Fallout 4 DLC Review

Introduction

When Bethesda released Fallout 4 in November of last year, they had already decided to release a series of six DLCs for the game, and as a consequence, they immediately made a Season Pass available, where you could buy all six at once for a lower price.  This review is for the entire Season Pass, written up as a mini-review for each DLC.

Automatron

At the start of the Automatron DLC, you pick up a radio broadcast from a caravan in distress.  When you eventually reach the caravan, you discover that it's being attacked by a collection of robots called junkbots, and that only an assaultron named Ada has survived.  After helping Ada to finish off the junkbots, you learn that they were sent by somebody called the Mechanist (who was one of the villains from the Silver Shroud episodes, if you listened to them), and that they've been scouring the region for parts, killing anyone who gets in their way.

With Ada in tow, you decide to track down and defeat the Mechanist.  This involves foiling three of the Mechanist's top lieutenants and then using the information gathered from them to locate and infiltrate the Mechanist's secret lair.  This mini-campaign works pretty well, and it includes a few satisfying fights, including a challenging final battle.

Along with the campaign, the main addition in the Automatron DLC is the ability to construct and modify robot companions.  You can choose different body types (including protectron and robobrain), different weaponry (from melee to sniper rifles), and even a few different utility bonuses (like being able to heal or pick open locks).

Modifying a robot works exactly the same as modifying a weapon or a piece of armor.  You have to build a robot workbench in one of your settlements, and then you have to add or remove mods from your robot companion.  You start out knowing only a handful of mods, but as you defeat enemy junkbots and swarmbots, you find and learn more (which is much more satisfying that learning new mods from perks).

To make it easier to find mods, the DLC adds a new faction of enemies -- the Rust Devils.  This faction is a mix of humans and robots.  They're more powerful than the Gunners (the top enemy faction in the main game), and they can appear anywhere random enemies spawn, not just in DLC locations.  So the Rust Devils add some extra difficulty to the game, which is good, and along with mods, their member also drop robot armor, which is more protective but heavier than metal armor.

Robot companions work pretty well.  You can tune them to what you want, they don't make any snide comments when you pick up junk items (Ada even compliments you for doing so), and they don't have any likes or dislikes, so you can play your character however you want.  The downside to the robot companions is that they work -- or rather don't work -- about as well as any other companions.  For me, companions in Bethesda's games get in the way much more often than they help, so I only use them when it's required to complete a quest.

So if you're like me and you don't use companions, that steals some of the thunder from the Automatron DLC, but the campaign and the new enemies are interesting enough to make it a useful purchase anyway.

Wasteland Workshop

The Wasteland Workshop DLC adds a hodgepodge of new things for you to build at your settlements.  Most of these items are lights of some sort, including streetlamps to brighten the outside parts of your settlement, desk lamps that can attach to tables (which for some reason wasn't possible previously), a rainbow variety of neon lettering so you can create signs, and non-electrical lights (like candles and campfires) so you don't need to power your entire settlement -- or even any of it -- to see what's going on.  The lights are all useful and effective, especially if you're using something like the Darker Nights mod, and they fill an obvious gap from the main game.

There are also some non-lighting objects in the DLC.  Decontamination arches instantly cure your radiation poisoning if you stand under them.  Fusion reactors provide 100 units of power, which is ten times as powerful as the heaviest generators available before, and so you no longer need to litter your settlements with multiple generators to keep everything running.  Garden plots give you squares of dirt that you can place in your settlements, to give you convenient places to grow crops.

The problem is, almost all of the things in the DLC were already in the game -- just not buildable at settlements.  There are also only about 50 items total, which pales in comparison to some of the mods out there (like the Homemaker mod) that add thousands of items.  So most of the DLC is iffy at best.


