Well, it’s been nearly one year since the release of Fallout 4 and while I’ve been fairly lukewarm to favorable in covering it and its DLCs, the development cycle is coming to a close with the final piece of content: Nuka World. It’s somewhat fitting that Nuka World encompasses and embodies so much of what makes Fallout 4 good and amplifies so many of its downsides. I’ve never been to Disneyland, but growing up I somehow came into possession of a park map listing all the sections and attractions, which I regularly looked at and enjoyed. Now that I’m an adult, I probably will never prioritise visiting, so the Nuka World theme park will have to suffice. Let’s visit it together, shall we? It’s a barren world, after all.
Nuka World (Fallout 4 DLC): Windows PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 30 August 2016
Price: 19,99€ [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Nuka World War
One of the biggest pieces of criticism leveled against Fallout 4 was its lack of depth and nuance in quest-solving and story-driven content. Much like every other Bethesda game, Fallout 4 puts you in the position of The Most Important Person In The World™ but unlike the rest of their sandboxes you are rarely given a chance to let your character’s personality impact those around them. Forget about bullying or harassing the inhabitants of the wasteland, even refusing to help them rarely nets more than a feeble “I can’t right now. Maybe later.”. With Nuka World it would appear that Bethesda took the criticism to heart and then ran with it and never stopped. The biggest selling point of the DLC is the ability to become a raider and capture settlements to rule.
To this end, when reaching Level 30 you will be cordially invited to the eponymous derelict theme part Nuka World. Upon arrival you will be quite unceremoniously railroaded (pun somewhat intended) into a battle with the current raider king named the Overboss, defeat him and immediately become the new Overboss because that’s what Bethesda took away from our whining. What follows is an affair some might find dull and some might find exciting: it’s a whole lot of shooting. The three raider factions want you to prove your worth as leader by running errands, killing the various denizens of the six wings of the amusement park and occasionally piss off the other two factions.
After doing the main quest and a bunch of side quests and being crowned King Overboss the 2nd, the raiding mechanic is unlocked. At this point you will be able to conquer settlements, including ones you already own, pillage and maim and murder and plunder and enslave the population to pretty much keep doing what they were doing already while your crew kicks back and relaxes. While a neat idea, the novelty wears off pretty quickly, as the raider lifestyle simply replaces one type of settlement busywork with another and it felt weird to come back to my settlements guns blazing after nurturing (read: looking after their asses) them for so long.
In fact, dissonance is even more egregious in Nuka World than in the base game which featured a father desperately looking for his son while picking up and hauling garbage back to home base. The DLC is so set on letting you play the bad guy that it completely foregoes any manner of decorum and gives you little recourse than to kill everything that moves. In fact, the only “good” thing you can do in Nuka World is kill everyone and leave the park abandoned. No setting up shop with the Minutemen or Brotherhood of Steel, no clever way to play off the group dynamics like in Far Harbor or any sort of diplomatic outcome. There’s also a new raider companion that promises a lot of intrigue but then falls short of living up to that promise.
But enough negativity. Fallout 4‘s strong suit was never the narrative, and while I don’t think that’s any sort of excuse, as it was supposed to be the franchise’s focus, there are a lot of fun aspects to Nuka World. First and foremost, par for the course, the environments and level design are great. The park’s areas each have their own unique identity and come with the same brand of Bethesda environmental storytelling that we’re already used to. Its humor is a bit too much within the realms of “oh isn’t this wacky and ridiculous, could you believe this was an amusement park once?” but for the most part it feels as authentic as a theme park could feel.
Another great addition are a heap-load of new assets ranging from thematic raider armour and weapons belonging to one of the three clans (some looking down-right impressive), to many raider-themed decorations and even new creatures to fight. The amount of effort that went into this expansion from a design perspective almost makes the lack of investment in the story bits even more disappointing.
I’ve been critical but gentle to Fallout 4 so far. I saw the groundwork, I saw the potential, I saw the technical evolution of the series and I saw the flaws and lack of interest in the storytelling and I hoped things might get better. Nuka World repeats and amplifies all of the traits present in the base game: it’s a vibrant, well-designed, interesting sandbox that serves as little more than a shooting gallery in which the player has little stake. It accurately and faithfully punctuates Fallout 4 in that regard. While I value story and narrative above most other things in video games, being objective I can see how Nuka World is “good”. “Alright”. “Okay.” “Decent”. It has a lot of content and if you’re looking for a series of shoot-outs you’ll get your money’s worth, I suppose. But I think it also means that the Fallout I once knew and loved is gone. Maybe I’m ok with that. But it was nice to hope for a while.