It often seems like the Far Cry franchise is the testing ground for ideas Ubisoft either wants to try on for size or thinks are too experimental for a game like Assassin’s Creed. The pattern begins with Far Cry 3, which laid the groundwork for the company’s open world formula for years to come (towers, hunting, crafting, etc.). Then they threw a curveball in the form of the Blood Dragon DLC, which transformed the sunny, lush Rook Island into a neo-retro 1980’s sci-fi spoof starring cyber-soldier and walking one-liner factory Rex “Power” Colt.
This was then succeeded by the more traditional Far Cry 4, which notably experimented with co-op (a feature that would be included to fairly disastrous effect in Assassin’s Creed Unity). The following year, Far Cry 4‘s map and mechanics were given a prehistoric twist in Far Cry Primal, a game that gave protagonists bows and spears as their primary weapons rather than shotguns and rocket-launchers.
The series returned in 2018 with Far Cry 5, this time toying around with a less rigid mission structure and a freeform approach to acquiring side quests (soon to be seen in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey). Following the sequence to its next natural step, it wasn’t particularly surprising to hear that players would be given an opportunity to return to Far Cry 5‘s Hope County in another spinoff installment – the post-apocalyptic Far Cry New Dawn.
New Dawn takes place roughly 17 years after the surprise ending of its predecessor (spoilers for Far Cry 5 follow) when a nuclear explosion razed the once idyllic country town, fulfilling The Father’s prophecy. Far from ruining life for the citizens, the event – referred to as The Collapse – ushered in a new era of peace. The cultists from the previous game ceased harassing the people and retreated to the north to build their “New Eden.” Flora and fauna began to flourish and create a uniquely beautiful apocalypse, and the rest of the county found a surprisingly serene world that they were mostly happy to call home.
Before long, though, a group of bandits known as The Highwaymen, led by brutal twins Mickey and Lou, seize the area and start terrorizing its inhabitants. Players assume the role of The Captain, the partner of famed settlement-builder Thomas Rush, as they begin their efforts to evict The Highwaymen once and for all.
Before I go too much farther into the premise and how it affects the series’ trademark mechanics, I would like to say how genuinely refreshing it is to see a AAA studio that’s willing to take such significant risks with one of their tentpole franchises. Far Cry isn’t a throwaway IP, and Blood Dragon, Primal and now New Dawn all show that Ubisoft has enough confidence in their formula to experiment with tone, setting, and flow in pretty significant ways. This attitude is all too often absent, especially in games released annually, and I applaud Ubisoft for breaking the mold.
Unfortunately, the rest of New Dawn seems like a hodgepodge of clever but half-finished ideas, and the story makes a wasteland out of its rich premise.
The rhythm established in Far Cry 3 and evolved by its successors is still very much in place, and for the most part, it works as well as it ever has. You’ll walk, run, drive, boat, and fly around a map teeming with enemies, reclaim multiple outposts, craft weapons, and solve simple environmental puzzles to open treasure caches. It’s a well-designed loop that usually manages to keep me engaged for the majority of each game, even if it does eventually wear thin.
The designers of New Dawn seem cognizant of how this system needed to be modified not only for the game’s new setting, but also for its considerably smaller map. In terms of the former, a heavy emphasis has been placed on resource management, as would befit the apocalypse. Weapons, vehicles, medkits, and ammunition must all be crafted from components scattered around the world, and the rarer the gear, the more difficult it will be to stockpile necessary items. This also feeds into one of New Dawn‘s more original additions – upgrading various facets of your home base: Prosperity.
Using resources gathered from missions or outposts, players will incrementally improve the fledgling town they’re meant to protect. These upgrades have direct effects on gameplay, such as leveling up all available Guns-for-Hire (unlockable A.I. companions that aid in combat), increasing the potency of medkits, and allowing players to craft higher-level weapons and vehicles.
The majority of resources are found in Highwaymen Outposts, a returning Far Cry staple. The difference this time around is that once you complete an outpost, you can choose to “scavenge” it for an immediate bonus useful for upgrading Prosperity. But in return, the outpost will be reclaimed by more difficult enemies. Mechanically, this incentivizes players to tackle these challenges three times – each harder than the last. From a design perspective, it’s a reasonably artful way to effectively triple the amount of side content in a game without needing to triple the size of the map.
These modifications to the standard formula don’t come without caveats, though. For instance, weapon modification is virtually nonexistent. When you craft a new gun, you’ll need to scroll through a menu to find one with a silencer or a sight that fits your playstyle. There is no option to build a pistol and duct tape a red dot sight to the top despite the fact that every single weapon in the game looks kit-bashed and improvised. You’ll have to choose from the pre-set list instead. Similarly, I couldn’t seem to find anywhere to color my weapons with the gleefully chaotic spraypaint that covers nearly inch of the new Hope County.
Thing’s don’t improve much towards the endgame, either. I spent around 15 hours playing New Dawn, and during that time I recruited every Gun-for-Hire, completed every outpost (several of them twice), ran out of treasure hunts to solve, and fully upgraded the central town of Prosperity. Even so, when I made it to the end of the disappointing story (in terms of both content and length), I was woefully underequipped to deal with the two unreasonably hard final boss fights.
To me, this feels like a fairly glaring balance issue that can be blamed, at least in part, on how much the story feels like a slapped together afterthought (more on that in a moment). It’s perfectly reasonable to want players to engage with elements of the open world outside of the storyline, but expecting them to play through dozens of iterations of the same three or four random events in addition to up to three passes at 10 separate outposts simply to be prepared for mandatory fights feels excessive. It seems to me that you’d want to reward completionists and highly skilled players with more challenging content, but not make it vital for anyone interested in seeing a continuation of Far Cry 5‘s story.
Speaking of which, as a follow-up to a mediocre story with a surprising ending, New Dawn manages to drop the ball at just about every turn. The Twins are mean and evil for the sake of having mean and evil people for players to hate. The Highwaymen are a convenient excuse to flood the map with baddies, because Far Cry. The secondary villain’s motivations are laughable and underwritten to the point of borderline comedy. Thomas Rush appears, does nothing, and disappears just as quickly, giving players absolutely no reason to care about him. The Captain – as well as the rest of the population of Prosperity – are little more than cardboard cutouts delivering melodramatic lines about hope and family. The meta-story about parenthood is horrendously underdeveloped, cheesy, and tonally out of place in a game about launching sawblades from a makeshift crossbow. It’s also worth mentioning that the story content amounts to a total of 13 missions, none of which are particularly memorable.
All of this leads me to think that Far Cry New Dawn would have been better off as a standalone addition to Far Cry 5 rather than as its own (admittedly $39.99) title. In that case, the truncated story would have made more sense, as would the dramatically reduced map size. It would also help with the sense that despite its vibrant visuals and slick presentation, New Dawn never really finds an identity of its own. It’s Far Cry, and it’s post-apocalyptic, but it feels like half of each rather than a fully realized, cohesive world like Fallout or Metro.
Complaints aside, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in New Dawn if you’re a fan of the series. The shooting and co-op are chaotic as ever, and exploration is generally rewarding. These are the things that Far Cry has always excelled at. However, perhaps for whatever spinoff follows the inevitable Far Cry 6, I’d like to see Ubisoft take a leap of faith, not just with the setting, but with the characters too.