The one completely new thing added in the DLC is the cage.  Cages allow you to "store" creatures in your settlements, but they're sort of goofy to use.  Instead of capturing a creature and placing it in a cage, you build a cage and leave your settlement for a while, and then when you come back the cage is magically filled.  There are different cages for different creatures, and you can catch everything from dogs to brahmin to deathclaws.  You can also catch humanoid creatures like Gunners and supermutants.

Sadly, the cages aren't really cages.  They're more like big, closed boxes, so you can't create a viewable zoo or anything like that.  What you can do is attach the cages to arena platforms, and have your captured creatures attack each other.  Or you can build a beta emitter in your settlement, which means released creatures won't attack your allies, but they will help you to defend your settlement against attackers.  Cages also mean that creatures of the same sort are more likely to attack your settlement, so if you imprison a few deathclaws, then you'll have to deal with deathclaw invasions.

I guess some people out there might find cages fun and / or interesting, but I thought they were a curious waste of time, and I have no idea why anybody would want to deal with them.  If you find cages useless as well, and if you combine them with a small collection of additions that are less than you see in free mods, then the Wasteland Workshop DLC isn't very impressive.

Far Harbor

The Far Harbor DLC begins with you receiving a radio transmission from Nick Franklin's Detective Agency.  When you head over to Diamond City to find out what's going on, you learn that a fisherman's daughter has gone missing, and that you're needed to track her down.

When you talk to the fisherman, he tells you that his daughter was always monkeying around with a radio, and that he's worried somebody might have contacted her and lured her away for some nefarious purpose.  After searching the fisherman's house, you discover that the daughter started having strange dreams, which caused her to believe that she's a synth, and so she traveled to an island off the coast of Maine where synths supposedly have a safe haven.

This takes you to Far Harbor, the main hub of the island, where the DLC begins in earnest.  The island is basically a mini-Commonwealth, complete with locations, quests, and even competing factions.  Before the war, the island catered to rich tourists, and so its locations include tourist attractions like a day spa, a double drive-in, and a bowling alley, and there are also a couple of swanky hotels (one with an attached vault).  But now the island is wreathed in a strange, radioactive fog that seems to breed dangerous creatures, including giant hermit crabs (which use trucks for their shells), appropriately-named gulpers, and ambushing anglers that jump out of the water and attack you if you get too close.

The radioactive fog is actually the linchpin of the island.  It has attracted the Children of Atom, who see it as a gift from Atom, but this puts them at odds with the regular residents of the island, who would like to see the fog go away.  Meanwhile, the synths on the island are caught in the middle and just want everybody to get along.  These three factions work better than the original game's factions, and they have better reasons for why they don't like each other.  You're also given more options for how to settle their differences, which is nice.  Unfortunately, the fog is a little graphics heavy, so if your computer could barely play the original game, then you might have all sorts of trouble with Far Harbor, because the fog is everywhere

The quests on the island work well enough.  Finding the missing daughter is straightforward, but that's just the excuse to get you to the island.  Most of the quests involve the three factions and either helping them towards peace or driving them further apart.  There are also a variety of side quests, including a fun one where you have to solve a robobrain murder mystery.

Finally, just like in the Automatron DLC, the Far Harbor DLC adds a new enemy faction -- trappers, who have spent too much time in the fog, and who have gone a little bit crazy as a result.  The trappers didn't seem especially difficult to me, but maybe that was just in comparison to the strange creatures you find in the fog with them.  But trappers add a new trapper style of armor, so they give you even more options when equipping your character.

The Far Harbor DLC is nice, but it's not great.  It's a "more of the same" DLC, which is useful if you're simply looking for more things for your favorite character to do, but not as useful if you were hoping for something that would change how you play the game, or give you an excuse to start a new character.  The DLC also seems pricey at $25.  That's half the cost of the original game, but it doesn't have anywhere close to half the content.


