Hope County, Montana. Our (for some reason) genderless hero awakens in the midst of a devastating train crash with little-to-no introduction. Explosions rock the scenery and flames lick every surface – it’s chaos. In the distance, the roar of throaty engines can be heard approaching, and the beat of Die Antwoord’s “Fatty Fatty Boom Boom” thuds through the night sky. Neon armour-clad maniacs leap from the back of ATVs brandishing multi-coloured weaponry, hollering aggressive death threats against the gorgeous and lush forest landscape.
This is Far Cry New Dawn.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t started New Dawn with hesitancy and reluctance. The early trailers released by Ubisoft portrayed a game that seemed all to desperate to fit in with the trends and stand apart from its predecessor, Far Cry 5, despite being a direct sequel/spin-off. We were shown Dead Rising style weapon creations, a ludicrous colour palette akin to Rage 2, vehicles reminiscent of Mad Max and a post-apocalyptic landscape that raised memories of The Last of Us. The initial impression was that Ubisoft had taken their first ‘Western’ Far Cry – a huge success – and gone absolutely insane with it.
To open, I’ll establish that for the most part, I did enjoy the 35 – 40 hours I played through the title (to completion) but can firmly say I wouldn’t revisit it any time soon. Whilst one of my all-time favourite video game franchises, this iteration failed to compel me in almost any way and felt stale and overdone in places, using some of the most generic and common plot tools and writing wherever possible. As a firm example of this, Ubisoft displayed their ever-present ‘Far Cry Formula’, in that you’re a good guy, thrown into a besieged landscape and pitted against the generic villain/s. You must move point to point, liberating outposts and working your way up the ladder, whilst tackling a (strangely small) assortment of missions.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? One might argue: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
There’s a viable argument present for that point that rings true with Far Cry especially; fighting to take down a big, bad villain can be engaging and fun if it’s a good villain. To recall some of Ubisoft’s best, we’ve seen Vaas Montenegro, a psychopathic pirate, Pagan Min, a genocidal tyrant and Joseph Seed, a Charles Manson-esque, brainwashing leader of fundamental militants. In Far Cry New Dawn, our villains are the twins, ‘Lou and Mickey’. As with their minions, they’re dressed top to bottom in neon-sprayed motocross gear and strut around with an air of aggression.
However, that’s where the intrigue ends, for the most part. The writing surrounding these two individuals is extremely lazy, predictable and reeks of a lack of effort. Throughout 90% of your journey, the only sign that these two exist are the frequent mocking radio calls you receive from them after every deed you undertake. They don’t seem believable or threatening in any way, and their dialogue is cheesy and weak. Some of their most reprehensible actions actually take place off camera and act as tools to fast forward the too-short story rather than actual impactful events.
Conversely, the attention Ubisoft paid to the environment completely goes against the time taken to finesse their characters. It’s one of the most beautiful, pleasant and generally stunning worlds I’ve explored in recent years. The game is set seventeen years after a nuclear apocalypse and in the general absence of humans, the world and the nature within it has been allowed to bloom, grow and mutate. Buildings now lay half buried under thick foliage, hillsides are smothered with lush plants and flowers, and forests are dense and realistic. The buildings that are still standing are a jumble of original structures and post-apocalyptic modifications, creating miniature playgrounds for each outpost – ziplines, explosive ordinance, shattered buildings and caged animals await the inventive explorer.
There’s very little in the way of an explorative soundtrack – all you hear when you move from place to place are the calls of animals and the twittering of birds in the trees. This tranquillity is shattered when approaching an enemy camp or patrol as they’re often found to be blaring rap music, which does make for an effective if basic tool: it’s a suggestion that no matter how beautiful the world could become, there will still be evil lurking in the shadows.
Nevertheless, New Dawn is plagued by a curse that lingers within most open-world titles, and that’s the fact that the world doesn’t fill complete. Once you’ve captured the ten outposts scattered around the map, there’s very little else left to do. Although, Ubisoft can be commended on their attempt to combat this with a new mini-mode called “Expeditions”, wherein the player will travel to new locations away from Montana to loot the enemy blind, survive against waves of combatants and escape with a mere shred of health aboard an ally’s helicopter. These are fun, and the range of diverse environments offered make for a good break from Hope County’s greenery and sparkling blue rivers.
Unfortunately, I have to draw a little negativity into the frame, as both the aforementioned outposts and Expedition mode follow the same basic tier structure as the enemies and weapons. To explain: an outpost isn’t truly “captured” until you’ve taken it three times, each capture seeing you fight tougher enemies in a higher number. This is the same with Expeditions. In my opinion, this is a very lazy game-lengthening mechanic and can leave a player bored with the repetition. Thankfully, it’s not considered vital for progress.
In saying that, quite a few aspects of Far Cry New Dawn feel unimportant and not necessary to progress. You have a home base that can be modified in a linear fashion (with almost no choice or variation) but it’s barely a requirement outside of the tutorial stages. As a protagonist, you can unlock a range of followers, but the AI behind them is so strange that they’re barely useful as companions. That’s except for Timber the beautiful Akita, a lovely canine friend who can do no wrong!
Considering that point, Ubisoft has given the player the ability to skip over the grinding and repetition by simply purchasing perk points, weapons and upgrades in their store – classic microtransactions. Yes, you can unlock everything with progress, but it can be a grind and if you complete the main story before unlocking everything, it quickly becomes pointless. This is another arrow in the quiver named “I’ve seen this all before”.
At this stage, I feel I’ve slated the game quite heavily, which can be construed as slightly unfair. One of the positive points I can confidently highlight is the combat – an area in which Far Cry usually excels. The variation between weapons is plentiful and taking on an array of enemies does feel satisfying. There’s a fair range of gadgets, throwables and heavy weapons and even a few gimmicky, jokey weapons that draw a slight chuckle. Some of the quirkier achievements/trophies pertain to performing particular actions with certain weapons that give experimenting with other arms a point for players that adopt a one-gun playstyle. Furthermore, vehicular combat is quite enjoyable, as the cars, trucks and motorcycles handle well and crashing through a forest firing a pistol wildly at your pursuers is genuinely exciting.
Regrettably, the game does have one flaw that is particularly damaging and almost lead to me giving up and shelving it, and that’s the boss battles. I’ll not go in depth so as to not spoil anything, but I will highlight that the difficulty mechanics are completely skewed and extremely unbalanced. The curve when moving from general combat to a boss battle is immense and you’ll be left screaming at your television out of frustration. It can be said that for the most part, Far Cry has remained a realistic franchise – New Dawn throws that out of the window and pits you against impossibly strong and unrealistically well-equipped enemies, while at the same time leaving you woefully unequipped and unsure of expectations.
Let’s close this down with the ultimate question: is Far Cry New Dawn worth your time and money? In my opinion, it’s a reluctant yes, but not yet. I’d say to let it go down in price a little or rent it if possible. I’m plagued with an internal struggle with New Dawn and it seems that for every positive, there’s a negative. You’re given the lush, beautiful landscape but have to take a generic, short story. The combat is fantastic, but the boss battles are horrific. Experiencing the side content for the first time is enjoyable but it can very quickly become repetitive and feel like a grind. However, if you played and enjoyed Far Cry 5, you’ll most likely enjoy New Dawn and the trip back into Hope County, but I’m making no promises.