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Wot I Think - Fallout 4: Automatron

Scrappy Do

It's the first Fallout 4 [official site] DLC, in which you get to build your own robot army and turn another Wastelander's into just so much scrap metal. But is it worth checking out, on its own or as the initial taste of the Season Pass? Here's Wot I Think...

The stranger scratched a radioactive welt on his arm. It oozed pleasantly in the Commonwealth sun. He sat back with his newly scavenged comic, content to just let the scorching heat bounce off him. But then, a sound. A slow, meaningful, scraping sound. Immediately, he was ready, pistol in hand, staring into the distance at the traveller, naked save for some unflattering underpants, wincing as he dragged a large bag of crap across the wasteland and back towards that new town out by the old vault. The stranger gestured to the bag, full of ceramic and rubber and heavy plate.

"Buildin' robots?" he asked. "Robots," confirmed the traveller.

As far as I'm concerned, the definition of good DLC is that it doesn't simply add more, but adds something special. It's a chance for the developer to experiment a little, to put more focus into an area, knowing that players are going to see it in a way that isn't necessarily true for some dungeon out in the middle of nowhere. It's a chance to mess around with new systems and cast new light on the world. At least, ideally. Horses do still need their armour, even in this rather more cynical age.

Automatron is an underwhelming start for Fallout 4's DLC, but in fairness, it was always intended as a taster rather than the full meal. As part of the Season Pass, it's fine - a cute addition that offers new features and new content that's not essential, but fills an obvious gap in the crafting line-up while we wait for the Far Harbor expansion. As an £8 piece of standalone DLC though, this first new content drop should probably be finding some rubber to craft a catheter so that it can literally take the piss. It's much closer in scale to the more reasonable-sounding Wasteland Workshop that's coming soon for £4, with the extra content on offer nowhere near notable enough to stand out in a game that already offers so much that you've probably yet to go see.

The key addition is a robot manufacturing station to place in settlements, which makes it possible to upgrade robots or create them from scratch. It's a similar system to upgrading your Power Suit; as you explore, cannibalise other robots and discover new bits and pieces, you can plug together new and ever more dangerous robots, as well as give them a name, a voice and a paint job, but sadly not better pathfinding AI than the stock characters. There's a fair amount of freedom to create what you want from the existing parts though, as well as a repeatable Radiant quest to hunt down more malfunctioning robots and pinch their parts too, if you're not finding anything of interest on your regular travels. This means you can create the robot of your dreams from scratch, or simply turn Codsworth into... oh dear god what have you done?!

On top of that comes a roughly two-hour long new questline, depending on how much robot-killing ordinance you're packing. It's for Level 15+ and triggered by a radio signal from a caravan under attack by a new breed of killer robots. Getting there and helping out, you find just one survivor - a somewhat dull robot called Ada, who explains that these new upgraded threats are the work of a new villain called the Mechanist (A familiar name? Perhaps!) and requests help kicking a little metallic arse.

This is not a particularly gripping story, and that's a shame because I actually like what happens in the last five or so minutes. There are three dungeons on offer, plus a bit of overland travel to find rogue robots, and all of them are extremely linear treks through more very samey terrain, killing robots and the occasional new bandits who like to dress up as robots - Mr Handy et all now joined by the likes of Mr Stabby, Mr Tanky and Mr Explodey. That's not what they're called of course, that would be too interesting. The only points of vague interest on this metal murder-spree are in the occasional terminal, filling in the backstory of how Robobrains are made, again showing how quickly the Fallout world goes from seeming 50s utopia to horror show even without the bombs reducing it to a nuclear cinder, and the encounter with the Mechanist to figure out what the hell is going on. While underused, this is a character who could have been a lot more fun if the whole thing had been in one location, allowing them to have more presence in the story than a couple of radio tapes set to repeat.

Generally though, this is just Fallout at its flattest, with Ada a completely forgettable companion and another, Jezebel, nowhere near as much fun as her snarky introduction suggests she's going to be. The final fight is particularly tedious, coming down to how fast you can kill robots, and more pressingly, whether you can kill them fast enough., in a series of waves at the end of an entirely too long dungeon with only the occasional point of creepy interest in underground labs and on monitors.

The feeling I couldn't get away from - though it is just that - was that this was meant to just be the Automatron building mode with a very quick quest bolted on to explain its addition, with the bump in Season Pass cost demanding it hastily be re-written as a full adventure in its own right. That means we get more, but most of it just going through the motions instead of offering anything that feels notably different, and certainly nothing as memorable as heading to Big MT in New Vegas or even the spaceship abduction or recreated war of Fallout 3. Depressingly, by far the best moment is a glorified Easter Egg - facing the Iron Man style Mechanist in the Silver Shroud outfit turning the final fight into a glorious hero vs. villain ham-off.

But, in fairness, the meat of this one was always promised to be the robot building, and if that's something you missed in Fallout 4 proper, this is exactly what the radioactive doctor ordered. Like settlements, it starts off pretty bland if you don't have many pieces or the skills to create interesting things. With the right ones though, dragged in bulk across the Wasteland, turning regular robot companions into personal battle-tanks is just the start. It also means lots more variety in robot encounters. There's also a few new toys to track down for the Sole Survivor, including a Tesla Rifle, Tesla Suit and a Mechanist themed PIPBoy game and armour set. Any of it essential? Not particularly, especially if you're already tooled up. Still, who can say no to shiny loot?

Well, again, for £7.99, most people probably should. As part of the Season Pass though, it's not a bad start for the DLC if you enjoy the crafting side of the game, especially if you got the cheaper version of the Season Pass. On its own though, it'd certainly be easier to recommend if it was the £4 or so of the next planned pack, Wasteland Workshop, or if the new dungeons it added felt just a little bit less than the radioactive road we're already travelled so much here and in the previous games.

Fallout 4: Automatron is out now.

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