After dozens of hours in the rough-and-tumble Commonwealth, the coast of Maine sounds like the perfect place for a sojourn in Fallout 4. Enjoy a boat ride; meet new people; solve a mystery with your best synthetic friend–what’s not to love?
Who am I kidding: Far Harbor is just as overrun with radiation, desperate factions, and mutated creatures as Fallout 4’s main stage. Along its rocky shores and in its foggy woods lie odd characters and rewarding side quests, along with a bounty of new gear to acquire. Visiting Far Harbor is an excellent way to extend your enjoyment of Fallout 4’s brand of combat and casual role-playing, but it doesn’t succeed in all of its attempts to build on the foundation of the base game’s story.
In many ways, Far Harbor seems like a trip down memory lane. You once again set out in search of a missing child, and ultimately discover a society in the throes of a complicated conflict. The crazed Children of Atom worship radiation, taking refuge in the dense irradiated fog that covers the island. They are at odds with the citizens of Far Harbor: the seafaring town reduced to the only swath of land not overrun by fog. Elsewhere, synths who want to live in peace and isolation watch from the sidelines, though as you soon discover, a murky past brings their motivations into question.
Shortly after you arrive on the island and help defend townsfolk from invading monsters, you’re whisked away to the synth refuge in Acadia. Not long after, you’re guided to The Children of Atom’s sanctuary, called The Nucleus. Unless you deviate into side quests right away, you’ll have met most of Far Harbor’s big players in less than an hour, and these meetings deliver a rapid-fire procession of seemingly major events and revelations. Unfortunately, this eagerness backfires.
Far Harbour isn’t shy about asking you to join a murderous group of religious extremists, or attempting to make you question your own identity. While these moments have potential, they aren’t given the time and space they need to spur a meaningful response. The biggest twist of all is so mired in logical inconsistencies that it practically feels like a joke. After the dozens of hours it took to form a position on the various players and problems in the main campaign, the abrupt propositions in Far Harbor feel cheap, to say nothing of how familiar the narrative’s themes are at this stage in the game.
The biggest risk Far Harbor takes is a trip into the memory banks of a synth, where you use Fallout 4’s settlement-building toolset to recompile broken pieces of data. With a limited number of items at your disposal, you have to redirect lasers to break down barriers and place armaments of your own to defend the flow of information from cannon-toting viruses, all while trying your best not to walk into pitfalls. These sequences are visually distinct and put your abilities as a craftsman to practical use, but they come off as a half-baked puzzle game concocted to drum up variety. Up to the last puzzle, the solutions are easy to identify and execute. The final test, on the other hand, is sprawling and requires tedious exploration, made worse by the limited amount of resources you have to build bridges to and from the maps’ various islands of data.
As I dug my heels in and meticulously worked for a solution to the final puzzle, I yearned for adventure. For all the baggage in Far Harbor, it successfully upholds Fallout’s tradition of combat, driven by odd requests from locals or by your own lust for loot. New weapons like the harpoon gun empower you to take on new creatures that are fast, resilient, and challenging enough to test seasoned survivors. The only hiccup that gets in the way comes from the fog that permeates Far Harbor, at least on PlayStation 4 and PC at launch–these versions suffer from optimization issues, with the PS4 version suffering the worst during fog-laced combat. The fog and the light that sneaks through it creates a great visual effect, but it’s a shame that it comes at the cost of performance.
For its new locations and weapons, the turbulent waters of Maine are a satisfying compliment to Fallout 4. But where Far Harbor succeeds in delivering more of the same great gameplay and oddball characters that made the main campaign such a joy, it can’t muster an interesting story. It over-confidently asserts twists and conundrums, without doing enough to earn your investment in the outcome of your decisions. If a moving story is what you’re after, steer your ship back to the shores of the Commonwealth.