[This post contains mild spoilers for Far Harbor and Fallout 4′s main game.]
I hate Far Harbor because it makes me so sad about what Fallout 4 is and what it could have been.
Far Harbor is a truly wonderful DLC. It adds an entirely new area to the game, and includes everything that makes the base game good. The atmosphere is mysterious and tense, with fog lowering visibility until enemies become blurry, threatening shadows and glorious ambient music – so often overshadowed in player’s minds thanks to the radio function, but always truly wonderful if one pays attention. It takes the attempt at grey morality from the base game and adds some genuine stumbling blocks to make the player really think about the themes presented. Yet there is also comedy folded into its every corner.
And those corners, as ever with Fallout, are the best parts of the game. Far Harbor introduces an optional sidequest with a new vault to explore, with all the lore, intrigue, and interesting characters you could ever want. I unravelled a mystery, participated in some art criticism, and slept with a bisexual actress robot all within fifteen minutes. It was also probably the longest I had gone in the entirety of Fallout 4 without having to kill something, a mechanic that while often important in the Fallout series is leaned on far too heavily in the base game, with almost no quests not being some variation upon “go here, shoot things, return.”
There are some pretty great corners in the base game of Fallout 4 too, but it is let down by problems in almost every other area. Far Harbor corrects many of those problems. As well as areas without the need for endless shooting, there are areas in which alternate solutions are provided to problems that can also be solved by shooting. Skill checks, based upon your character’s abilities or even rare items you may have picked up during the base game, return from where we thought they had been abandoned in Fallout New Vegas, and they are done really well. There is a sense of satisfaction being able to solve a problem because of all the effort that I put into creating a well rounded and skilled character that just isn’t the same as the satisfaction of killing the thousandth enemy in the game.
This is not to say that there aren’t things to shoot. Far Harbor introduces a variety of new enemies based predominantly upon the marine environment that the DLC is set in. These designs are appropriately eerie – the lure of a monster mutated from an angler fish works just as well on a player trained to head towards light sources in search of loot as a real angler fish’s bait works on unsuspecting prey. Another one of my favourite touches is that the Gulpers are appropriately named – upon death they seem to have a truly random inventory of junk in their corpses. Other than synths, Fallout 4 had not introduced many original enemies previously, so Far Harbor’s are a welcome refreshment to mix things up.
The main storyline of Far Harbor is also desperately welcome. The main plot of Fallout 4 is the weakest aspect of the game, without real moral consequence or lasting impacts. Far Harbor has both of these. Fallout 4’s main factions have differing opinions on how to deal with synths, but when these are simply to kill, enslave, or save, the latter is never really questioned as the moral thing to do, though some conflict is created by the immoral acts needed to achieve this goal. However, DiMA, leader of a synth colony on the island, raises far more real questions about the morality of the methods of those who were previously providing the only way to save synths, whilst also adding depth to the story fan favourite companion Nick Valentine. This adds some sorely needed nuance to the main plot, though it doesn’t provide an alternate resolution and thus also makes the base game’s limitations all the more frustrating.
Far Harbor’s own plot is also far more complex. It’s relatively straightforward to say that the three factions on the island should find a way to live in peace with one another, but getting that to happen is easier said than done. In my playthrough I failed, causing the mass murder of the synth colony, and at first I was extremely upset. Unable to defend the synths in any way, I refused to participate in the battle and my character stood in the doorway, unmoving, the camera slowly spinning around her while I mentally and physically distanced myself from my failure by leaving my console altogether.
Upon further thought, however, this was a completely reasonable thing to happen. I had rushed the story without doing any of the sidequests for the people of Far Harbor (which is one of the factions, not the entire area) and so they hadn’t warmed up to me. I passed a persuasion check on the leader, but the crowd was against me and swayed him back. This is a totally reasonable thing to happen – I had no power there and there was no reason for me to have that power. Had I raised my status in the community, I might have been able to have a greater impact. By rewarding effort and planning, Far Harbor crafts a far more meaningful story than the main plot of Fallout 4. It is also woven into the choices made by the player in the base game, which helps it to feel cohesive and makes it worthwhile to return to on a playthrough supporting a different faction.
This is not to say that the DLC is perfect. It suffers from the usual Bethesda bugs, including booting me to the Xbox home more than once. There is also a mandatory puzzle sequence that I almost immediately gave up on and used a walkthrough to complete because it was simply not fun and took away from the atmosphere and pacing of the rest of the DLC.
Nonetheless, I love Far Harbor and I can’t wait to explore all of its nooks and crannies, and to reach it in another playthrough so that I can more carefully consider how to balance the fighting factions of the island. And yet I remain bitter that the entirety of Fallout 4 couldn’t have been crafted with such care and finesse.