I loaded up Fallout 4 for the first time in months yesterday in preparation for the new Far Harbor DLC, which launched earlier today. I was pleased to feel a warm rush of recognition and happiness as I looked out on the Commonwealth Wasteland. Fallout 4 has received its share of criticism since launch, some of it justified, but no one does worldbuilding quite like Bethesda.
The world I found when I loaded up Fallout 4 was quite different from the one I left. Bethesda has released three add-ons since Fallout 4's launch last November, all of which have fallen into their usual approach to DLC. Wasteland Workshop is the true add-on - a package in the vein of Skyrim's Hearthfire that adds a variety of new items for your settlements, as well as cages in which to keep captured Wasteland creatures. Automatron tops a new quest with an interesting mechanic: the ability to build a customized robot companion. Finally, Far Harbor adds a new region with a large number of quests, locations, and items.
Of them all, Far Harbor is the one that begs the most for players to return to the Commonwealth Wasteland. The ability to build robots is neat, and it's great that there's a quest in there as well, but Automatron is the kind of DLC that slots more organically into a normal playthrough. Far Harbor, by contrast, is practically it's own game, bringing to mind Skyrim's Dragonborn - an expansion that offered new quests, access to Morrowind, and the ability to tame and ride dragons, among other things.
It begins with a request to investigate a girl's mysterious disappearance, whereupon you find yourself in the eponymous town of Far Harbor - an area beset by a strange fog that fosters monsters and drives inhabitants mad. If this sounds like the plot to a Stephen King novel, it's probably intentional because Far Harbor is set in Maine - the same location as many of King's best books (Stephen King is also from Maine). The omnipresent fog makes Far Harbor feel a bit like a horror movie, and when mutated creatures come charging out of the gloom, it's hard not to think of The Mist. The horror movie vibe is amplified by the townsfolk, many of whom are even stranger than the normal Wasteland inhabitants. They regard you with suspicion the moment you enter Far Harbor, referring to you as "Mainlander" and shunning you as much as possible.
Outside the town is a dank forest permeated by fog and infested with Mirelurks, Fog Crawlers, and crazies called Trappers - the Maine equivalent of the Commonwealth's Raiders. The latter wear old diving suits and helmets fashioned from lobster traps, giving everything a decidedly nautical feel. On top of that, one of the first weapons you get in Far Harbor is a powerful harpoon that effectively functions as a high-powered single shot rifle. It won't work on everything - Deathclaws and the like can shrug off harpoons without any trouble - but everything else will die in a hurry to a harpoon headshot.
Far Harbor's regional politics feel different as well. The Children of the Atom - crazy radiation worshipping cultists who have only a peripheral presence in The Commonwealth - are a powerful faction in Far Harbor, and you will have to engage with them to gain access to the secrets they hide in their shrines. To the north is a Synth settlement that serves as a buffer of sorts between the townsfolk and the Children of the Atom - two factions on the verge of war. Unraveling these tensions and finding out what the Children of the Atom have in store for the island comprises a large portion of the main quest.
All of this makes Far Harbor an engaging place to visit; and thus far, I've really enjoyed my return engagement with Fallout 4. Nevertheless, it has some issues. Playing the PlayStation 4 version, I've been dismayed to find that the fog brings with it some serious framerate issues. The second a monster appears out of the fog, the framerate dips into the low 20s and teens and doesn't really return to normal until you get out of the fog.
Far Harbor's ambition also makes for some unwieldy gameplay. One of the central setpieces is a Shadowrun-style hacking section in which you battle past firewalls and computerized sentries. While that sounds engaging in theory, though; in practice, it's one part tower defense and one part crate puzzle, and it's pretty tedious. Over the course of three separate levels, you have to build a path to the memory core, redirect a laser to knock down the firewalls blocking your way, then defend your little carrier bugs with turrets as they collect the data you need. It's a novel use of the settlement building mechanics; but ultimately, these puzzles are pretty boring.
All in all, though, I've enjoyed my return to Fallout 4 and my adventures to Far Harbor. My main hope is that it won't end with me busting into the Children of Atom bunker and gunning them all down, which is how conflicts tend to be resolved in Bethesda's RPGs. We'll see if they've heard the criticisms of the main campaign and taken a more subtle approach with Far Harbor.
In the meantime, Bethesda is promising yet more DLC for Fallout 4, so it sounds like the most ambitious content is yet to come. For now, it's been a good run, and I'm glad to still be enjoying my time in the Wasteland.