The first downloadable content (DLC) for Fallout 4 has been announced and, reading between the lines, it’s clear that the game has been a hit beyond even Bethesda’s expectations.
Fallout has always been a popular series but the fourth entry has now sold more than 12 million copies, making it the most successful game in the company’s history. The post-launch plans show a development studio ready to run with that success – and fix some of the stuff it didn’t get right first time.
Three DLC releases have been detailed. The first, Automatron, features “robots, robots and more robots” and arrives in March, introducing – yes – a robotic overmind to the wasteland and a range of new enemies, as well as the ability to build your own robots from their scrap. April sees the Wasteland Workshop, which adds more customisation options for settlements and what is basically a Pokemon mode, allowing you to capture enemies and make them fight each other. Then in May there’s Far Harbor, a story-led expansion that adds a new location and focuses on Nick Valentine, easily the game’s most charming companion.
Those are the facts, but here’s what we can glean from them.
Gotta Trap ‘em all
A major focus for Fallout 4’s development was settlements, inspired by the fact that in previous Bethesda open-world games players have always enjoyed creating their own little dens anyway. Players want to make their own space in these worlds.
There’s a lot to like about settlements but only the most loyal Vault-tec employee would say Fallout 4 got it all right. They’re extremely fiddly to construct, the settlers are more like wallpaper than people, and the cosmetic customisation side is somewhat lacking. The Wasteland Workshop DLC looks like it will fix the last point through the blindingly simple tactic of adding letter kits (which obviously have infinite permutations) alongside new lighting options, which will help make the prefab walls a little more you. One more addition, which rather boggles the mind, is taxidermy: presumably you’ll be able to mount a Deathclaw head above your dinner table.
What the Wasteland Workshop’s really going for, however, is giving you a reason beyond fiddling with the curtains to hang around in settlements. A great mechanic in Fallout 4 (and other Bethesda games) is that enemies can fight each other, which you see relatively frequently but is rarely triggered by the player’s agency; it’s always an incidental part of the world, or scripted into a quest line. Come April we’ll be able to “design and set cages to capture live creatures” which can then either be tamed or set against each other. Super Mutant versus Radscorpion? Don’t mind if I do.
The arena should give settlements a purpose that, for me, they lack, and the implications of taming a Deathclaw, which presumably means you can take it around as a companion, are just delicious. The idea of domesticating feral radioactive monsters may seem daft, but this kind of silly shonkiness is the very best thing about Bethesda’s worlds, and it’s great to see it being embraced by the developers.
Smooth-talking synth Nick Valentine is the daddy of Fallout 4 companions so Far Harbor’s focus on him is welcome – plus, the new area it will add to Fallout 4’s world is the largest DLC expansion Bethesda has ever created - and if you’ve played the Skyrim expansions you’ll know that means massive.
This meatiness is why Far Harbor is by far the most expensive piece of Fallout 4 DLC, were you to buy them individually - a sharp £20, with Automatron clocking in at £8 and the Wasteland Workshop at £4. However all DLC, including any future DLC – and there will definitely be much more – is included with the season pass, which is £24.99.
But that is going to change. Come 1 March the price is increasing to a whopping £39.99. Bethesda says this is due to “the expanded DLC plan,” which is to say that the incredible success of Fallout 4 has clearly caught the company somewhat by surprise, and so they’ve responded by doubling down on the DLC plans. This announcement has been met with some grumbling from the usual quarters, but at least the hike has been announced in advance and there’s still a fortnight at the original price, which, by the end of the year, will surely look like superb value.
Mods and rockers
Browse the available mods for Fallout 4, or indeed any of Bethesda’s games, and you’ll soon notice the importance of customisation. Players love to invest in these worlds and tweak the characters they’re especially fond of. One of the most impressive parts of Fallout 4’s concept is how it embraces the ; community in general, and Automatron picks this idea and runs with it.
The DLC introduces a host of evil robots into the Commonwealth, which is all well and good, but the special touch is allowing players to harvest the parts of destroyed bots “to build and mod your own custom robot companions.” There are apparently hundreds of potential mods here including limbs, the robot’s abilities, and weapons, but much more important is that you can choose their paint schemes and voices. Cosmetic stuff like this is not incidental in a game like Fallout 4 - it’s the very thing that players want, because we spend so much time in these worlds and want to personalise things.
Fixing Survival Mode
It’s only fair to say that certain players love what survival mode currently offers, but it does have problems and prime among them is the bullet-sponge school of design. The whole point of a survival mode is the challenge of staying alive under truly adverse conditions but, in Fallout 4’s case, much of the difficulty comes from the enemies being able to take enormously increased amounts of damage, while you take much less, and healing items are far less effective.
Though not strictly a piece of self-contained DLC, the upcoming post-launch content includes major changes to survival mode which represent, in Bethesda’s words, a “complete overhaul ... Food, sleep, diseases, danger and more.” This is intriguing because things like disease and eating are staples of popular survival sims like Day Z, and represent a much more interesting take on the idea than fiddling with a bunch of damage sliders. It’s also worth mentioning that Fallout: New Vegas incorporated elements like this In its own take on survival mode, which Fallout 4 neglected to include.
The Fallout world is a much more interesting environment than the survival competition, but this mode was for me a misfire. The changes flagged indicate a more serious take with elements of simulation that we know work effectively in other contexts. Add in something like radiation poisoning being actually life-threatening with severe health consequences for exposure, rather than an occasional inconvenience, and this could be a whole new game.
No wanderer left behind
Let’s face it, vanilla Fallout 4 is absolutely gigantic and many players may well be happy with what they’ve got. So it’s pleasing that Bethesda has committed to free updates alongside the paid DLC, which will include the creation kit and the above changes to survival mode – a decision that makes a lot of sense in both cases, because new stuff is one thing but you don’t want to end up with a community fracturing over two different types of the same mode.
The creation kit is the replacement for the older games’ GECK tool, and is basically an editor for creating mods mods. Bethesda’s games always have an enormous community and the company say the creation kit is a consumer version of “the same tool we use in the studio” - the kit is PC-focused and will be released on that platform, but the mods created using it will also be playable on PS4 and Xbox One. And, of course, they’ll be free.
And finally, if the idea of paying for a season pass still rubs you the wrong way, there’s a chance to “beta test” (the words have lost all meaning now) the DLC shortly before release by signing up on Bethesda’s site. Only a small number of players will be chosen, but those that are will receive the DLC free. From the free-spending Minutemen to cap-hoarding Raiders, it seems Fallout 4 fans are not going to be short of new ways to enjoy the Commonwealth in 2016.
This article was written by Rich Stanton, for theguardian.com on Thursday 18th February 2016 09.22 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010