you could level at Fallout 4 in general, however, so if it didn’t bug you in the Commonwealth it won’t on the Island, either.
The developers do offer a variety of nonviolent and imaginative ways to complete certain objectives at various points in the main quest, answering a common criticism of Fallout 4. How much this will matter to you depends on whether you identify with the characters present on the Island and what happens to them. There’s nothing in this expansion that feeds into your own story of loss and vengeance, which seems like a missed opportunity. However, the fact that you can access Far Harbor at a very early point in the main game (you’ll only need to have met Nick Valentine and completed his cases before you can take the boat north) may have prevented the developers from folding in any spoiling story elements to the DLC’s narrative.
A divisive feature of the expansion will be its introduction of a puzzle game, taking place in a virtual world that blends the mechanics of “Portal” and “Minecraft.” If you want to progress all the way through the story, you’ll have to complete these tasks, which could have been better implemented if the designers had broken up these sections with more traditional combat. If you stick around for the fourth and most difficult challenge, you’re rewarded with some pretty sweet armor and a sense of accomplishment, but little else. The game doesn’t tell you this, and it can be frustrating to learn you’ve spent an hour solving a puzzle that wasn’t required.
The ending of the DLC gives you some of the most morally ambiguous choices in a Fallout game to date, including the wide open Fallout: New Vegas, and the consequences of those choices are folded nicely into the game world you’ve likely already spent dozens of hours exploring. Far Harbor offers a satisfying mystery in a world that feels fresh and new. Perhaps that’s the best we can ask for from a Fallout 4 expansion.
Verdict: 4.5/5 stars