Wot I Think: Fallout 4: Far Harbor

The Fog comes and goes. Sometimes, on a good year, it hangs thinly around the mountains, or concentrates itself somewhere avoidable. It’s a hassle, but folks manage. Other years, it reaches out and drapes itself thickly across the whole island, swallowing villages and ruins and marinas. Folks manage a lot less. There are things in The Fog, you see. Old things, all twisted up by radiation and ill will. Sometimes The Fog carries poison. Sometimes it just drives you mad. Welcome to Fallout 4‘s Far Harbour. This is a bad year.

Far Harbour, Bethesda’s first large expansion to Fallout 4 begins simply enough. You pick up a radio signal (because you always pick up a radio signal) which, rather than presenting a new mystery or a strange voice, acts as a sort of pager from detective Nick Valentine’s assistant. “Hey!” she says, in as many words. “There’s a new case! Hey! Get back here!”. A girl has gone missing, vanished in the night, and you’re sent from Nick’s office to the north of the Commonwealth to get the full picture from her parents. This is when a spanner is thrown into the works. The girl wasn’t kidnapped, that’s for sure. She left, shortly after fixing a broken radio and receiving a transmission from an island to the north. It described Acadia, a haven built and run by synths, where they can live apart from the danger and prejudice of the Commonwealth, and Kasumi, our missing person, set sail because she had a strange feeling at the back of her mind.

Some of Fallout 4’s most memorable moments came from its stories about synths, sentient robots that run the gamut from “visibly robotic” to “indistinguishable from humans”. Bethesda spun their most interesting stories around the fact that often it’s impossible to tell whether or not somebody is a human or a synth. Synths have memories of growing up, but they have gaps. Synths often bleed, they breathe, they sleep. As you hear over and over in both the expansion and the main game, “there are no tests for synths that aren’t fatal”. So here’s Kasumi, with gaps in her memory, with a sense of unbelonging, with a fixed radio and a fishing boat. She’s gone. Her parents are distraught.

You arrive on the island in the middle of the night, and are thrown straight away into a battle for the survival of the town. This is an extremely Fallout move; few peaceful settlements are discovered without immediately being threatened, few NPCs are given a direct introduction other than “no time for this! We can talk later!” The night battle, though, illuminated alternately by lightning and molotov cocktails, is the expansion’s first sign that Bethesda have rediscovered something that was present in Skyrim but somewhat lacking in Fallout’s main game: a confident and palpable sense of atmosphere.

The Island is remarkably striking. Drawing as many cues from the province of Skyrim as it does the Glowing Sea, it is a vast landmass broken up by mountains, swamps, inland lakes and horrible, horrible forests. The Fog drowns the trees and filters through their upper branches. When lightning storms happen, the strikes cut through the Fog suddenly and nastily — what you thought was a cliff is revealed to be a vast submarine dock, what you thought was a broken treetrunk is a creature watching you. An early side location is a bowling alley which, for reasons I couldn’t quite work out, had a gigantic truck crashed through the roof onto the lanes, with a crane outside trying to lift it back out. Far Harbour’s Fog condensers, ramshackle machines meant to hold back the encroachment, hiss and sputter and glow. They have a bright blue electric light on the top, and the Fog whips around them and spirals and disperses.

Early on, I was led up a treacherous mountain path by Old Longfellow, the expansion’s taciturn new companion, when an unearthly whooping noise emerged from the thick Fog just off the path. “That’s a Crawler,” said Longfellow, and rather than heralding the arrival of a miniboss it was a sign that we had better move quickly on. The sound echoed behind us.

In so many ways, though, it’s still the same Fallout. Dialogue, for the most part, moves stiltedly between exposition and [sarcasm], rarely taking a moment to express something surprising or evocative. As usual, Bethesda lets their environments do the talking and their characters do the explaining. NPC pathfinding is still a major issue; in a scene meant to be particularly emotional, Nick Valentine approached his conversational partner and then slowly orbited them like an unsteady satellite before sitting on a chair facing away. Super mutants will tangle themselves up on scenery. Companions will run headlong into traps.

