Nuka World is the corruption of a childhood dream. Who hasn’t at some point in their life wish for their parents to take them to the Magic Kingdom? If those wistful daydreams began to rust, if they became overgrown, were invaded by murderous gangs and robots with axes to grind, and of course, if they were sponsored by Nuka Cola, you would come up with Nuka World, Bethesda’s latest addition to the sprawling wasteland of Fallout 4.
Within, you’re likely to find a lot that’s fresh and more that feels familiar. Nuka World has plenty of surprises, there are new enemies, weapons and armor, and new flavors of Nuka Cola to wet your whistle. And of course, there’s the park itself, with six big areas for you to violently reclaim and pretty much never stop killing things within. Which is what makes Nuka World feel so familiar: combat. It’s fun to go in and shake things up with your favorite sidearm, but it feels like a missed opportunity that so much of the experience banks on continuous combat. As the final piece of DLC for Fallout 4, it was the perfect moment for Bethesda to step out and take some chances. Instead, Nuka World feels safe. It’s fun, but more of the same in a new setting.
Things start promising as you pick up on a radio signal broadcast from Nuka World advising you to hop aboard the monorail to visit the park. After killing a few scavengers, you hop aboard and immediately find out how bad things really are. Nuka World is in desolation after the nuclear apocalypse and the broadcast was a ruse (shocking, I know). Instead of a happy getaway, you find yourself thrown into a bloody gauntlet literally coated in the viscera of those who came before. Assuming you make it out alive, you’re thrown into an arena (read: bumper car square) to square off against the overboss of the three rival gangs currently at truce in the park.
Thankfully, your man on the inside, Gage, helps you win the day, and because being a gang leader is a cool game idea, you’re elevated to gang overboss by sheer animal magnetism. Or something like that. Really, it’s all a bit hard to believe, but it’s worth extending your disbelief because it’s worth experiencing the wasteland from this new perspective, especially after so many hours where your only option was kill or be killed when it came to raiders. You’re given the old boss’s lofty digs in the restaurant atop Fizztop Mountain. Gage extols the virtues of power and you’re sent on your way to assure Nuka World’s three gangs usurping your throne or fall into bloody infighting.
The gangs each have their own personality, one craving violence, the other money, and the last chaos. I made a point to invest in Charisma while leveling up and was happy to find that smooth talking the rival gang leaders can lead to some branching paths with almost immediate rewards. Ultimately, however, despite being the “boss” your underlings do most of the ordering around to allow you to prove yourself and earn their loyalty. Indeed, many of these quests are little more than fetch quests with the occasional kill order. It’s hardly surprising given the large scale of this DLC, but again, it feels familiar and by the end even a bit tired.
The similar structure of many of the quests perhaps would have had a longer life if not for the persistent loading screens. Nuka World is plagued by loads. Every time you enter a build or area of the park, you’re forced into a loading screen. They’re brief but frequent enough to be obnoxious all the same.
The core of the DLC comes in exploring and reclaiming the different parks within Nuka World. This is where the DLC shines, even with the over emphasis on combat. Each of the parks feels handcrafted and bristles with personality. Each one feels very different from the next, a benefit of being able to theme each of the zones, and the enemies follow suit. There’s also great reasons to explore with lots of lore hidden inside terminals and some excellent gear in lockboxes and sealed rooms. Pro-tip: look for lockboxes as early as the gauntlet.
As you reclaim the areas of the park, as overboss, you get to decide which of the three gangs holds sway over them. Even though there is a lot of flavor text, there is little true consequence attached to any of this. I deliberately ignored The Disciples, the aforementioned violence crew, because they seemed like the most interesting to toy with. The results with disappointing. Grumbling. Dislike. There was huge potential for interesting outcomes here and the resolutions Nuka World offers feel incomplete.
Collectibles and side quests are also plentiful in Nuka World. You’ll be scouring for Star Cores, Nuka Cola recipes, and Happy Cappy locations. I’m skeptical of these quests as a rule; they are too often used to pad out an thin games starved for content. Here, they’re still padding, but Nuka World is just interesting enough to make you want to explore. I didn’t feel compelled to find everything, so those quests went unfinished, but they kept me curious and finding things I would otherwise have missed.
Since the DLC is themed after Nuka Cola, it makes sense that one of the biggest additions is a new soda mixing station. Nuka World brings with it several new flavors, such as Nuka Grape, but you’ll also be scouring to find recipes hidden around the park. It’s worthwhile too, as these new drinks can provide powerful boosts to your character. And that’s important, because the DLC is at times punishingly hard.
The DLC is technically available at level 30, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Even coming in at level 41, I found myself consistently pushed to the limit. There are many new baddies, such as the Ghourilla or the Gatorclaw (animal crosses both) but even standard enemies take an inordinate amount of bullets to put down. Even though the new companion, Gage, can hold his own, it can still be a tough go. It’s clear that Bethesda wanted to push players and draw out the experience, but the difficulty skew feels unbalanced for when are expected to actually begin the DLC.
Nuka World, from all that we know now, is the last piece of DLC for Fallout 4. It isn’t as sprawling as Far Harbor, but it is more focused and better able to achieve its ends. It isn’t perfect, with it’s uncharitable difficulty and over emphasis on gunplay, but it is a joy to explore. I couldn’t help but smile at how clever this DLC was. Without another expansion to flesh out the world, setting it in a theme park allowed Bethesda to give more variety in its space than any DLC that’s come before. If Nuka World existed in real life, I’d be terrified to visit. Since it’s here… I might just invest in a VIP pass.
Pros: Big and varied, interesting gangs, new enemies, weapons, and armor, a joy to explore
Cons: Over-emphasis on combat, lackluster consequences, can be quite difficult