Contraptions Workshop

The Contraptions Workshop DLC like the Wasteland Workshop DLC before it contains an odd assortment of items for you to build at your settlements.  Some of these are useful theming objects.  For example, instead of having to build generic wood, metal, or concrete buildings, the DLC allows you to construct greenhouses, warehouses, and scaffolding.  It also adds elevators (which are more space-efficient than staircases), display cases (so you can show off weapons and armor that you're not using), and lighted marquee signs (so you can label buildings, so long as you don't mind that the lettering is really small).

But the heart of the DLC is the contraptions.  The DLC allows you to build different machines that can produce food, armor, weapons, ammunition, explosives, or even fireworks.  This is great, especially since the perk requirements for most of the machines are minimal.  That means you can build an armor forge, for example, near the beginning of the game and gain access to heavy armors much earlier than otherwise.  Unfortunately, the machines have some odd gaps -- the armor forge can't build synth armor, the ammunition plant can't create cartridges for energy weapons, and things like that -- and the machines are also more complicated and inconvenient that they should be.

Consider the original crafting stations.  They didn't require electricity or a lot of space, they automatically pulled components from your inventory or your settlement's workshop, and they placed the result in your inventory.  Easy.  But with machines, you have to build the machine, attach it to a terminal so you can select what the machine builds, and power both the machine and the terminal.  And then if you want to automate the process (which is almost the whole point of the DLC), you have to attach conveyor belts to the machine so components are drawn out of a container (including a workshop), sent to the machine, and then placed into a container (not including a workshop) at the end.

In other words, the new machines take way more space, require way more electricity (to the point where you're almost forced to use a special DLC generator), and are way slower (since you have to wait for components to move along conveyor belts and the machines to complete their building animations).  So there you go -- a trifecta of inconvenience!  Woohoo!  The only upside is that the machines look cooler, which might be a plus if you're creating a settlement with a mechanical theme.

The other addition in the DLC is the ball track.  If you're old like me then you might remember wooden toys with ramps and helixes where marbles would roll from the top to the bottom.  Well, ball tracks do the same thing for your settlements, just at a much larger scale.  The problem with this addition -- other than it being completely pointless -- is that you can't really see the ball as it rolls along the track.  Bethesda should have made the ball glow (or at least have a brighter color) or given the track some transparency so you could actually watch the ball as it rolls around.  As it is, you can play around with the tracks and have balls set off electrical pulses (for example, to shoot off fireworks), and set up conveyor belts to take the balls from the bottom back to the top so they can roll down again, but at best it's just an extremely odd theming element.

And so the Contraptions Workshop DLC doesn't add much in the way of functionality to your settlements.  The included machines allow you to build things, but they're things the game world provides for you anyway.  And so the machines aren't really necessary, which means the DLC is mostly about theming.  If that's something you care about, then the DLC has potential.  Otherwise, not so much.

Vault-Tec Workshop

The Vault-Tec Workshop DLC begins in a familiar fashion, with you receiving a distress call over your radio.  When you investigate, you find that raiders are trying to break into Vault 88, apparently thinking that Fragmentation Grenades and Molotov Cocktails will get them through the front door.  After defeating the raiders, you discover that Vault 88 was under construction when the bombs fell.  Only the front part of the vault was completed, and while the work crews eventually turned into feral ghouls, the overseer managed to survive as a sentient ghoul -- who still wants the job completed.

This introduction starts you on a short campaign involving Vault 88.  You first have to clear away the ghouls and other creatures living in the caverns excavated for the vault, and then you have to start putting the vault together.  You also learn that Vault 88 was designed with experiments in mind -- which isn't surprising given Bethesda's contention that all vaults were planned that way -- and you can run some of the experiments yourself.  The experiments are silly endeavors to take advantage of "wasted" time, like hooking up exercise bikes to help power the vault, but they're also short and amusing.  My character took the nicest approach possible, and the overseer got so fed up with me that she eventually left in a huff.

