Bethesda has a proven track record when it comes to expansions. Content like Oblivion’s Shivering Isles and Fallout 3’s Brotherhood of Steel have demonstrated the developer’s ability to deliver brand new and memorable experiences which build off the base game but add their own unique and defining narratives. Fallout 4’s first major expansion, Far Harbor continues this tradition and gives fans of the franchise an evocative and entertaining add on that will satisfy their desire for vintage Bethesda RPG action.
Developed by: Bethesda Game Studios
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Release date: May 19th, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed on PS4)
Launch Price: 24.99 USD (Inclluded in Season Pass)
Story and Setting
This is the strength of the expansion. The main quest line revolves around a radioactive fog that has blanketed a place called the Island off the coast of Maine, and features a complex and morally ambiguous series of choices that impelled me to scrutinize the motivations of the different individuals as well as my own prejudices. It is an intriguing bit of politics at play on The Island, and in contrast with the main game’s storyline, you are less pawn and more imposer. You have the agency here and thus, the power. Of course, the leaders of the 3 contending towns, Far Harbor, Acadia and The Nucleus attempt to influence your choices, but you are free to mold the outcome of this isolated land according to your designs, in one of 4 possible resolutions that each grant their own unique new perk.
The towns and the themes presented here feel fresh and provide a welcome contrast to the setting of the Commonwealth. The cultures here have sprung from the encroachment of the fog and their geography further reinforces this. We meet the distrustful and on edge residents of Far Harbor, teetering on the brink of the fog’s effects at the coast. Their antithesis, the reverent residents of the Nucleus, have holed up deep within the confines of the fog and have immersed themselves in devotion to its radiation. In the center of it all are the pragmatic synths of Acadia, a refugee colony unaffected by the fog but still heavily invested in the fate of the island.
Dark and gloomy, blue is the dominant palette here. It is quite difficult to see at times because of the brooding environment at night and I found myself making use of the Pip-Boy’s flashlight more than ever before. The island is lush if not distinctive, with nautical nods sprinkled in as well as some underwater exploration. All of the new set pieces here reinforce each other and the story making for a cohesive land that feels like it has a believable history.
The Island itself is massive, so prepare to do a lot of walking. It is a little sparse in habitations but the new locations are brilliant at times, with an impeccable attention to detail. Every corner in these areas seems to contain something relevant to the world. There are new Settlements to work along with new workshop items to give builders and networkers new design combinations to play around with.
Visually, there are some framerate issues but they are not pervasive and I did run into the occasional missing head bug. Some of these can be comical: a companion making the swimming animation while on land looks a lot like rigorous Tai chi.
The core gameplay is obviously Fallout 4, see our review for an idea of the game’s mechanics if you are new to the game. This section will instead cover new elements that are presented in the expansion.
Touted as a radioactive force that encroaches upon everything and everyone, the fog in action was more of a nuisance than a severe issue. Outside of Far Harbor, this fog is everywhere and inflicts radiation damage on the player, albeit at a very small rate. This is a good thing, as it allows the player to ignore its immediacy and focus on the sometimes very difficult enemies. Having to wear a Hazmat Suit or Power Armor constantly would have restricted some of the player freedoms, but I would still advise you keep the Hazmat suit and Power Armor handy as there are portions of this game that feature significant radiation, especially where the fanatical Children of Atom reside. As the mechanic works now, you can more or less ignore the fog, but if you spend enough time in the wild exploring and performing side quests, you will eventually amass a significant bit of radiation damage that you must address via RadAway or a clinician visit. It gives the Island a character to itself and serves as a poignant narrative piece. You get the sense of impingement that the human residents of this land must endure. A ubiquitous, creeping miasma which left unchecked takes its toll on both body and mind. It may not be today or tomorrow, but one day, it’ll get you. It certainly explains the preoccupation of every resident, and their willingness to take up arms at a moments notice.
The weapons and armor used to protect hearth and home are appropriately themed as well. Much of the new gear is nautically flavored and most of it is very useful, so that by the time you’re deep into the expansion you are looking the part of a salty sea dog. However, depending on your leanings there are quite a few glowing pieces of gear for helping out the Children of Atom, and Acadian assistance will earn you some synth looking duds. The harpoon gun is the star of the show however. It’s a slow loading, single shot weapon but it packs a gratifying punch, especially when it’s used in one of its unique varieties like Admiral’s Friend. Similar to the Railway Rifle, you can reclaim your harpoons off the corpses of your foes making it useful for conservationists and Survival enthusiasts.
The new enemies introduced require as much of that new firepower as you can muster. They are the stuff of crustacean nightmares and all pack a wicked hard punch. The Fog Crawlers are the centerpiece of horror in this cast. I avoided these unholy praying mantis-meets-lobster abominations as much as I could and their presence patrolling the wilds of the fog really added to the environmental terror. Felling them is rewarding, and they are featured in the Island’s lore and quests.
The new quests are well designed and engaging, and coupled with the connections you make during the main story, you are motivated by a strong sense of attachment to the Island and its inhabitants. I wanted to help everyone I could, and every time I completed a quest I was ready for another right away. They offer some moving and memorable experiences as well as some very worthwhile rewards. In a surprise inclusion, we are treated to a Portal meets Minecraft sequence during the main story that builds off of the workshop mode and provides a challenging and inspired experience that becomes diabolical towards the end. The side quests are well written, and at their best are compelling stories of devotion, whimsy, horror, or the absurd which lets the new characters shine.
The new people to meet and greet are a diverse and complicated cast who form the backbone of the experience. Everyone is motivated by survival, even more so than in the comparatively stable Commonwealth and spending time with them deepens that narrative impression. Old Longfellow is the new companion introduced in this expansion, and while he initially possesses a persona that seems to fit the flavor of the land, he ultimately falls a little short as a worthwhile combat companion as he doesn’t do much in the way of damage. His dialogue is mostly surly complaining about his old knees, but it can be pretty humorous especially when he is asking for booze. He will provide some passing insights on locations you visit, which helps to flesh out the Island’s backstory and is part of a couple of quests himself. He knows his way around the place though and if you max his affinity he’ll grant you a nice perk called Hunter’s Wisdom that improves your damage against animals and sea creatures. As you can expect, endearing oneself to a crank means making a few cranky choices oneself.
Far Harbor is a pleasure to play. It is a couple of dozen hours of content that could easily become more if you decide to scour every nook and cranny. It features a storytelling stoutness that leaves an impact and forces the player to make some difficult choices. The additional weaponry and equipment are great augments to the base game and should become mainstays of player arsenals. The Island and its inhabitants are a wonderful addition to the game’s universe and it’s more than a worthwhile reason to don the power armor again. Trust me, you’ll need it.
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