While wandering the Commonwealth, killing some supermutants, a new radio frequency appears. Ellie Perkins, Nick Valentine’s assistant, needs to see you right away. So you and Nick (bring him with you on this adventure, trust me) pop by the long forgotten office to see what’s the matter. She has an urgent case she needs you to investigate and you’re sent to the far north east corner of the Commonwealth. You discover here that a couple needs your help to track down their daughter. So you leave the Commonwealth for the first time and travel further north to Far Harbor, a town on a mysterious island off the coast Maine.
Upon arrival you immediately discover that the island is in the midst of a civil struggle and the search for the girl quickly sees you twisted into a plot for the fate of the island. Basically three factions are vying for control. There are the simple village folk of Far Harbor, just trying to survive; the synths of Acadia, who want to protect synths and all the people of the island; and the fanatical Children of Atom, who believe the island fog is brought on by a higher power. This fog, which covers the island, is not just aesthetic, as it is irradiated and exposure can be fatal. This leads to the Children of Atom and the people of Far Harbor arguing over who controls the land, while the Synths of Acadia just try to keep peace. But there is a cost to maintaining peace and the deeper you pry the more you discover. While this all sounds intriguing, and in a way it is, it is executed poorly.
If the ‘three factions fighting each-other for control’ narrative sound familiar that’s because it is. The plot eerily parallels the sub-par plot of the main game. You see as with the main quest in Fallout 4 the Far Harbor quest line gets jumbled up in the faction quest lines, to the point where characters are giving you conflicting information and you are just left confused and annoyed. Think about it like a spider web, where each quest is a line in a web. They just end up criss-crossing over each other and stepping on each-others toes to point where you would kill for a little linearity. Bethesda needs to take a book out of the Elder Scrolls series and keep the faction and main quests separate because it is clear that creating these complex, intertwined, stories, just doesn’t work. At the end of the day because everything becomes so jumbled every resolution leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
By far though, the most egregious sin of the Far Harbor expansion is the puzzle section. Yes, the puzzle section. In a Fallout game. And it’s worse than you could imagine! Essentially you get sucked into a computer program and in order to continue you need to complete block puzzles in a Minecraft like universe. There are 5 puzzles, at the end of which you get crucial story information. Not only is it bad and not in the theme of the Fallout universe, but it’s so boring, frustrating and incredibly time consuming. And there’s no way to skip it! So each time you finish a puzzle the information completely loses its punch because you’ve been completely sucked out of the Fallout 4 experience and feel like you are playing another game entirely. My sincerest hope is that there is an eventual patch that will allow you to skip this section but as of right now you’re wasting hours moving blocks around.
Moving on from the negative, I have to say I was also hoping for some complex character work out of Far Harbor and they almost succeed on one front. Far Harbor offers a truly unique character, DiMA, one of the first prototype synths. He is the leader of the synths in Acadia and a self-appointed guardian of the island. There is something mystical and almost god like about him at first. His philosophies force you to think incredibly deeply about the nature of synths. Questions like ‘how do you know you’re not a synth,’ were ones that threw me for a loop. How do we know? Maybe everyone is a synth? DiMA is a deep complex character and his development takes some interesting twists, ones I couldn’t expect. Unfortunately though, the buck stops there, as every other character fills a certain stereotype, and while they aren’t bad, they have little to offer.
The island, as it is called, is just as interesting to explore as the commonwealth. The patented Fallout 4 interactive story telling is on full display once again. There are dozens of new interesting locations with mysteries to uncover. As per usual you have to dig a little to find them but if you do you won’t be disappointed. Far Harbor reiterates that Fallout 4’s real strength is off the beaten path away from the doldrums of the main plot. It only stumbles in its aesthetic. While the fog is meant to add mystery and story to the island, it gets in the way much more than it’s actually useful. For a game focused on exploration, not being able to see things off in the distance is a letdown. In a way you end up relying on your map to plot out what to do next, instead of exploring what’s ahead of you. The fog is more annoying than it is atmospheric.
Once you parse your way through the fog though you’ll realize that the area is staggering in size with loads of things to do. There are also a few additions you can bring back to the Commonwealth like harpoon guns and new armor. I particularly enjoyed my time with a weapon that looks like a fat man but replaces nukes with bowling balls. Add in a new companion and there’s some cool new stuff to enjoy but not enough to wow you.
Far Harbor is more Fallout 4, a game where the exploration and interactive storytelling is much better than the main plot. And while this time around we were introduced to a genuinely intriguing character and plot points with lots of promise, story quickly becomes muddled and confusing. Add a horrendous puzzle section and you have an expansion I’d recommend passing on everyone other than the most diehard of fans.