The nicest thing about the DLC is that it allows you to build a vault.  Only Vault 88 gives you space to build underground, but you can also build aboveground "vaults" at your other settlements.  Constructing vaults requires some trial and error.  Everything snaps together, and electricity flows through floors and walls -- if you build them correctly -- but there aren't any tutorials or instructions of any sort, and sometimes figuring out what's correct and what isn't takes some time.  For example, the vault starts with a reactor, and it looks like it's set up correctly, but it isn't actually connected to anything, and so it doesn't do anything, which is confusing.  And when you do hook up a reactor correctly, for some reason you still need to place conduits on the walls to get lights to turn on, which is also confusing.  It took me a while, and I had to consult the game's forums a few times, but eventually I ended up with a vanilla but functional vault.


Along with the pieces necessary to build vaults, the Vault-Tec Workshop DLC also comes with more random items that you can add to your settlements, including new beds, lights, and shelves -- plus statues and Christmas trees, of course.  More options are always good, but the interface is to the point where it's getting tedious / difficult to find what you want.  For example, vault windows are listed under "doors," vault nightstands are listed under "miscellaneous" rather than "tables" or "shelves," and most lists of items are now so long that it takes a while just to scroll through them.  With a proper PC interface, this wouldn't be an issue, but with Bethesda's unholy console interface, the more they add elements that the engine wasn't designed for, the worse it gets.

My guess is most people will only build a vault at the Vault 88 site, which is located inconveniently in the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth map.  This limits the appeal of the DLC, which only applies to a niche portion of the Fallout 4 playerbase anyway.  Also limiting the appeal are some of the bugs involved in building vaults.  In particular, the lighting is all messed up.  Some lights shine through walls, while other lights don't provide enough illumination to do any good.  For example, the "atrium" of a vault is always at least two stories high, but if you place lights on the ceiling, they don't shine all the way to the floor, and so it's tough -- or, really, impossible -- to give your vaults any sort of consistent lighting so they look good.  I saw some people actually using street lamps in their vaults, which is just sad.

So overall, the Vault-Tec Workshop DLC is sort of "meh" for me.  Building a vault is fun, but Bethesda only gives you one real place to do it, and it feels like they put a minimum of effort into the endeavor, so no matter how hard you try with your vault, the result might not be great.  But I did like that Bethesda included a little campaign with the DLC.  It was nice to see an example of what you can do with the DLC's additions, and it's something Bethesda should have included with their other workshop DLCs.

Nuka-World

The Nuka-World DLC starts out with -- you guessed it -- another radio broadcast, this time featuring a pre-war advertisement for the Nuka-World amusement park.  Perhaps figuring that since computers are still powered and working after 200 years, maybe amusement parks have had the same luck, or perhaps just wondering who turned the ad on, you decide to take the monorail to Nuka-World to see what's going on.

When you reach Nuka-World, you discover that the front part of the park is being run by raiders, and that you have to prove yourself to them by running through a crazy gauntlet.  Unfortunately, this gauntlet is almost a carbon copy of the Saw-inspired parking garage from the main game, so it's not very exciting if it's a rerun for you.  It also relies heavily on floor traps, which most high-level characters can ignore.

But past the gauntlet, the DLC gets more interesting.  Nuka-World has five regions, and the raiders only control Nuka-Town USA.  You can also explore Dry Rock Gulch, the home of Mad Mulligan's Minecart Ride; the Galactic Zone, complete with its Nuka-Galaxy roller coaster; Kiddie Kingdom, where you can visit King Cola's caste; and Safari Adventure, a zoo with a giant tree house.

The amusement park is by far the best part of the DLC.  It's well-designed, it gives you lots of rides and attractions to check out, and it's completely different than anything Fallout 4 has shown before.  And by completing the main questline, you're allowed to turn on the power at the park, which means you can even go on a few of the rides, including the ferris wheel and one of the roller coasters.

