It’s time to return to the Wasteland! Or, more precisely, it’s time to leave the Wasteland. In the new Fallout 4 DLC, a fresh case for Valentine’s Detective Agency sends you off to find a bright young woman who has disappeared from home. The mission takes you to an island where a fierce seaside port town, the radiation-worshiping Children of Atom, and a community of synths all live as uneasy neighbors. It’s just a matter of time until the tension snaps.
Welcome to Far Harbor, complete with all elements you love and hate in a Bethesda game. The expansion is steeped in mysteries of all kinds, and for fans who are open to taking that ride, it’s a worthy investigation.
Let’s start with what the series has long been great at: creating the world. Before it ever launched, Far Harbor was touted as the biggest new landmass introduced in a Bethesda game. The size is impressive, with plenty for the intrepid explorer to find and loads of new baddies to shoot up.
Scope is exciting, but also impressive is just how well the environment suits the story. The island is eerie, shadowy. Follow the road up to the National Park Campground, and watch how the sunlight scarcely pushes through the mists and the bare trees. Or wander through the irradiated patches where the Children of Atom have made their base; the radiation storms haven’t sapped all the life yet, so you’ll see some scraps of nature left in the flashes of yellow lightning. It’s a great backdrop for what unfolds.
The other big highlight is the conversations with the locals, which bring a new flavor to the Bostonian Wasteland. The gruff independence of the harbor residents is definitely welcome. Your new companion option, Old Longfellow, is a prime example. He’s curmudgeonly to all until they’ve proven worthy company, at which point he’s ready for adventures and knocking back a bottle of vodka. He’s a marked counterpoint to the Children of Atom. Getting a chance to interact more with the sect offers a look into their beliefs, and the game does a respectable job of painting them as more than a bunch of nutty zealots (not that I’ve completely lost that opinion).
Finally, the synth community is fascinating and is my favorite element so far. This expansion continues to explore the role of synths in a post-nuclear world, building on the questions tackled throughout the main game. The story wanders into some philosophical questions about humanity and identity in these sections, but usually without turning too heavy-handed. Whatever faction you sided with in the core story, you’ll find some new angles to consider in your interactions with the group.
It’s no coincidence that the game points you toward having Nick Valentine as your companion. Nick was my favorite comrade for the main game, and the expansion feels like a nod to all the other players who felt the same. Keep him with you for maximum impact when you’re on story missions.
Given the heavy role of factions in Fallout 4, it seems that players’ experiences can vary in how they opt to interact with the new rival groups. The synths are key players, yes, but there’s no easy answer as to which side is in the right or the wrong, no matter how you’ve allied yourself. Carrying through that thread of conflict between groups is another strong suit in the DLC.
Now the negatives. The other side to Bethesda’s sprawling open world coin is a trend toward glitches and errors. That manifested in one very unfortunate way in Far Harbor. The Fog that covers so much of the island does wonders for setting the stage. Once you start moving through it, though, the visual effect routinely killed the frame rate on my console. It does take you out of the creepy ambiance when the visual goes choppy.
The other real detriment to the expansion is the extended memory retrieval sequence. It’s a puzzle mini-game that is way out of place with Bethesda’s bread and butter gameplay. I had great momentum going until that interlude, and was annoyed enough that I put the controller down for the night when it finally finished.
At this point in Fallout 4, if you don’t like what the game’s about, then no new content is really going to change your mind. If you’ve already spent 100s of hours camped out in the Wasteland, though, Far Harbor is a welcome change of scene.