Fallout 4’s season pass is a $5 gamble

By Brenna Hillier, Wednesday, 17 February 2016 08:03 GMT

Fallout 4 has some great DLC coming – and also some rubbish, to be frank.

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“Why emphasise that we’re visiting a ‘mysterious island … off the coast of Maine’ if you’re not going to chuck in a bunch of Cthulhian stuff?”

Bethesda outlined Fallout 4 DLC plans yesterday. You should read all the details for yourself, but the basic road map is: $10 robot companions in March, $5 tameable enemies and settlement crafting items in April, $25 story expansion in May.

It’s no surprise the first two packs have a lot in common with a number of existing mods. Back in the Skyrim days, Bethesda was pretty open about how it came up with ideas for DLC packs: let the team prototype and brainstorm whatever they wanted. Yes: Bethesda held a corporate mod jam, and then harvested the best ideas for sale as add-ons. It made enough noises about taking a similar approach to DLC with Fallout 4 that it’s likely the same thing happened here.

The fact that both modders and development staff thought of concepts like robot companions and recruitable baddies is indicative of the fact these ideas are pretty low-hanging fruit. There not major leaps of inventiveness from existing in-game systems (companions, settler management); heck, there’s even a robot not far from Sanctuary you can send off to do your bidding.

Bethesda’s versions of these ideas will – presumably, hopefully – be more fully-featured and integrated than modding solutions, although it’s probably too much to hope that they’ll be well-balanced – that’s not really what Bethesda’s role-playing games are about. But they’re definitely skippable if you’re not into crafting magnificent themed settlements or using companions.

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Yes.

Far Harbor, on the other hand, looks essential – even with a title that makes Australian and English game journalists wonder why Americans threw the letter U into the sea along with all the tea. It sound like a proper old school expansion pack: a slab of new story content, new challenges and the equipment you’ll need in order to face them – and most importantly, a whole new location to explore.

This is the real selling point for me. Like other Bethesda games, there’s a great deal to be said for that first, exploratory run, when something new awaits you around every corner.

Fallout 4 has been criticised for fronting a map you can jog across in your morning tea break, which I consider unfair. The Commonwealth is as dense as a pot of cold macaroni: absolutely chockers with discrete cell dungeons, and full of interesting sights just lying around in the over world. The environmental storytelling occasionally touches on sublime, and thorough explorers can piece together dozens – maybe hundreds – of sideplots, many of which are more compelling than the central story.

But it doesn’t last forever. Even radiant quests will eventually run dry, sending you back to dungeons you’ve well and truly explored. The super-powered Sole Survivor begins to pine for surprises, for wonder, for terrific scripted moments to add texture to the constant stream of go there-kill-that-sell-loot-rinse-repeat. Motivated players will squeeze more value out of the Commonwealth, but nobody’s going to say “no” to new content, are they?

And what content! It’s not just that Bethesda promises us “the largest landmass for an add-on” it has ever produced, meaning it’s bigger than the Morrowind nostalgia we indulged in during Skyrim, for example. It’s that Bethesda is picking up a bunch of great narrative hooks: the under-leveraged tension of synths living alongside humans and the fascinating but barely present Children of Atom. And why emphasise that we’re visiting a “mysterious island … off the coast of Maine” if you’re not going to chuck in a bunch of Cthulhian stuff? Just look at that key art and tell me it doesn’t smell like Lovecraft. It’s like Bethesda got my wishlist and decided to action half of it. If it halfway delivers on these promises, I’ll be delighted – and Bethesda will have met the bar set by CD Projekt RED, From Software and even Ubisoft (Ubisoft!) this generation.

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… no.

But those first two packs? Let’s face it: they’re filler. They’re things modders have done already; they could even have been patched in for free, as with The Witcher 3 and Dying Light, to generate goodwill. They might be nice to have, if you like that sort of thing – but they exist to keep us quiet while we wait for Far Harbor to be finished.

Back when Bethesda first announced Fallout 4 would have a season pass and DLC, it was quite open about the fact that it didn’t know what gamers would be buying into, because it hadn’t started working on DLC plans yet. But now that it does know what’s on the cards, it’s jacked the season pass up from $30 to $50, and promised “more than $60 worth of new Fallout adventures and features throughout 2016”.

This is very clever, really; looking at Automotron and Wasteland Workshop, I can’t imagine coughing up $15 for them – but the extra $5 on top of the cost of Far Harbor if I pick up the season pass before the March 1 price jack, with the implication (“adventures”) of further meaty content to come…? Yeah, alright, go on then; I admit to temptation.

You take a risk whenever you pre-order, and are quite justified in avoiding it on principle if that’s your bag. After all, is there any guarantee the “$60 worth of new Fallout adventures and features throughout 2016” won’t be mostly filler?

Well, on the one hand: Skyrim. On the other: horse armour. But at $5 over the cost of Far Harbor, all you’re really gambling on is whether Bethesda can produce one expansion worth your $25 – and Dragonborn and Dawnguard are compelling evidence.

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