Say what you will about Far Cry New Dawn, but at least it’s honest. With resources scarce, the survivors must cobble together something new from the remains of the the world that came before. Rare is the game whose premise can serve as its own development diary.
See, Far Cry New Dawn isn’t a full sequel, although you might have already guessed that from its lower price tag. Rather, it’s a remix game akin to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Far Cry Primal, built atop the bones of its predecessor with a few twists thrown in here and there in the hopes of keeping things fresh. Simultaneously, however, New Dawn is a direct continuation of Far Cry 5, picking up 17 years after its world-nuking ending as humanity emerges from the (surprisingly widespread) bunkers of Hope County, Montana.
Straddling that line between essential and optional, between a true next chapter and a budget spinoff, isn’t something New Dawn does with any particular aplomb. The game instead ping-pongs between a compelling vision of how the series might evolve in the future and a cheap-feeling, underdesigned, shoddily realized gameplay experience in the here and now.
There are, to be sure, all the familiar elements of any Far Cry game, most of which work just as well as they ever have. The open world is a reimagined chunk of Far Cry 5’s Hope County that, by my rough estimate, takes up around 40 percent of the original’s landmass. Visiting familiar but transformed locations can, on occasion, lead to those magical moments when you recognize the unfamiliar, but only a few of the makeovers are particularly memorable. That’s a slight disappointment, given the room the premise offers for wild, Mad Max–style creativity—but the world remains an effective enough playground for your shenanigans. Animals still interrupt your firefights to hilarious effect, only now some of them have glowy eyes and area of effect attacks, as one does after exposure to heavy radiation.
There are once again enemy-filled Outposts to liberate dotted across the landscape, and eclectic characters to meet, some of which you can recruit as Guns for Hire that will fight alongside you. Gunplay remains solid, as does the variety of weapons—though it’s painfully obvious Ubisoft struggled to make your arsenal match the post-apocalyptic setting in any meaningful way. Mostly you get the exact same sorts of guns as in any other Far Cry game, just with some trash slapped on the side. The one exception is the Saw Launcher, which shoots out projectiles that inflict serious damage and bounce off the environment, paving the way for entertaining ricochet kills. It’s neat, but its inclusion mainly serves to draw attention to the fact that New Dawn can only muster a single weapon that feels in any way post-apocalyptic. You’ll likely find yourself relying on traditional guns most of the time, anyway, given how much more versatile and plentiful they are.
And, of course, there’s still a story that places the emphasis squarely on its villains. In New Dawn, you play the nameless, faceless captain of security for a man named Thomas Rush who travels the country helping survivors rebuild. Standing in your way are Lou and Mickey, twin sisters with the requisite penchant for monologuing and an odd fixation on rabbits. While it’s refreshing to see New Dawn give high-profile roles to women of color, the brevity of the campaign means the twins don’t really get much chance to shine outside of one or two strong character moments late in the story. In the absence of any ethos deeper than “might makes right,” they’re reduced to the same brand of violent psychopath you’ve seen before, only now there are two of them.
Mickey and Lou’s army of goons are known as the Highwaymen, a band of roving thugs who’ve apparently united around a shared love of the color pink, street art, and motocross gear. The Highwaymen roll out across Hope County, terrorize the peaceful survivors, and gather up all the resources for themselves. (That this is almost exactly the modus operandi of the player—looting your way across the entire county as though everything in it existed solely for your benefit as fuel to make yourself an even deadlier killing machine—goes entirely unexplored by the narrative.)
Looming in the background of all this is Joseph Seed, the Far Cry 5 antagonist who led a violent doomsday cult and was kinda sorta maybe right all along? Needless to say, he comes back into the picture eventually, though mostly in the form of a missed opportunity.
There’s not much I can say about the story itself without spoiling specifics, but boy does it ever get stupid. The main missions, of which there are only 22, can feel a little like the cheapest and easiest possible options, with only a few setpiece moments throughout. Frequent bugs and rough edges don’t help things. At one point, I rescued a new ally only to have her immediately become trapped under the husk of an exploded car, immortal but completely inaccessible. (I eventually blew the car off her with explosives.) A later moment was ruined when a character cowered in front of me, asking me to spare their life, only to stand up and start throwing punches at me while still begging for mercy. Kind of getting mixed signals there.