It’s a mystery, then, why a central section of the expansion is essentially a game of platforming tower defense in which NPC pathfinding is crucial. That’s not meant metaphorically – about halfway through the main storyline, the game transforms dramatically for a segment. It becomes an outright puzzle game for five levels, and while it’s mechanically interesting, it is completely and entirely let down by the engine. All of Fallout’s movement and tool systems are built for gigantic open worlds, not individual puzzle chambers, and it shows. In settlement mode, I often found myself coming up against issues as my settlers would fail to use a door, or get caught in a corridor. The puzzle section of Far Harbour conjures this exact feeling, but on the critical path of the game.

It’s a shame. The expansion is so large, so full of stuff, that the puzzle sequence forms a very small part of it. It’s just a very, very frustrating part. Grit your teeth. Take deep breaths. Hope that the pathfinding behaves. You will be able to get back to what you enjoy about Fallout, I promise.

I’ve said that Far Harbour’s dialogue largely maintains Fallout’s tradition of conversations that sound more like inexpert forgeries of speech, but for the first time in a long while I was genuinely surprised and invested in the wider story. Brilliantly, the enclosed setting of the island allows the developers to play out the sort of interfactional conflict seen in the main game on a much smaller, more personal scale; what begins as a missing persons case rapidly becomes a story about three distinct groups of people, and their attempts to work out how to live in this place, at this time. Far Harbour itself is a small town trying desperately to hold off the fog until a good year rolls around again, under the command of Mayor Avery, a brisk, friendly woman whose main concerns are making sure that people have enough fresh water and don’t get eaten. The Children of Atom, the radiation worshipping religion from the main game, have set up a base in a disused nuclear submarine under the leadership of High Confessor Tektus. Tektus is a man so glowingly zealous that his cavernous base takes on the feel of a cathedral, all hanging banners and candles and hushed, echoey whispers. And then, in the Acadia Observatory, high above the fog under spinning wind turbines, is the Acadia Synth community. The sky is blue up there. The synths are led by the frankly terrifying DiMA, an ancient robot covered in extra valves and storage units and processors. The exact manner in which DiMA is frightening changes several times over the course of the expansion, and it is in the player’s interactions with him that Far Harbour really plays its cards as far as its narrative ambitions are concerned. At several points, I believed I had got him sussed only for the game to twist itself again, to reveal something new about him. Don’t get me wrong, in so many ways DiMA still talks like every Fallout character, but… he goes somewhere, and it is consistently interesting to watch how he gets there.

Fallout’s side stories have always thrived when they’ve been self contained stories of people doing brave or stupid things. An island-wide background story about the struggling Vim Corporation, a rival to Nuka Cola, goes places so quietly weird and varied that there are subplots that I haven’t gotten to the bottom of yet. Elsewhere, two co-workers hear of their colleague’s terrible war wound and decide that since he won’t be able to bowl anymore, they might as well make him a gun that fires bowling balls. Nobody can quite work out exactly how campy they’re supposed to be; the owner of the bar in Far Harbour plays the role of the portentous “you shouldn’t be here, mainlander” type to perfection, while my player character often completely misjudged the seriousness of a situation and delivered her lines as though she was in a far sillier situation. A radio signal operated by a long dead (and spectacularly bored) cinema receptionist rivals Diamond City Radio’s Travis for brilliantly incompetent broadcasting.

It’s so much. There’s so much. Near the start, I set out to try and circumnavigate the island to try and get a sense of its scale, but I was distracted almost immediately and veered off inland towards lights flickering in the trees. In the way that Fallout can be, it has the capacity to be an incredibly tiring game; faced with another looming factory on the horizon, I sighed, steeled myself. Bethesda still doesn’t really know how to design complex interior spaces without them being muddled and twisty. But also, in the way that Fallout can be, it has the capacity to be remarkably quiet and beautiful; the lights I saw through the trees revealed themselves to be a tiny ruined house, bonfire burning inside, upturned boats hoisted high on the roof.

