Review: Fallout 4: Automatron

When I gave Fallout 4 a perfect score back in November, the reasoning was quite simple. A perfect score does not indicate a perfect game, especially considering that a perfect video game does not exist (sorry Stardew Valley), but Fallout 4 is something truly special when taken as a whole. Sure, the crafting can be a bit clunky, there is strange Bethesda jank and the central twist is fairly predictable, but the sum of all of Fallout 4‘s parts is an immersive, time-eating example of the power of world-building in video games. Yes, giving Fallout 4 a five out of five was going out on a limb, and there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing, but existing in such a wonderfully realized and harrowing world was something special to us.

Of course, reviews are opinions through and through, and the purpose of this article is not to justify a score that was given in the past (after all, there’s over 2500 words that do just that in the original review). The reason why it’s important to note why Fallout 4 is so special as a whole is because simply playing Automatron, its first piece of DLC, after an extended absence simply doesn’t provide as special of an experience as the total package. Judging the quality of Automatron, and Automatron alone, feels almost like reviewing a single LEGO brick inside of a massive LEGO structure. Make no mistake, there is absolutely a lot to like here, and if you’ve fallen head-first into Fallout 4‘s hoarding and crafting elements, you’re going to have a whole new set of projects to undertake. On its own, however, Automatron is simply a decent add-on to an outstanding title as a whole.

Automatron is essentially a two-pronged piece of content, with what can only be considered a partial prong popping up after the main mission sequences end (Spoiler Alert: it’s a Preston Garvey-style never-ending set of radiant quests). To boil it down to the bare basics, the first piece of Fallout 4 DLC contains a handful of story-driven missions that take place in a couple of robot-laden dungeons as well as a full crafting system for robot companions. Imagine the crafting system that played on the obsessive-compulsive nature of those looking to customize their weapons and settlements, then apply that to the companion system. On one hand, this adds an entirely new level of customization features to a game that’s absolutely loaded with the ability to make the entire experience your own. If you’re one of the many whose favorite character is Nick Valentine (guilty as charged here), however,  there isn’t as much of a narrative hook to draw you into Ada, your buddy in the fight against The Mechanist, Automatron‘s primary antagonist.

Once you obtain your Robot Workbench after saving Ada from an attack that killed her caravan of comrades, you’ll have the ability to customize each aspect of the robot of your choice, from the armor and weapons on its limbs down to its paint color. If, like me, you’re coming back to Fallout 4 after an extended absence, this crafting system is going to feel more like re-learning Chinese rather than remembering how to ride a bicycle. Add this to the fact that you’ll need to have points in the Robotics Expert, Science! Armorer and Blacksmith perks in order to take full advantage of all of the robot crafting items, which is a huge bummer for those who have built their high-level characters with a more combat-focused approach in mind. Imagine if you’re a huge fan of all things robotics and you find out that you have hours and hours of grinding ahead of you in order to access your most anticipated parts of your $10 purchase. How would you not be mildly annoyed

All of this aside, Automatron feels as though it’s designed to dangle an enticing electronic carrot in front of those looking to get their scrap and salvage on. Still, there does seem to be a divide in the Fallout 4 player base: those who enjoy the crafting and customization features and those who are more into immersing themselves in the weirdness that is the Commonwealth. For the latter camp, Automatron is going to feel a bit more like a narrative snack rather than a full-fledged new story. The story is pretty simple: ruthless robots created by a mysterious individual known as The Mechanist are killing people, and you agree to help your robot companion Ada put an end to it. The quality of this quest-line’s narrative falls somewhere between the fantastic Nick Valentine expositions (Fallout 4‘s clear story highlight) and something entirely forgettable. Perhaps this is due to Ada being one of the less interesting companions in the Commonwealth, though what were you really expecting from a hunk of metal? There are moments where Automatron appears to play around with the idea of what it truly means to be human, especially during a final conversation with the sassy robobrain Jezebel, though it’s unclear if this interpretation actually comes from the narrative itself or simply due to similar questions floating around in my own mind for the past couple of weeks. Without diving into any spoilers, the clear narrative high point here is the trek through The Mechanist’s facility, where the true nature of the Commonwealth’s bizarre robotic history is unveiled. Let’s just say it’s a tad…disturbing.

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Closing Comments:

While the majority of this review was spent poking holes in Automatron, there’s one thing that should be made clear: it’s a reason to dive back into Fallout 4 for a few hours. Considering Bethesda Game Studios’ biggest game to date is downright outstanding, this is a good thing. Considering that there are some awesome combat encounters, including what might be the best battle in the entire title in the final showdown with The Mechanist, those who enjoyed Fallout 4‘s improved combat experience should find themselves satisfied for an evening or two. Automatron isn’t without its hiccups and it’s a huge downer that some users will have to grind quite a bit in order to build the robot that they desire, but it’s still nowhere close to a stain on one of the best games of 2015. What’s more, if this is a hint at the level of quality that users can expect from Season Pass content going forward, then the initial investment will be worth it.