Impressions: Fallout 4's Vault-Tec Workshop DLC brings quality content in a small package
Fallout 4 has had a bit of a hit or miss track record with its official downloadable content. The workshop expansions in particular have left players feeling either really into them, or completely nonplussed by the concept as a whole.
This is the result of a somewhat frustrating settlement building system and a lack of significant content with a sharp hook for all players. It doesn’t help that earlier settlement building DLCs really only appeal to players that are either resource hoarders, or are already so committed to the imagination and potential of Fallout 4's creationist mechanics that they'll go to any length to get their hands on some new and interesting content.
In contrast, Fallout 4's Vault-Tec Workshop DLC feels a lot like Bethesda was listening to some of the key critiques of their earlier workshop DLCs. It's undeniably still a workshop expansion, but it also gives you a nice meaty chunk of steak to both bring you in and to keep you interested for more than just the first hour, while you idly browse through your workshop menus trying to decide what to build and why to build it.
Build it, Test it, Quest it
There are two key differences between this workshop DLC and the other workshop DLCs that Bethesda has released so far that make it absolutely wonderful in comparison. All of the miscellaneous workshop items are still there, but Bethesda takes the time to explain the mechanics of their new Vault-building simulator via a short but undeniably entertaining questline, and also gives players a pretty decent-sized dungeon to explore, chock full of all the materials you'll need to give you a solid start as an overseer.
The quests themselves are definitely less than what you get out of Far Harbor, or even out of the Automatron DLC, but the fact that they're around at all gives you a reason to actually explore the new items in the DLC, and are more than enough to put a smile on even the most grizzled wastelander's face. The first time a seemingly harmless experiment goes drastically wrong, you can't help but feel interested, and you also can't help but want to watch Clem and the other Settlers continue with their work under the puppet strings of your overseer title. It's a subtle sense of guidance that allows players to continue to build and create their own adventure, but that also gives you a small helping hand into that world.
The enormous Vault-Tec funded playground you get in this DLC is the other huge positive compared to the other workshops. Essentially just a massive underground cave network, Vault 88 was largely left unfinished, but with most of the supplies you'll need to get started at hand in the form of excavation equipment and various forms of construction materials. Which means that not only do more adventurous types have plenty of incentive to go bounding into the dark radioactive hallways in search of fun and fervor, but players that haven't spent the last 150 hours of gameplay carefully hording away pencils, desk fans, and coffee cups have a whole slew of material they can gather within the DLC itself to make building a Vault actually feasible.
These two simple additions make this Workshop DLC actually feel like it's worth playing. They draw you into the settlement mechanic, give you a reason to get building, and give you everything you need to do it. By the time you've finished the questline and excavated everything the Vault has to offer, you have a strange and unique attachment to the area as a whole. For the first time after stepping out of Vault 111 you feel like you have a genuine interest in building a home – it's a great feeling, and makes the DLC feel like time well spent rather than wasted.
That said, there's still some blatant issues that we should take the time to address, mostly due to the fact that the story that Bethesda gives you barely makes any sense. Vault 88 was apparently abandoned just after the Great War, and the Vault's overseer survived by merit of ghoulification and going just a little mad, but not mad enough to go full feral. That's all fine and good; our key issue is with the seemingly ridiculous point that the area is rife with excavating equipment, shovels, and all sorts of technology, and yet the player still gains access to the vault via Workshop Magic.
The overseer claims to have been obsessed with digging her way out of the Vault over the 200-odd years since the Great War, but the player manages to blow through every obstacle (including massive stone cave walls) via the workshop menu in about the time it takes to pour a cup of coffee. Bethesda has used Workshop Wizardry before, namely at the Castle after you retake the area with the Minutemen, and in the same way the player is treated like some kind of magical messiah from the past that can miraculously teleport thousands of pounds of stone and debris away in the blink of the eye. A feat that a ghoul with nothing but time and all the tools she needs at her disposal can't pull off in almost 200 years.
I know that it's meant to be classified in that lighthearted way that a lot of game mechanics are explained, with a smile and a nod from the developer to make us feel special, but it just feels a bit lazy. All we needed to keep it realistic was a block of dynamite or some kind of mining drill that we build or activate once we arrive at the Vault, with similar hijinks employed anytime we wanted to expand to a new area within Vault 88 itself. Instead, it just gets whisked away like we're a telekinetic dwarf on steroids, chugging mana potions laced with cocaine and rainbows.
That aside, this a very small problem I had with the DLC but nothing that really breaks anything except the player's sense of immersion in an otherwise atmospheric game.
A Matter of Time and Dedication
Additionally, as much as I really enjoyed this DLC because it was trying to be something other than just a settlement mod, the content is still a little light compared to most of the other DLC packs we've received from Bethesda in the past. It's been a bit of a problem for Bethesda in Fallout 4, where these Workshop DLCs have felt tiny compared to the massive storylines and detailed areas we got in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.
Vault-Tec Workshop probably only takes about three to four hours to complete if you're taking your time, although it should be said that this time becomes a heck of a lot longer if you plan to really build something massive in Vault 88 once the quests come to a close. Yet once the quest is done and you've built yourself any kind of Vault or underground bachelor pad, there's really nothing left to do with the content at hand.
Each experiment can still be reconfigured for a different result, and the various experimental options do give you a nice temporary boost to your stats if you click on them. But, aside from what the modding community will undoubtedly do with this new content, there really isn't a whole lot to do as far as manipulating and experimenting on your vault dwellers goes, and you're far from being able to make your own army of Garys to crush the Commonwealth under their iron fist.
The reality is that these smaller DLCs give Bethesda time to focus on the big expansions, and really seem to be a shift in Bethesda's focus to making one or two extremely content rich DLCs with several smaller DLCs spaced out in between. If so, it's definitely hard to complain considering that Far Harbor was definitely one of the best DLCs we've played in a while. But it also makes us question whether the $50 price tag on the Season Pass is really worth it, or if choosing the content packs that really interest you on a case-by-case basis is a better option. Let's just hope that Nuka World has enough flavor to really knock our socks off when it hits the market next month.