Turn off the radio. The island’s music breathes with flutes and whistles, cellos, a fiddle. Way back before all this, people danced in the bar in Far Harbour. Called out to fishing ships returning at the end of the day.

Fallout 4: Far Harbor is out now.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    I noticed that you did’t really write a conclusion to your Wot I Think, which then makes me wonder if any of the staff writers normally do. I find this interesting because as I pondered what I wanted to comment on, I feel a strong urge to ask “but what did/do you think, to recap?”

    Truthfully, I do not actually want a recap. Your article was thought provoking in and of itself. Thanks for sharing those impressions.

    • Ragnar says:

      My memory is telling me that the regular staff almost always do.

      • Rich says:

        Yeah there is usually a conclusion at the end that makes it clear if the author recommends the game. I quite often jump to the conclusion first, treating it like an abstract.

  2. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    “But also, in the way that Fallout can be, it has the capacity to be remarkably quiet and beautiful; the lights I saw through the trees revealed themselves to be a tiny ruined house, bonfire burning inside, upturned boats hoisted high on the roof.

    Turn off the radio. The island’s music breathes with flutes and whistles, cellos, a fiddle. Way back before all this, people danced in the bar in Far Harbour. Called out to fishing ships returning at the end of the day. ”

    This was lovely :-)

    There’s not much to add, really–I loved the aesthetics of Far Harbor, and and I loved that smaller scale allowed for a more consistent focus (the settlement stuff really does have the feeling of pushing back against the encroaching wasteland, which wasn’t always the case in the base game. I thought they did a much better job of making the factions’ behavior feel consistent with their stated goals and beliefs this time too).

    Also Vault 118 is probably my favorite one in the modern Fallouts. Was very happy to see that they got one right, after the lackluster vaults in the main game (81 was cool, but more because it was surprising to find an actual functional vault than anything else).

    • LintMan says:

      I really liked Far Harbor’s main story and atmosphere. Avoiding spoilers, I was genuinely surprised by a certain discovery, and thought the decision this required was quite interesting.

      I’m not at all sure what the “puzzle game” levels complaint in the article was referring to. I’ve played through pretty much all of the main and side quests of the DLC and don’t recall anything like that.

      Overall, I’d say that – despite its flaws -this is the best DLC I’ve seen from Bethesda in years.

  3. Legion23 says:

    Well I am glad for the many people who seem to enjoy Far Harbor but for me the basic flaws of the game are so annoying by now that the experience is ruined. I will probably leave this DLC unfinished like the main game and still feel sad about it.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Time for mods

    • Samwise says:

      Have you tried it since the new survival update? I tried and failed to get into it 3 times before but got bored each time. However since the survival update I am loving it, it’s finally the game I wanted it to be, well close enough anyway. And, of course, mods.

    • NotGodot says:

      I haven’t bought or played the game, but from all accounts this game is almost an apology for a lot of the problems with Fallout 4. Apparently there are bits of design literally cribbed from New Vegas, which at least suggests that Bethesda is aware of the underwhelming reception to FO4.

  4. hungrycookpot says:

    Fallout 4 in my opinion wasn’t worth the time to finish, and certainly not worth the $80 I paid for it. No patch or DLC can fix the issues that ruin the game, they’re so deeply ingrained in what it is. Bland, lazy, boring, repetitive.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ericusson says:

      I did exactly the same.
      Suddenly the question of why I was wasting my time with this excel shiny software with never ending missions from these stupid settlers came and I never got back to it.

    • shadow9d9 says:

      They got your money, so they don’t care. Keep buying these products(for huge premiums to boot) and you are exactly the reason flawed games keep getting hyped and sell well.