Worse, the missions frequently struggle to string themselves together into a coherent story without relying on lazy contrivance. In three story missions in a row, you’re forced to put all your guns in a bag because the designers couldn’t think of any other way to place you face to face with Lou and Mickey without killing them. At one point you do this just because the twins ask you to. I can’t decide if it’s better or worse than Far Cry 5’s sleep-dart railroading, but it’s certainly not any vast improvement.
Even in its misfires, though, the story is still familiar enough to be recognizably Far Cry. Where New Dawn takes steps to set itself apart from its predecessors is in what you’re fighting to protect. Now, you have a true home base in the form of Prosperity, a fortress town founded by Far Cry 5’s Rye family. Central to Prosperity is an upgrade system based around collecting resources—most crucially ethanol—and rescuing allies out in the world. Dump enough ethanol into your base, and you’ll be able to craft better vehicles and weapons, increase the health of yourself and your allies, and buy maps that fill in markers for undiscovered secrets and points of interest.
This, the process of collecting resources to advance yourself and the story, is the axis on which Far Cry New Dawn turns. And it is a wobbly one. Beyond the basic upgrades for your base that allow you to keep pace with the more powerful enemies of the late game, you can craft throwables, medkits, ammo, and new weapons, the last of which can’t be bought outright unless you’re willing to plunk down real-world money. Eventually, you can even upgrade the weapons themselves, placing your excess resources into more damage per bullet. In essence, it’s just an expanded and totalizing version of the crafting system of the last game, replacing shops and cash with recipes and ingredients. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of revolving door approach, but there are a few problems to how it’s implemented here.
The first is that the content that earns you substantial resources is rather limited in scope. After you’ve scoured the world for caches, the most profitable thing to do is the game’s Outposts and the new Expeditions. In a smart twist, resetting Outposts you’ve already cleared has been transformed into a bona fide mechanic. “Scavenging,” as it’s called, gets you more resources and a chance to take on the Outpost again with harder enemies (up to level three, at which point the enemies stay the same and the alarms just shuffle locations). But this system can’t really make up for the fact that there are half as many Outposts here as in the last game, nor the fact that you’re expected to do every one at least three times to tick off the completion tracker on the map screen. Outposts already felt rather similar to one another and never really forced you to employ varied tactics to succeed if you’d already found an approach that works.
Expeditions are a much bigger departure for the series. These missions take you out of the open world and into dedicated maps set around the United States. There are seven locations in total, again with three difficulty levels. The change of scenery is nice, though the maps themselves aren’t too thrilling, and apparently no one at Ubisoft realized there aren’t mountains in Florida. The trouble is that the structure of these missions is always exactly the same. You land in a helicopter, move towards the pink smoke, look around the area for a package, and then hightail it to an extraction point where you have to hold out for two minutes for your ride to show. Both the package and the extraction point can be randomized between a few different locations, but the basic contours of the mission always remain the same.
The Expeditions manage to simultaneously drag on and feel far too slight. You can beat each one in less than five minutes once you get the hang of it, but the randomization isn’t enough to disguise the fact that the objective is so basic and mind-numbing. To nab full completion, you’ll once again need to do each mission on all three difficulty levels. You’re unlikely to have much interest in replaying them after you’ve done pretty much the same thing 21 times.
Some of the systems involved are crudely implemented, as well. When you pick up the package, a 30-second countdown begins, after which the game alerts all enemies to your location. But this is also when the helicopter pilot tells you where the extraction point is located, and he takes his sweet time. Depending on the voice line, it can be as long as 16 seconds before you even know where you’re supposed to go. So much for the head start. Plus, the directions he gives are sometimes straight-up incorrect. “A bridge to the northeast” will be to the northwest of where you’re standing, and on the extreme western edge of the map as a whole. You’ve got a HUD icon to make sure you find it, but it’s still disorienting to be misled.
