I’m tempted to say that this is where it counts for Bethesda. Fallout 4 has been out a long time, and interest is starting to wane; the last DLC pack to be released, Wasteland Workshop, did not quite live up to expectations, opting for the quantity-over-quality approach and delivering an awful lot of content that could be explored in a matter of minutes. A successful end to this series of extra content would be extra nice for fans and developers alike, then, seeing as even I have been reluctant to load the Fallout disc in recent weeks for lack of motivation. This DLC pack needs to work minor miracles in order to breath new life into a game that is beginning, as every game does, to lose momentum.
Shouldering this heavy burden is Far Harbor, the latest and last in the opening trio of downloadable content for Fallout 4. The buzzword for this particular DLC seems to be ambitious, and it is easy to see why: an entire island off the coast of Maine (presumably the one upon which, in real life, Bar Harbor can be found) has been reconstructed for our exploration, with remarkable accuracy. This island, quite pragmatically named ‘The Island’ by its inhabitants, offers a surprisingly substantial number of new locations to discover and loot, amongst which can be found several new settlement workshops; aside from the fact that this offers a chance for the player to construct brand new settlements far from the woes of the Commonwealth, a massive influx of new workshop items, most of which are nautically themed, means that a piece of Far Harbor can be taken back to Massachusetts.
The Island also introduces brand new, heavily irradiated creatures, all of which are suitably challenging, as well as a new raider faction, the Trappers, who have decided that lobster traps can be worn as adequate head protection. And then, of course, there are new weapons, of which the most enjoyable has got to be the Harpoon gun. And finally, the new companion, who is as remarkable as every other companion in the game aside from his great looking trench coat.
I’ve certainly never seen it looking like this…
I found that the gameplay on offer was actually more enjoyable than much of that present in the main game: sure, there are plenty of ‘go there, kill them, fetch this’ style missions, for sure, but there are also some slightly more involved examples, one of which makes good use of the first DLC pack, Automatron. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that one such fetching mission actually had real-time effects upon Far Harbor itself. The intricacy and quirkiness of the various side quests was far more reminiscent of the old Fallout games, in my opinion, and certainly left a satisfying sense of completion that is never quite achieved upon answering Preston Garvey’s cries for help.
But what about the actual plot? Far Harbor focuses the drama on a faction not often explored in the Fallout series, mixing a synth colony run by a softly spoken, clearly ageing Institute escapee with followers of the Children of Atom cult as well as the Far Harbor locals. The premise is simple, as each group is weighed down by mistrust of the other, each hoping to one day take full control of the Island itself; where Far Harbor shines is in its management of this conflict, and just how any crucial decisions made on the part of one group by the Lone Wanderer make ripples in the opposing camps.
The Children of Atom are as fanatical as ever, raising serious doubts over humanity’s ability to live independent of blind faith (those of you familiar with Stephen King’s The Mist will notice striking similarities), and the leader of the synth colony wastes no time in posing some genuinely thought-provoking questions to the player about synths who may not even know that they are synths, even going so far as to make the player question his/her character’s true identity.
While the storyline is fairly simplistic, you cannot help but feel like any decisions you make will jack the tension on that fog-enshrouded island up to 11, particularly when it becomes obvious that there are many characters who are not quite what they seem. I’d even go as far as to suggest that the Island offers more by way of intrigue than the Commonwealth. Bold, eh?
… That’s more like it.
It seems that Far Harbor can do no wrong. It even looks the part, blending the standard ruined aesthetic with a hillier, more wooded feel that incorporates rugged coastline and slender pine trees into what is a usually desolate game. the fishing villages have their own unique look as well, somehow looking as quaint as they do destroyed, and there has been a clear effort to make the lighting as eerie as possible, particularly on your first approach to the Island itself. I do have one complaint, however. The Fog is a clever idea, adding as much to the look and feel of the DLC as it does to the storyline, particularly when considered in tandem with the newly added glowing flora (and fauna).
But I was playing on a PS4, and this, it seems, is not quite substantial enough to keep the frame rate from dropping whenever I wandered too close, which would be a nonissue were it not for the fact that the difference inside and out of the misty areas of the map is considerable. Now obviously, this about as much the console’s problem as it is the game’s, but considering that it caused issue enough to be noticeable I feel that I ought to mention it for all you console gamers out there (I don’t imagine it being a complaint on a good PC). That said, Far Harbor still holds a certain individuality with regards to aesthetics, and particular respect must be paid to the one responsible for designing the Children of Atom and everything with which they are associated on the Island. It all looks awesome.
Meet the Fog Crawler.
So. Aside from the accursed frame rate denying Fog, the latest DLC from Bethesda manages to tick quite a few fairly crucial boxes, offering an expansive new world to traverse which is filled to overflow with new content, creatures, and quests. Introducing a perhaps more interesting story than what was given us in the Commonwealth, Far Harbor is a promising addition to the universe that I think more than compensates for the slightly sluggish start to the season of Fallout 4 downloadable content, and one that hopefully paves the way for what is still to come. Whatever that may be. I heard something about a trip to Nuka World…
Fallout 4: Far Harbor DLC (PS4)
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Plot - 9/10
Design - 8/10
This is one DLC that is not to be mist...
Far Harbor is a heavyweight entry into the Fallout 4 DLC season, both in terms of size and depth. The morally-ambiguous storyline is supplemented by a impressive arsenal of weaponry and items, as well as a beautiful setting that is only slightly let down by its sheer ambitiousness.