Contrary to expectations, Automatron isn't entirely a waste of your time.
"I didn’t expect to enjoy Automatron very much – and I certainly didn’t expect to encounter one of the most interesting dungeons Bethesda has ever produced."
Fallout 4's first DLC is pretty good. There! I said it.
This is an unexpected conclusion. When Bethesda first detailed the initial contents of Fallout 4's DLC season pass, I translated the information as "filler, filler, proper expansion". What did filler entry Automatron have to offer? Manufactured companions and more crafting? Snore!
Consequently, I didn't expect to enjoy Automatron very much - and I certainly didn't expect to encounter one of the most interesting dungeons Bethesda has ever produced. More on that shortly.
Automatron kicks off when you answer a distress call, eventually teaming up with a new companion named Ada. Complete the first of her requests and she'll grant you access to a new workbench where you can mod her to your liking, or create an all new robot to serve as your companion. (You can put together a stack of these but as with all companions you can only bring one with you on your journeys. They make great settlement guards, though.)
Ada is not as interesting as you might have hoped, and is eclipsed by another named robot you'll meet later on; I won't spoil that, but Bethesda took some cues from one of the best games of the past generation and it proves pretty amusing. The robot modding system itself is pretty absorbing and a good way to use up some of the huge piles of crafting materials you'll have if you're that kind of player. It does require a heavy investment in skills, unfortunately - and personally I found the huge variety on offer a bit overwhelming.
More pleasingly, this variety is also on display in the robotic enemies you encounter, which means you never really know what you're walking into. This makes things fun both on a gameplay level and an aesthetic one; I strongly urge you to attack them in VATS just for the pleasure of being able to look over their myriad forms - and also to watch them come apart piece by piece as you empty a magazine into them.
High level Sentry Bots and Assaultron have always been the stuff of nightmares and Automatron turns that up a notch. My god tier Infiltrator had very few problems on normal difficulty, but positioning and companion tanking is absolutely key: if you allow yourself to be swarmed, or if a particularly tough robot gets too close, things can get very hairy indeed. (On the subject of difficulty, there's a boss battle at the end, and you absolutely should not attempt it until you're confident you can take down robots very quickly. If you're only just surviving engagements in the Machinist's dungeon, come back later.)
If that weren't enough, there's a ton of new gear - the Tesla Rifle, which fires arcing electricity; Tesla power armour; Assaultron and Mr Handy melee weapons; Robot armour sets; new collectible figures and more. With new weapons and armour, new enemies and customisable companions (you can spec them for carry weight!) Automatron offers plenty to refresh the Fallout 4 formula and make your Commonwealth wanderings feel new and interesting again.
But now let's talk about those dungeons. The Automatron questline isn't very long but it includes two new dungeons, both of which are among the best in the game. The first of these is large but not painfully so, and absolutely riddled with traps, firefights and loot. It houses a new raider faction whose story you can explore through terminal entries and a few other materials, and as with similar dungeons in vanilla Fallout 4, this is a jolly good time and full of neat little touches, such as cunningly positioned skulls. It's also full of the slightly more rare crafting components you're always scrounging for in the core game, and which you'll need to build robots.
"It's got one of those terrific corporate narratives where investigating terminals and poking around will reward you with a thrilling tale of Bad Science."
The second dungeon is a doozy. Pack a sandwich. It goes for a long time. It does not contain as much interesting loot as the one before, but what it does have is even more adhesive, oil and circuitry. Once you've run through the quest, or perhaps just after you've unlocked the door, you will want to fast travel back and forth in the nude so you can take all this bounty home and build seventy gazillions turrets (or robots?) out of it. Don't fill your boots; leave your boots at home so you have more inventory space for oil cans, duct tape and military scanners.
More to the point, it's got one of those terrific corporate narratives where investigating terminals and poking around will reward you with a thrilling tale of Bad Science. Fallout 4 is full of pre-war scientists doing Very Bad Things but this one probably takes the cake, and any other baked goods you'd care to assemble. If you are slightly ghoulish, like me, you will enjoy peering at all the new assets Bethesda built for this particular location and saying things like "sick". A very good time, highly recommended.
But now let's be negative: Automatron is not very long. While the robot creation system could prove useful to you over the course of a playthrough, the story content can be knocked over in a few hours and there are only two significant new locations. I definitely rushed my play through, but even including a drawn-out battle against the PSN, which didn't want to give me the content, and an exciting series of reloads when I faffed up in amusingly explosive ways, it comes in at about four hours. Many of you will get through it much quicker - although it must be said the real faithful will spend forever looting out the sprawling new dungeons. Is that an acceptable length for a $10 DLC? Only you can answer that question for yourself.
It's a classic case of quality over quantity, though, and it's surprising how reinvigorating it is to have a few new elements in the general Fallout 4 mix. Having enjoyed Automatron so much I'm feeling more confident about the rest of the content of the season pass. Far Habor (and hopefully a second big story expansion?) may be the weightiest additions, but if Automatron is indicative of what we can expect from the smaller drops, they'll be well worth investigating.