Would you like to go to a horrible island and be eaten by giant insects and fish men? Me too!
Fallout 4 Far Harbor DLC review: wishes can come true
Some time before Bethesda outlined the first half of its DLC plans we were getting pretty impatient about waiting for news, and I penned a little list of what I’d quite like to see pop over the horizon in return for my however many dollars it was before it was suddenly more dollars.
Some of these requests already came true in Automatron, Wasteland Workshop and patches, but I’d like to draw your attention to a couple: more Children of Atom content, tougher baddies, a fifth ending, and a Lovecraft adventure. And you know what? My wishes came twoo.
Temper your expectations: Cthulhu did not rise from the sea to swallow the Commonwealth, and the whole unsatisfying mess at the end of the vanilla storyline was not magically resolved. Nevertheless, I feel my demands were met satisfactorily (Bethesda, if you really do pay attention to the things I write: please let me get all over Dishonored 2 as soon as possible, thanks in advance). Let’s give credit where credit is due, shall we?
Item the first: Children of Atom content. Boy, do I love these whack jobs. Far Harbor doesn’t just set them up as cartoon villains, but lets you optionally get right in among them and learn all about their consistently ridiculous beliefs. There’s a faction rivalry thing going on but for once it’s not just a matter of us and them, where siding with one group is the clearly “evil” path while the other side are by default the noble survivors (who also happen to enjoy poorly-rationalised genocide, Preston).
This subtlety is very welcome, and the Children of Atom quests are reminiscent of some of Bethesda’s best faction storylines to date. Getting to know the individual members is delightful, and even if you’re hell bent on stopping them you can’t help but like and sympathise with the silly fellows as they earnestly attempt to find meaning in sloughing their own flesh off with rads. Bless.
Even if you’re hell bent on stopping the Children of Atom you can’t help but like and sympathise with the silly fellows as they earnestly attempt to find meaning in sloughing their own flesh off with rads. Bless.
This is a nice place to segue to item the second: a better ending – or perhaps just better writing in general. I was quite disappointed in Fallout 4 vanilla’s main quest and endings, but Far Harbor makes none of the same mistakes. It’s much easier to maintain cohesive and satisfying writing over a contained expansion as opposed to an umpteen hour game (as we’ve seen with games like The Witcher 3, for example) and I suspect we can see that at play here. For all its unraveling conspiracies the stories of Far Harbor are focused and driven, and manage to be a great deal of fun while giving weight to serious matters.
Pacifist players will be delighted to find that there’s almost always some way to talk their way out of a situation and resolve things without fighting – another major criticism of Fallout 4 vanilla. While Fallout 4 had a sort of round robin ending where no matter who you sided with two of the four factions were going to take a walloping, Far Harbor offers a much more complicated scenario in which two inter-connected quests, each with multiple possible endings, result in dozens of possible end-states. Restoring saves and backtracking I was impressed with the contingencies on offer, and the way side quests feed back into the core storyline.
As an aside, the voice acting for the female Sole Survivor is excellent; Courtenay Taylor has a great deal of fun with some of the sillier situations that arise, and I often caught myself laughing along with her.
On to the other items, then. Tougher baddies: check! While nothing can stop my god-tier Infilitrator (at level 60+, the alt I use for quick guide playthroughs has evolved in an interesting luck-driven direction): holy heck, some of these new things hit really, really hard. I spent the first half of the expansion in Power Armor, which I hate but initially seemed preferable to munching on meds (wrong), and I was meeting random ghouls who’d knock pieces of it to smithereens with a single blow. “Magnificent,” I’d croak through my own blood as limbs rained down around me. At my level Legendaries are everywhere, and every single encounter seemed to include a Glowing This or a Bloodrage That. Very good times were had.
Holy heck, some of these new things hit really, really hard. “Magnificent,” I’d croak through my own blood as limbs rained down around me.
A Lovecraft adventure: well, this did not really happen. There are several nods to it, but it’s definitely more of an atmosphere than an Elder God escapade. This is probably because everything feels so normal familiar: the scary cult is a bunch of radioactivity-worshipping weirdoes, the villagers make no secret of the fish men rising from the sea, and the fog is just a byproduct of fallout.
And yet: this is coastal Maine, Lovecraft’s landscape – whether you’re peering through the dripping forests and rolling clouds of poisonous vapour or picking your way along the lashing beaches. There are some genuinely eerie moments in the glow of nuclear waste, and the constant ticking of the geiger counter never loses its menace (shout out to the composers for some wonderful new bits of ambient music, too).
All in all, tip top. I smashed through Far Harbor in a couple of days, but although I’m reasonably confident I conquered the core story content, I’m aware that there’s loads more out there to discover. My Fallout 4 support group has alerted me to half a dozen delights I missed by sticking to the main quest, and there’s so much of The Island still to explore. I can’t wait to take my main through and dive into every nook and cranny, winkling out its secrets and expanding my settlement empire.