The second main issue is that the resource economy seems rather poorly balanced—but oddly enough, it’s in the direction of being too generous. I played Far Cry New Dawn the way I do any other open world game, clearing out a fair bit of the side content as I worked my way through the story, and making sure I’d done everything before the finale. At no point did I feel like I needed to go out looking for a specific kind of resource, barring the occasional ethanol shortage. I always had more than what I needed at any given moment. As a result, it barely felt like there was any meaningful crafting system at all.
In fact, by the time I had finished all the side content and moved on to beating the story, the upgrades I had put into my favorite gun effectively sucked out any sense of challenge or tension. The final boss fight—and this is in no way an exaggeration—lasted less than 30 seconds. The boss was dead before it got off a single attack. Since there’s no option to replay missions, I could not tell you anything about how the designers intended this fight to play out, but I can certainly tell you my own experience was anticlimactic in the extreme.
To be clear, in no way was I consciously trying to outsmart the game. I’d simply done everything the map screen told me I needed to do to achieve full completion, and then, I think quite reasonably, put the resources I’d earned towards upgrading my most-used weapon. It’s neither shrewd nor conniving to realize one very powerful gun is preferable to a bunch of pretty good ones, but the game clearly had no response to that approach. I wouldn’t say New Dawn is a broken game, but it’s certainly a fragile one, and it’s certainly agnostic on whether or not you choose to break it.
The final problem with the focus on the new crafting system is that there’s ultimately no point. Far Cry New Dawn borrows many things from RPGs (including, for unclear reasons, damage markers when you shoot enemies), but it forgot to borrow an endgame. In truth, this is the only fundamental problem among the three. If there were some great challenge to overcome at the end of all this, plenty of gamers, myself included, would be willing to grind out the same repetitive content over and over, and that generous economy would eventually become stingy enough to provide a challenge. But when all that’s left to do is repeat the same things you’ve already been doing with less hassle, having an open-ended weapon upgrade system and an infinite supply of perk points just makes New Dawn feel like a half-designed game. I have a gun that can do 34,000 damage in three seconds, and I have nothing to shoot.
The sum total of all this, the old and the new, the decent and the shoddy, is the rather curious feeling that Far Cry has gone through a global nuclear apocalypse and hardly changed at all. I can envision only two explanations for this. The first is that New Dawn doesn’t do nearly enough to lean into its post-apocalyptic setting, merely grafting on some slightly more robust crafting mechanics to the established formula, uglying up the weapons, and encircling the map with a lot of dead trees. In the absence of more exhaustive world-building or more imaginative changes to gameplay, the apocalypse is relegated to set dressing.
That’s probably true on some level, but there’s another possibility I find much more compelling: that Ubisoft’s Far Cry games have been post-apocalyptic all along. This is a series that thrusts you into situations where civilization falters (or has yet to arise) and the barbarism of human nature creeps back in to fill the void. In sparsely populated worlds, you struggle to survive this collapse and restore some semblance of structure, forced along the way to engage in the very same violence you seek to banish. These are all the building blocks of Fallout, of The Road, of Mad Max. What Far Cry has been telling us all this time, perhaps, is that civil war, colonialism, violent fundamentalism, these things are apocalypse enough. We already live in the dust of this planet. Some of us just have the luxury of looking away.
In finally taking the idea to its most literal, fantastical end, Far Cry New Dawnleaves itself no room for further metaphor, no space to say anything compelling about itself. It’s a punchline. Barring a hard reboot or a pivot to period pieces, it’s difficult to imagine the series clawing back from this new and newly hollow status quo.
The world is over now, and we’ve only just begun.
Fire may have rained from the skies and wiped out entire nations, but the action in Far Cry New Dawn is pretty much the same as it ever was, only less so. A few interesting new tweaks to the series’ formula are overshadowed by a cut-rate campaign, a story that gets colossally dumb in the third act, and a resource system that feels both unbalanced and pointless.
M - Mature
|Far Cry New Dawn is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4 Pro. Code/hardware was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|