A Much-Needed Investigation of Identity.
Going back to the very start of Fallout 4, Bethesda’s follow-up to Fallout 3 and New Vegas took on a different aspect of surviving a nuclear holocaust, one that was more focused on an internal journey than just keeping ghouls and super mutants at bay. While there was plenty of that too, the moment your character leaves Vault 111 some 200 years after being in cryosleep, a nagging question arises: Who or what am I?
What’s terrific about Far Harbor, the latest and biggest DLC, so far is that the story feels like a proper send-off of those big ideas than the actual finale of Fallout 4. After getting a radio message to come to the Valentine Detective Agency, we’re informed that an old buddy of Nick Valentine needs the help of the Commonwealth’s best P.I. or, if he's not available, you.
Before diving in, accessing Far Harbor assumes you’ve at least met Nick and done a mission with him. I played at level 36, but I hear the minimum is level 20. If you’re like me, you’ll first have to find out exactly where old Nick is currently residing, since I had not used him as a companion in awhile. Currently, there is no way to use your PipBoy’s map to see where specific companions are hanging out. (Or perhaps you remember where you sent each one of them back in November?) The best you can do if you're playing on a console (I hear there is a code that is way easier for PC) is head to each sanctuary, go to your workshop and build a town bell. Ring the bell and eventually anyone in the area will come to the call. It took me visiting three places to find Nick, but I’m glad I did.
While Nick is not required to accompany you to Far Harbor, I highly recommend taking him along and keeping him even when you’re given the option of sending him back once you’ve met the DLC’s new companion Longfellow, a surly man of the sea. Longfellow can offer information on certain areas and guide you past a few of the more radioactive parts of the island, but honestly, just stick with Nick. The payoff in the story is well worth it.
After a quick meeting to the far upper-right part of the map, you and your companion meet the Nakano family. Their daughter has gone missing and they need your help to find out what happened to her, and if possible, bring her back home. Right away, there’s talk about Kasumi’s love of "old" technology, hanging with grandpa (who recently passed away), and rebuilding an old radio through holotapes spread throughout the homestead. Listening to them, many questions arise: Was Kasumi a synth? Did the Nakanos have a real daughter who died and is this her replacement? Or is Kasumi just delusional? Her last whereabouts point to Far Harbor, a seaside island that is off the map, both literally and figuratively.
Far Harbor is cloaked in a thick fog of radiation. The way the dense air comes in and out like a wave is quite striking. You'll quickly get radiation sickness in regular attire, but if you wear a hazmat suit or power armor with substantial radiation resistance, you should be fine. The fog hides only one new beastie species I encountered on the island called Gulpers, big, lumbering salamander-type creatures that lunge at you like rhinos. They're a minor annoyance. There are also trappers which add to the sea-town vibe, as they adorn metal fish traps on their head. Still, what makes the island memorable are the three factions that live there.
The first faction you meet are the hardy townspeople of Far Harbor, but you’ll also encounter the Children of Atom (the series’ religious cult), and a group of synths living in an area called Acadia. Acadia is run by a synth (name not disclosed here) who reveals the DLC’s biggest and most important narrative angle. The question of identity has been prevalent throughout Fallout 4, but the synth’s use of words like “transitioning” when describing the individuals who now wish to be recognized as synth instead of human makes Far Harbor a relevant and surprisingly mature way to tackle the timely conversation of trans civil liberties in our own age.
Of course, players can choose not to side with the synths, and even be rather curt to Kasumi about her new identity. I chose to support those that wanted to be seen as synths. It’s a testament to Bethesda’s writers that there is no tacky binary “you are or you aren’t” answer supplied.
In fact, this recognition and the other narrative threads that has the player navigating the three faction's conflicts are more subtle and more rewarding than the use of player choice in the main game. This is what great storytelling can do—approach subjects that might be too political for some in a more grounded way to make them relatable. (Even if that way equals robots who vie for their own place to live versus humans that must contend with radiation in that same area.) You can easily play this terrific DLC and not see anything more than the text, but I applaud the use of subtext here.
What’s not so great, unfortunately, is the use of puzzles late in the game. Without spoiling too much, you must navigate a computer’s virtual world to access vital information. Visually, this ends up looking sort of like Portal with beams that must be used to clear a path for nanobots to retrieve intel. The way this works in the Fallout world is via the workshop editor, which is a clever way to incorporate Minecraft-like resource management. What’s not great is that this section has five stages and, as they get harder, the limitations of using this mode becomes frustrating. Movement in particular can be way too confining. The upside is you only need to do the first three puzzles in order to continue the story. I spent over two hours of my thirteen in this VR thing, and it wore me down.
A strong last act with many interesting consequences brought my time in Far Harbor back into focus. This DLC also includes new weapons like “The Striker” which lobs bowling balls for devastating blows, a wonderfully atmospheric island setting, and even a new quest for Nick Valentine that you can access once you return to The Commonwealth.
Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to going back Far Harbor ASAP. This is nearly the new gold standard for how do DLC right. Bravo, Bethesda.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on Xbox One version. Also available on PS4 and PC.