      • Arkayjiya says:

        Of course they care, they want you to buy their DLC and next games in the series as well.

    • andu says:

      agreed, I dont want to shell out any more $ for this title because the base game was ultimately so disappointingly bland and shallow. The game looks nice and everything but it feels like another case of bethesda dumbing down it’s series to appeal to a broader market. I can’t believe I find myself wanting games to be far more complicated like they were in the 90s and early 2000s.

    • SomeDuder says:

      You paid $80 dollars for this crap? Holy hell, even if this was a decent game, I’d find it a waste of money, but with a Bethesda game? I mean, even before you install it, you know that it’s got buggy pathfinding, insane physics and interactions with the environment…

      Anyone reading this who hasn’t yet purchased FO 4 – just… wait till the GotY edition and a 75% discount, stop justifying the publisher’s belief that was these games are is anything resembling “good”

      • SomeDuder says:


        Goddamnit, the comment system of this blog/videogame “journalism” review site are as broken as a Bethesda engine

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      So glad that I didn’t get the DLC season pass when I bought the main game. I learned my lesson for once and didn’t give in to my pre-release excitement (which quickly turned to post-release disappointment).

  5. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    That review was way smarter and more interesting than its subject, presumably. Better-written is a given, because Bethesda.

  6. Turkey says:

    I think Pete Hines recently confirmed that the expansion is actually called “Fart Harbor,” so you might want to change the title.

    • Shiloh says:

      The original concept was for “Fart Barber” apparently but it didn’t sit well with the focus groups.

  7. Zenicetus says:

    Well, I’m enjoying it so far, mainly for the setting. The combat is lackluster — snipe your first shot, then circle strafe until done. High level weapons don’t feel that different from each other (I’m using all unique and full upgraded, named unique weapons at level 46). NPC dialogues are wooden, as usual. But all this is typical Bethesda so I knew what to expect.

    What they do well is create environmental settings. So that’s what I’m playing it for, like I did the main game. For me it’s enough. There aren’t that many sci-fi themed games out there, ‘ya know? Bring on Mass Effect Andromeda and the CDPR cyberpunk thing. Meanwhile, this will do.

    • Stevostin says:

      Dialog aren’t great in F4 but the companion and their monologue stories were pretty good IMO. I probably liked more those guys than my team in Massive Effect.

    • Politik says:

      Technomancer at the end of June. That could be good… Right? Right???

    • SirSnake says:

      I have got several complaints about FO4 that left me feeling rather disappointed.

      However more than anything else its the lack of unique weapons alla FO3/FNV. One of the best things about FO3/FNV was that random “cave diving” could net you some ace loot.

      In FO4 you felt that really you could craft anything you wanted yourself, especially in weapon terms. I know that you can find some weapons with “unique” properties but not much beyond uninteresting “+30% energy damage” or “+10% against synths”.

      Nothing on finding the “all american” or the “experimental MIRV”!

      • Zenicetus says:

        I remember the All American, that was great.

        There are a few weapons in Fallout 4 that are unique enough to be interesting, but for some reason Bethesda decided to make half of them available from vendors instead of random hidden locations. Like the Overseer’s Guardian combat rifle (fires two bullets and is devastating when upgraded to .308), or the “Justice” shotgun. That’s annoying, especially when they can be very expensive like that last one.

        They’re doing the same thing in Far Harbor. You can find some uniques, but the best armor pieces in the game (legendary Marine) is only sold at vendors and costs a fortune.

      • NotGodot says:

        So, uniques are just enchanted items? That sounds really lame. NV in particular really made uniques feel special, even if rules about console patching meant you had to buy the GRA-added uniques off of a vendor, because they all had their own models with a load of detail to differentiate them and give them some narrative heft.