Unfortunately, as fun as the world is, the quests are DOA.  For some reason Bethesda fell in love with scavenger hunts in the park -- where you have to find star cores to power a mainframe computer, medallions so you can earn a reward, tickets and tokens so you can claim prizes, hidden "cappies" so you can visit the founder's office, and even a dozen or so different Nuka-Cola recipes so you can craft your favorite flavors of the drink.  But otherwise you pretty much just walk around and kill stuff, and there are almost no meaningful decisions.

The one interesting point for the DLC other than the amusement park is that it allows you to become a raider if you want.  After proving yourself to the raiders by winning their gauntlet, they inexplicably put you in charge, and if things go well, then you can help them to expand their influence over the rest of the park -- and even into the Commonwealth.  As a result, you're allowed to create raider settlements, which give you an option other than simply working with the Minutemen.

The main problem I had with the DLC is that I didn't want to become a raider.  For that case there's a side quest where you can kill the raiders instead of working with them, but if you choose that branch then you fail the entire main questline.  So you can either be a bad guy and see everything, or you can be a good guy and skip to the end.  Bleh.  I wish Bethesda had given a more fulfilling "good" branch for their quests.

So for me, the Nuka-World DLC is fine but not great.  It has a better world than Far Harbor, but since its storyline and quests are almost non-existent, I liked Far Harbor better.  Given that Bethesda only created two "real" DLCs, it's sort of disappointing that their finale didn't turn out better.  It feels like they created the world and then ran out of time to do anything else.


Patches

Along with DLCs, Bethesda has also released a few patches for the post-apocalyptic title.  However, instead of fixing bugs, they've mostly been optimizing the engine, and so several quests that were glitchy at the game's release are still glitchy now, like "Emogene Takes a Lover," which is annoying since if that quest breaks then you can't reach one of the game's bobbleheads.

But along with standard patch stuff, Bethesda has also made two important changes.  The first one is bizarre.  For some reason, Bethesda made it so if you're using mods, then you can't earn any achievements.  For a developer who relies on mods as much as Bethesda does, this seems like a questionable stance, if not a slap in the face of their fanbase.  Luckily, just like with all of Bethesda's doofy decisions and buggy elements, people have modded them away, and so a couple of mods popped up allowing you to put achievements back to the way they were before.

The other change is much better.  Bethesda introduced a true Survival mode, where you have to eat, drink, and sleep in order to survive.  Oddly, they also added extra elements to the mode, eliminating fast travel, only allowing saves when you sleep, introducing infections that require antibiotics, and more.  So the Survival mode is the true toughest difficulty.  I would have preferred if Bethesda had given you options for which elements to turn on or off, but a more challenging mode was sorely needed.  Unfortunately, as with all of Bethesda's games, no matter what the difficulty is, you eventually reach a point where everything becomes easy.  I played in Survival mode for the entire game (that's what I was using as I worked my way through the DLCs), and it kept things tense until around level 35, which probably not coincidentally is when I unlocked ballistic weave (and even though I'm using a mod to tone down ballistic weave, it's still overpowered).

Conclusion

Overall, I had some fun with the Fallout 4 DLCs, but I was disappointed with their content and quality.  Bethesda made all sorts of weird decisions in them -- focusing too much on settlements, adding puzzling items like pillories, ball tracks, Christmas trees and monster cages, and favoring cosmetic changes over true new content -- that I'm not sure who they were even building the DLCs for.  Did anybody complete Fallout 4 and think, "I sure hope half of the DLCs expand upon what I can build in my settlements -- and ignore the fact that I can get a lot of those items free in mods!"  I somehow doubt it.  That certainly wasn't my reaction.

That being said, I enjoyed Fallout 4, and I didn't mind playing through it again for the DLCs -- although mostly that was because of Survival mode.  The $50 Season Pass basically charges you for Automatron, Far Harbor, and Nuka-World, and gives you the workshop DLCs for free, but even so, and even if you liked Fallout 4, I'd recommend waiting for a sale.  Given the almost universal poor reviews of the DLCs, the price is bound to drop sooner or later.