To most players there's a vast difference between the terms DLC and expansion. Sure, an expansion can technically be DLC, but it implies a more complete package. Far Harbor is an expansion in every sense of the word. It adds to basically every aspect of the main game, while offering a complete and rather interesting main questline, lots of new enemies, equipment, recipes, ingredients, and perhaps most importantly, a brand new open world sandbox area to explore.
It starts unassumingly enough with a new case for Valentine's Detective Agency - a missing persons case, where you're tasked with trying to find a girl (Kasumi) who thinks she's a synth and has travelled to Far Harbor to join the synth refuge on the island.
Set to the north of the Commonwealth, Far Harbor (based on tourist location Bar Farbor, Maine) adds a salty mariner feel to what's already on offer in Fallout 4. The island is rather large, but the people living there have been forced away as a result of a spreading radioactive fog. A fog that's grown worse over years and that's now only kept at bay thanks to devices called fog condensers. The people of Far Harbor are a hardened bunch, many have suffered losses at the hands of the fog and the wildlife the fog sustains (Fog Crawlers and Anglers are some of the deadliest creatures in Fallout 4), and some see the island's other faction - the Children of Atom - as the cause of the increased spread of the fog. Meanwhile the Children of Atom aren't taking kindly to the fog condensers that they see as an affront to Atom and blasphemy. In between these two factions who are nearly at war, there's the synth refuge, where Dima (who's Nick Valentine's long lost and forgotten assembly line mate) has been trying to keep the folks of Far Harbor alive by giving them fog condensers, while also trying to keep the Children of Atom from going to war.
We've already mentioned that Far Harbor is an expansion in every sense of the word, and just going through the main questline as well as some of the side content (far from all of it) took us about 15 hours. If you want to mop up all the activities and faction specific quests, and explore the entire land mass on foot you've got plenty to do.
One aspects that makes an expansion great, and that Far Harbor nails, is providing players with an environment that's different from the main game. The fog infested island with its many wet areas and jagged coastline is a nice break from the Commonwealth. It's also an environment that fits really well with the rather heavy themes that the main questline deals with. As you may imagine the story leads up to a choice between the people of Far Harbor and the Children of Atom (there's actually a third option as well, but we shall not spoil anything here), and you have to weigh those who have blood on their hands on the one side, or the religious fanatics (who are clearly out of their minds) on the other. The third option is perhaps even more sinister as it puts the concept of free will into play. Deciding who has the right to live somewhere is something that has a lot of real world application, and Bethesda has done a great job painting a very complex picture where it's never as simple as good and evil.
Overall, the main questline is brilliantly designed and not only are there branching endings, but throughout the questline there are ways to influence it and make it your own. We also appreciate how you can (if you choose to inform a Commonwealth faction about the location of the synth refuge) bring over you're faction storylines from the main game over to Far Harbor's Acadia (the synth refuge).
There is some great new gear and weaponry to sample. Plenty of legendary gear as rewards for quests, but also new melee weapons with marine themes (perhaps you'd fancy using a fish hook?) and naturally a harpoon gun. We also mentioned the wildlife that lives in the fog. There are plenty of difficult creatures you'll have encountered in the Commonwealth like Mirelurks and Ghouls, but they also come in new variations here. Then there are brand new enemies like Gulpers, Anglers, and Fog Crawlers. Raiders are replaced by far more deadly Trappers. There's also a new companion in the shape of the salty Far Harbor native Old Longfellow.
Aside from the main questline there are some great side quests too. Most of those are tied to the factions, helping people from Far Harbor, Acadia, or Nucleus (Children of Atom base), but our favourite one had nothing to do with any of them. We were hired by a Miss Nanny unit called Pearl to investigate an apparent murder in a nearby hotel. We won't spoil the actual twists and turns of the murder mystery, but suffice to say we were smiling the entire time thanks to some great writing and voice acting. If you're interested in seeing some of this rather different quest, check it out in the video below the text.
To be fair, Far Harbor (at least the Xbox One version we've played for review) launched without any major technical issues. We had some issues with the user interface (specifically regarding the inventory management of companions), and there were brief moments where the screen froze. The fog and the lighting, along with tree branches, makes for great ambience, but it is apparent at times that the engine struggles with these effects on console and the result is slightly less impressive than it could have been. We have also heard from colleagues that the PS4 version has more severe framerate issues (more on that here. You tend to expect a few minor problems at launch when dealing with this sort of open world experience, hopefully the issues encountered will be dealt with through patching. Still, it needs to be pointed out.
There was one part of the main questline that we did not enjoy as much as we would have hoped. The quest Best Left Forgotten to be specific. In this quest we're tasked with recovering Dima's old memories from within the base of the Children of Atom. Part of the quest involves logging into a terminal and accessing the memories via a puzzle game where you guide a beam of light through firewalls to allow for download of said memories. There are five of these in total and they scale in complexity from very easy to rather elaborate. We don't mind clever puzzles where you need to use building blocks to bounce the beam through firewalls, but the Fallout 4 workshop interface simply isn't much fun to spend extended periods of time in (especially on console). During the last couple of puzzle levels we simply wanted it to be over. And while there is satisfaction in figuring out how to beat these levels, the fact that the execution is so cumbersome is enough to soil the entire experience of this little interlude.
Overall, we were well pleased with what Far Harbor offered. It's main questline certainly ranks up there with some of the best designed content in the entire game (minus those memory puzzles), and the atmosphere of the island is superb. If you've been on the fence over whether to invest in the season pass, or if you've been holding off as this sort of proper expansion is all you care about, there is no reason to stay on the mainland, because Far Harbor is well worth a visit.