  8. Tannhauser says:

    Unfortunate that Bethesda’s version of Fallout has completely overwritten the memory of Interplay’s Fallout. This article continually refers to a “Fallout” series that completely reflects Bethesda, even Obsidian’s work on New Vegas falls by the wayside.

    Especially the multiple complaints about the dialogue, that might be a Bethesda hallmark, but I’d be sad to see it labeled as part of Fallout.

    • Stevostin says:

      Thing is “memory of interplay’s fallout” and what interplay’s fallout actually was are two different things. Even Fallout 2 had way less option in quest resolutions than your average F3 which can be clearly seen nowadays by comparing wiki but was completely missed not only by the journalist but also in most part by the players. Even F2’s writting is to a large extent pretty bland (as is wasteland btw).

      F4 has far less options in quest resolution than F3 or FNV had. In a way it’s probably thanks to all the people too busy to revered cherished memory not of what F1&2 were, but what they would have been ideally to realize that yes, for all its flaws Fallout 3 was an immense RPG, the kind of one we don’t have every years. Or two years.

      Too bad. F4 isn’t a bad game but it’s not a good RPG. And yes, this time it really is Skyrim with guns. I miss Fallout New Vegas badly.

      • PineMaple says:

        I recently replayed FO2 and I’m not so sure this is true. One early quest in FO2 requires you to free someone from a slaver’s guild. You can blow them up with dynamite, kill them in a standard firefight, talk them down from their wicked ways, sleep with the leader, or join them and become a slaver yourself. The way you choose to approach this quest can have a profound impact on the next 10 or so hours of your playthrough (and haunt you until the endgame if you join the slavers). This is also just the final stage of the quest, there were earlier stages involving finding the slavers that had multiple options as well, and that entire questline is fairly representative. Compare this to your standard quest in FO3, which involves you shooting down a bunch of Mutants or Raiders, and maybe you can get some extra caps if you have the right perk. Even when options are given in FO3, you usually only have 2.

        • melancholicthug says:

          Meh. You’re clearly old. And a hater. Why are you so old and hater? Can’t you recognize the brilliance of our lords and saviors of Beth that Made Fallout Great(tm)?

          (That was faceticious, btw).

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        link to fallout.wikia.com
        The possible permutations and response in that quest really caught me of guard when one of the quest characters randomly got himself killed and the quest had a branch for it.
        Though at the same time it forced me to break character and the reward was kind of crap.

      • cautet says:

        It’s only by playing Fo4 that you can really appreciate just how good Fo3 was. No-one is in danger of forgetting how great NV was.

        I am in awe of those with enough stamina to play this DLC. Even the thought of playing Fo4 again make yawn.

  9. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Sounds atmospheric, and my favourite bits of Fallout 4 were when it was being atmospheric (the glowing sea is one of my favourite locations in the series, even though I’m pretty sure there isn’t that much to discover in there). Tempting.

  10. Gordon Shock says:

    I haven’t played F4 yet and from it’s release up to now it feels like half the screenshot take place from inside a power armor.

    How mandatory is the power armor in the game?
    Is it reserved for specific areas?
    Is the gameplay built upon the player using it?
    And if so are you screwed if one decides to not use it?


    • Chemix says:

