Downloadable content is often a shameless cash grab from a game’s publisher, but sometimes a DLC pack is so good that it surpasses the base game. Many Fallout fans consider the DLC Old World Blues to be much more entertaining than New Vegas‘ main quest line. Bethesda likes to brag that Fallout 4‘s new Far Harbor has the largest landmass of any of their DLC packs, but it’s more than just a huge chunk of new terrain. It is a section of the Fallout world that is filled with mysteries, and stuffed with conflicts that go far beyond simple good versus evil dilemmas. The factions, and the many secrets that motivate them, form a narrative that upstages Fallout 4′s central story.
A problem with the main quest in Fallout 4 was that players were pushed into choosing one faction, then annihilating one or more of other factions (sometimes all three rival factions). Players who tried to find peaceful resolutions to the Commonwealth’s problems often got railroaded into antagonizing their former allies, and got stuck with missions that forced them to blow up the home base of people that they would rather try to negotiate with. Far Harbor does give players the option of just killing one faction for a quick resolution, however there are many other paths to peace.
Far Harbor is set on an island, far from the Commonwealth and the squabbling of mainland politics. The islanders have lived mostly at peace with each other in the centuries following the war. Mainland factions like the Brotherhood, the Railroad, the Minutemen, and even the Institute have little to no influence on the people of Far Harbor.
The real threat they face is a unique, mysterious fog that rolls through the island. The fog itself is radioactive, but the true menace is the monsters that live inside it. At the time the story begins, the fog has enveloped all but a small section of the docks by the harbor.
The only thing that keeps this community alive are devices called “fog condensers.” These were created by a community of runaway synths that set up shop in an abandoned observatory in the middle of the island. These synths live in peace with the humans who live on the docks. However, as the Sole Survivor investigates the island, they will learn that this peace is built on a bedrock of lies.
Further complicating matters is that the radiation-loving cultists, The Children of Atom, have come to Far Harbor and set up a temple in an atomic submarine. These zany cultists could have been nothing more than the designated antagonist faction of the story, but Far Harbor’s narrative structure makes all three of groups sympathetic to some degree. Many of the missions for The Children of Atom involve these characters questioning their faith, or trying to leave the church altogether. Murdering them all for a quick quest complete isn’t an easy choice.
The other two factions have their own nuances. Acadia, the synth community, is led by an ancient synth who has lost his memories of his past deeds on the island. Holding him accountable for long-forgotten actions is both a moral and legal quandary. Players also have to ask themselves if they consider synths to be human, subhuman, or superior to humans. There is even dialog where the Sole Survivor can question whether or not they were replaced by a synth before emerging from their cryopod at the start of the game!
Even the humble fishermen on the docks have some deep dark secrets that could tear the town apart. Players can help them avoid overt war with The Children, but then cause the town to fall apart if these hidden sins are revealed.
In a way, the fog itself is a fourth faction. Although the fog has no conscious agenda, the other factions are defined by how they react to it. Is it something to be controlled, stopped, or simply endured? Each faction has their own view.
Far Harbor’s various groups exist in an uneasy peace, but this won’t last for long. The Children of Atom have found a way to increase the fog that threatens the other humans on the island. Unless the Player intervenes, the fog will inevitably overrun all of Far Harbor. Some of the townsfolk at the Harbor want to just wipe out the Children of Atom. Meanwhile, the synths of Acadia remain neutral in this conflict, but they could easily help either side eradicate the other.
However, the choice isn’t a simple coin flip where the player picks one side then kills off who they decide are the bad guys. These conflicts have deep roots, and players who investigate all of the clues and side quests will find options to resolve things peacefully. Unfortunately, these peaceful solutions often involve making moral compromises, and allowing secrets to remain buried. Choosing the peaceful option won’t necessarily feel like the morally correct thing to do. Being honest can likewise lead to grave consequences that will make players wish they’d let sleeping dogs lie.
The story and content for Far Harbor is not entirely self-contained on the island. It begins when the Sole Survivor and Nick Valentine get a new case at Nick’s detective agency. There’s a brief mission on the mainland, after which a boat becomes available and players can use it to travel to and from Far Harbor at any time.
Nick is integral to this first mission, of course, but he also figures heavily into the synth storyline of Far Harbor. Players can bring along whatever companion they want, but having Nick there will reveal hidden depths to the story (and access to items that can only be gained when Nick is the companion). It also resolves some plot threads about Nick’s past that were never answered in Fallout 4‘s base game.
There is also a new companion in the DLC, Old Longfellow. He’s a salty seaman who was raised on the island, and is now a grizzled, old survivalist who leads people through the most dangerous parts of the island. He comes in handy when exploring new territory, often providing lore on the places and characters. He can be brought back to the mainland to share adventures in the Commonwealth as well.
There is a treasure trove of new weapons, clothing, armor, and food. The harpoon gun that was discovered in the game’s code long ago is now available, but it does not allow underwater combat. There is also a refreshing new beverage called Vim! It’s the poor man’s Nuka-Cola, but it’s craftable and players can learn to make a variety of power-ups using Vim as a component. Much like Sunset Sarsaparilla from New Vegas, it implies that different parts of the Wasteland had their own local rival to the Nuka-Cola beverage empire.
Far Harbor even makes some attempts at altering the settlement system. There are a handful of new settlements around the island, and these need the fog condensers to keep creatures from attacking. Occasionally, the condensers will breakdown at a settlement, leading to an attack of powerful monsters. Players have to run around the settlement repairing the devices, while fighting off fog beasts.
The game still shackles players with maintaining settlements back on the mainland, even when the Sole Survivor is at Far Harbor. As they explore an exotic new land on a mysterious new adventure, they will occasionally have to drop everything and go back to save Blake Abernathy from molerats, or lay down extra sleeping bags for the newest settlers at the Red Rocket.
Far Harbor also has a bizarre virtual reality sequence that is part Minecraft and part tower defense. Players have to move boxes and gun turrets around VR mazes to solve puzzles and defend helpless little VR creatures. It’s more of a nuisance than a genuine challenge, but it’s clearly an attempt to expand on the defense aspects of the settlement system. When building settlements in the main game, players don’t need to put much thought into where defenses are placed as long as the total defense score is high enough. With the levels in this VR sequence, the placement of defenses is vital to success. This VR level might be a hint that future updates or DLC will bring a more strategic, tower defense mechanic to settlements.
Far Harbor is worth its sizable price tag. It adds up to 20 hours of play to the game for people who thoroughly explore the island. The nautical-themed weapons, armor, and food are fun new toys to play with while adventuring on the mainland. However, the greatest value of this DLC is the story. This is a return to the more intricate form of storytelling from the previous Fallout games. Players who take the time to get to know each faction will find themselves facing some difficult choices when the adventure comes to it climax. Far Harbor is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. It is available with the season pass, or for $24.99 as a stand alone purchase.
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