There is a lot to consider when it comes to Fallout 4: Far Harbor. The largest expansion to the game thus far boasts a sizable, unique new area to explore, as well as a glut of new quests, characters, and locations. On the surface, it is everything a Fallout fan would want from an expansion. And while definite strides have been made to improve upon the quality of the story and missions compared to the base game, at its core it remains part of the Fallout 4 experience—warts and all.
One of the biggest draws to Far Harbor is its story, proving to be a vast improvement on the main game’s lazy narrative. Far Harbor spins a web of intrigue that not only had me invested, but kept me engaged until the final mission. Beginning with a simple missing persons case—where you must find a girl who has run away from home, fleeing to a synth refuge in the northern port of Far Harbor—but upon your arrival, it becomes very clear that the proceedings won’t be so simple. While I won’t spoil any points of the story, I will say that everything from characters, motivations, and even plot twists feel more nuanced than in the main game.
The three vying factions on the island—The Children of Atom, the residents of Far Harbor, and the synths of Acadia—are all distinct groups with fleshed out agendas that eschew the black and white morality plays of The Brotherhood of Steel and The Institute. While not all characters are necessarily likable, they nonetheless prove to be more complex, with even side characters showcasing a surprising amount of depth. This carries through to the various player choices presented, which over the course of the main quest line feel more compelling, causing hesitation and consideration for repercussions in a way that was absent from much of Fallout 4. It’s a refreshing change of pace for a title that has up until now been fairly mediocre on the story front.
" The main quest line invites hesitation and consideration for repercussions in a way that was absent from much of Fallout 4"
Like the main narrative, many of the side quests in Fallout 4 were forgettable and dull. Far Harbor, on the other hand, contain several memorable side quests, often filled with fresh situations and objectives, and even a few standout character interactions. While the standard, “go here, kill this” quests remain, there are less than before, and what few there are feel more dynamic within the contexts they are given. It feels as though the developer tried their best to pay attention to the complaints about the core game, and went about rectifying them in the most concise way. The side quests in Far Harbor are first and foremost a lot of fun, yet lengthen your stay on the island in a meaningful way.
Another one of Far Harbor’s best qualities is the island itself. As a player who had spent 100+ hours touring the dusty wastes of the Commonwealth, I was hoping Far Harbor would usher in a fresh setting, and I was not disappointed. Almost everything about the island feels different from the main game— swapping cracked highways for mountain paths, and wasteland for wilderness. The swampy marshes teem with challenging new enemies that fit the setting like a glove; from trappers to mutant fish and lizards. Even environmental effects like ambient sound and fog serve the setting well, boosting the immersion as you explore. After discovering almost everything in the main game and getting familiar with the settlements and cities of the Commonwealth, it felt good to simply get lost in Fallout again.
"It felt good to simply get lost in Fallout again."
Of course, what would an RPG expansion be without new gear? Far Harbor arrives with some great new weapons, such as the nifty harpoon gun, and tons of new armor to collect, craft, and buy. Especially interesting are the armor sets associated with the Children of Atom, who have taken abandoned military gear and decked it out with their sacred scribblings. Also notable are the trappers, who, much like the raiders of the Commonwealth, have crafted their implements out of whatever they were able to find at the time, resulting in some classics like the Lobster Trap Helmet.
Despite all this positivity towards Far Harbor, it wouldn’t be a full review without mentioning that performance issues and glitches still riddle the experience—especially when it comes to the fog effects covering the island. While it was never “unplayable” for me personally, there were multiple times that the framerate seemed to drop well under 20, creating a jarring and immersion breaking experience. To be fair though, there were plenty of times where the framerate ran smoothly, even when the screen was filled with monsters and explosions. Texture pop in also proved to be an issue, and occasionally lighting wouldn’t work correctly on some surfaces. While all of this is minor, and none of it was ever game-breaking, it remains disappointing that Fallout 4, for all its stellar exploration and world building, can’t seem to compete with most other open world titles when it comes to performance.
In the end, Far Harbor is another piece of Fallout 4 in every way that matters. Full of bugs and performance issues, Fallout faithful will still be able to find a compelling narrative and an engaging new area to explore. But for many, Far Harbor alone won’t be enough to change their opinion of the core game. While strides are undoubtedly made in telling a more interesting story, Far Harbor still underperforms in some significant ways. I just hope whatever comes next can turn this boat around.