      In my playthrough, I rarely step outside the power armor, because doing so makes you very ‘squishy,’ but more importantly it means you can’t haul the mountains of junk you need for crafting and settlement building. I haven’t played in a while, but I surmise that the survival mode adding weight to ammo only makes this more prominent. However, I’m a bit of a packrat that tries to play the game like HL2 with one of every weapon type, and gets frustrated that I can’t bring my rocket launcher and my laser Gatling with me on an outing. Granted, the sparseness of any ammo besides .38 means that if you only take one, two, or three guns with you, you’ll be running on empty pretty soon, particularly if that weapon is an energy weapon. There are perks that help with this, but I find myself looking at 0 ammo counts fairly often unless I have a mod that lets me turn one of those aforementioned mountains of scrap into ammo.
      Part of the reason why ammo is chewed through so quickly is that outdoor enemies respawn, and all enemies soak up a fair amount of damage. So if you’re not using fast travel to get from point A to point B, you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting.
      Getting back to power armor, the only advantage to taking it off is to use stealth (which is… lackluster, especially if you’re playing MGS on a regular basis), to use certain computer terminals that require you to sit down in order to use them (almost never the case for door terminals), to swim (granted power armor gives you unlimited underwater breathing), or to craft because those semi-robotic gloves are just too unwieldy to cook a hotdog in. It makes more sense for finer crafts, but this also means that outside of a settlement you own, you have to get out of your power armor and walk in slow mode (overencumbered) to craft anything. To avoid this, you dump all your stuff at your settlements’ workstation, but unless you have a supply line, you’ll have to be at that settlement to use the stuff.

      Gameplay is largely based on using power armor, and taking down anything like a deathclaw basically requires it unless you have all the stealth perks and a really good gun. Now if there’s two death claws, well, you’re going to have to do some fancy shootin cause… well, they’re deathclaws and they do what it says on the tin. I found myself using stimpacks very frequently without power armor, which is ok because they are fairly plentiful, but I imagine the late game will put a strain on your supply without the best non-power armor, and even then, the enemies respawn, but the supplies don’t so eventually it will be difficult, but by then you should have a good gun, and hopefully, decent aim.

      TLDR: You can play without power armor, but you’ll be seriously handicapped and won’t be able to haul the junk required to really do some crafting.

      • Gordon Shock says:

        Thanks Chemix.

        Sad to see though that Fallout is now more or less a shooter. The most fun I had with the last two was to be cautious, plan ahead and bring the right tools to tackle the situation. Now, from what you wrote, it seems that I can just hop into a PA and roleplay being an overpowered Bid Daddy as I mow down legion of Deathclaws that comes my way.

        I think I’ll wait until loads of mods are ready before jumping in.

        • cautet says:

          You can certainly play it that way. You plan ahead scope out the enemy, then go get your power-armor. I played like that at the start – and it’s definitely more fun to play it like that although there just so much to wade through in the game it just gets easier to wear power-armor and fast travel around.

        • Chemix says:

          I didn’t mean to say that the power armor made the game super easy, I mean, deathclaws are always a threat… unless you are outside their pathing, but that’s true of any melee enemy in a Bethesda title. What I’m saying, is that the game is indeed based around the power armor, and that without it, you will find yourself aiming extra carefully and dying a fair amount as enemies seem to have as much if not more bullet resilience than you.

          Granted I was playing an INT focused character, so my damage resistance was probably lower than someone else’s might be.
          But again, my main reason for the power armor is the weight issue.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Aitrus says:

    Bethesda actually took on some serious themes here and came to a surprising conclusion, in my opinion. Has me seriously depressed. It’s nice to see that from them, though. Hopefully they can translate this good writing to Elder Scrolls.

  12. dksd says:

    I finished Fallout 4 like 4 months ago and even when it was not what I expected it was enough fun to try the new DLC. Since one of the biggest problem whit the main game for me was how easy it was even in the hardest difficulty I decided to play Far harbor in the new “survivor” difficulty, which needed to restart the whole game… And, ho boy! It’s like playing a complete new game. Even the simplest quests needs lots of strategy, and every turn can lead to some pretty tense situations which is lots of fun. What’s really strange is how the game design feels like this is how Fallout 4 was planned in the beginning and, from some odd reason it was dumbed down before release. Also makes me think about how quick saving, and constant auto saving features actually ruins the experience for many games. I imagine what it would be for games like Dying Light a survival mode where you can save only at a safe house.

  13. tadwothingsworth says:

    So many screen shots of you in power armor. Do you even know how to play the game? Fuck, power armor just makes me sad for people who can’t run around and crush people without taking damage. Tough life I suppose. But seriously: hide behind shit!