Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Fallout 4 kicked off its paid DLC rollout last week with the release of Automatron, one cup comic book hero, two tablespoons dark narrative, and two fist fulls of rock 'em sock 'em robots.
This is far from the first time we've seen robots gone wild in the Fallout universe; even the Mechanist character in this DLC is a role that previously appeared in Fallout 3, although Bethesda made it abundantly clear that the two characters are separate entities and are only loosely connected by the pre-war comic book character from which they take their name. Despite this, Automatron takes a bit of the old and mixes it with a lot of the new to make a satisfying content pack that might be a little light on a few things that made Bethesda's previous DLC great, but is still a fun and engaging experience.
Automatron sits at a pretty standard DLC price of $10 or you can snag it as part of the season pass.
Automatron's story revolves around the Mechanist, a near do well hero that commands an army of highly volatile robotic companions with plans to save the Commonwealth from any and all of the threats that come strolling down the road. Unfortunately despite the good intentions behind the mask the Mechanist's army is wreaking havoc on a massive scale, killing, exploding, and leaving parts both mechanical and organic strewn all across the Commonwealth's budding merchant lanes.
Like a lot of Fallout 4's storylines the arc gets pretty simple from there. The overall objective is to find the Mechanist and stop his reign of terror. The twist is the way Bethesda explores the dark and somewhat demented research process of one of their iconic robotic enemies, the Robobrains. From beginning to end you'll have a conversation with a totally crazy Robobrain, bond with a loyal AI who has a budding sense of duty and loyalty, and explore a dark research center where humans are used as the CPUs to create dangerous robotic psychopaths.
Fallout is well known for mixing a lot of dark sci-fi themes with the fun and humor of a world gone insane, but Fallout 4 was noticeably light on the former and heavy on the latter. Bethesda still managed to create an engaging experience despite this but it lacked the dark atmosphere and horrifying mystery that used to make so many of the Vaults so terrifyingly fun to explore. Automatron does an excellent job of fixing that balance, adding in a healthy dose of humor thanks to the snarky commentary from your robotic companions, but mixing in just the right amount of atmosphere and story along the way to keep things along the theme of pre-war technology gone to far.
Automatron is still a little light on story content for our tastes, the whole DLC can be rushed through in about three to five hours if you're dedicated and manage to avoid distractions. Not an unusual length for today's DLC standard but a far cry short of the long detailed releases we've seen in previous Bethesda DLC. Bethesda was obviously hoping that the robo build a death machine mechanic would keep players enthralled for the remainder of the play time, which it generally does for a new playthrough but high level players that have already kicked the bulk of the main game might find themselves wondering what comes next. Which in their case is likely Bethesda's next DLC, Far Harbor.
More Choice, Happier Players
One of the key critiques to Fallout 4 revolved around player choice. Fallout has always walked the line between trying to deliver engaging narratives but still give the player total freedom, and Fallout 4 felt like you had three or four dialogue options but they all led to the same place with little true player choice. The goal was to give Bethesda room to deliver stronger story elements by removing some of the player spawned variable.
Automatron doesn't entirely abandon this new approach to things but Bethesda made sure that violence is not always the only option, and that when you finally track down the Mechanist you're given the option to actually reason with the iconic comic book hero rather than simply blowing him to bits. Although blood thirsty players should note that violence is still, and always will be an option.
Additionally one of the more subtle differences comes in the dialogue wheel, which noticeably has more than just the goodie two shoes Lone Survivor options we see in most of the main game. You'll still notice plenty of sarcasm triggers, but for once your character can actually just flat out be an asshole, you can crack tasteless jokes, trigger a murder frenzy, and in general do some of the wild and crazy choices that you would expect out of a Fallout game. A welcome change that gives you the freedom to actually play a little bit more your way.
More Robots, Fewer Problems
Automatron's biggest selling point is definitely the ability to build your own robots something that it gives to you fairly early in the story and expands upon it a lot as you progress. You'll constantly find parts and bits of tech on the destroyed robotic hordes of the Mechanist which you can immediately take home to either strap to your favorite robotic creation, or use to create a whole new companion to take on the road with you.
Each robot can be customized for speed, stealth, melee, ranged, carry weight, and a variety of other uses and all in all it really adds an element of fun to the whole DLC. Early on I focused on making ADA, the first robotic companion you pick up as fast and strong as possible, kitting her out with a nail gun, a gatling laser, and a mister handy thruster. I beefed up her armor and carry weight and found that she was a companion besides Dogmeat and Nick Valentine that I actually enjoyed having around. Later on I found a set of sentry bot legs and slapped them to her chassis with glee, sure that I had just made a glorious tank of badassitude untold.
On the open field of battle my feelings were vindicated as ADA turned into a freight train, bashing enemies left and right and dolling out nails and laser burns left and right. Inside was a different story. I gleefully ignored the warning on the Sentry Bots leg parts that mentioned they restricted mobility and found that in a number of cramped factories and houses that ADA's glorious Sentry Bot hips would catch and get stuck on almost anything and everything. Which could turn into a nightmare as Autromatron's noticeably more intense difficulty scale forced me to rely more and more on ADA's tanky nature.
The result involved an evolution in playstyle, something that I'm always happy to see when a game forces on me. I found myself constantly gauging my adventures and listening carefully to plot queues to find out exactly what kind of terrain I would be fighting on. In an open field, a large scale factory setting, or anytime I knew we were going to be in some heavy duty combat I would throw on ADA's sentry bot legs to increase her carry weight, health, and burst speed then strap a few unstable parts to her chasis to increase her DPS until they exploded. If I knew we were going to be running around a cramped Vault or some other highly cramped Boston high rise I swapped out for a Mr. Handy thruster or a set of gangly robotic legs if I thought I might need to carry out a lot of loot.
It's a welcome layer of strategy that Automatron manages to integrate in a way that feels natural and intuitive.
Surprisingly Automatron delivers a really satisfying challenge, especially at higher difficulties even high leveled characters should bring their power armor and their best gear. Automatron doesn't pull any punches and will send wave after wave of robotic enemies careening down narrow hallways and at times falling from the sky all around you.
If you want to survive you'll need to pay close attention to the names and types of robots you encounter and carefully outfitting your robot companions for the situation is essential. Remember to save often and don't be afraid to take it a bit slow, it can make the difference between walking away with a bunch of new robot toys and watching your corpse fly across the screen when an enemy you thought you killed detonates at your feet. If you're having any trouble definitely invest in Robotics Expert so you can remotely hack away your robot woes.
One of the few points Automatron does fail to deliver is in the new gear you'll find along the way. The Tesla Rifle is at best okay on normal difficulty but falls completely short for anything but the weakest enemies on higher tiers, and although the other robot-inspired weapons are extremely cool looking, they also lack the kind of punch that they need to keep a permanent place in your inventory. Bethesda has made a lot of interesting steps forward with Fallout 4's weapons and armor but it feels ultimately like they're afraid to give players a weapon that's overpowered. The Tesla Power Armor is probably the best piece of gear you'll walk away with, aesthetically it adds a nice element of glowy shocky lightning to any wardrobe and can give energy weapons a nice boost to damage albeit at a slight loss of armor compared to a set of X-01.
All in all Automatron is a good bite of DLC, not a huge sandwich like we're used to seeing from Bethesda but not usual for the current DLC market. Its story might not be long or complicated, but it has a remarkable level of depth and atmosphere that keeps you enthralled. Combine that with an intricate robot building mechanic and just a dash of Bethesda's patented player freedom and Automatron delivers a satisfying gameplay experience.