Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Kiev, Ubisoft Shanghai
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC
Far Cry New Dawn is by and large the same game as Far Cry 5. The mechanics are the same, the guns are the same, even the characters are mostly the same. But it ditches the previous game’s modern setting for a more wilfully daft post-apocalypse. It’s a change that, while largely cosmetic, improves the game enormously.
It’s funny how such framing can affect enjoyment so dramatically. I didn’t get on with Far Cry 5 at all. I thought its pompous themes of religious extremism and modern American fascism didn’t sit well with a game that involved shooting bears with a flamethrower. The serious story made the game seem crass, and the enjoyable silliness of the game felt restrained by the story. New Dawn, on the other hand, I had an absolute ball with.
New Dawn is set 17 years after Far Cry 5, taking place in the same location of Hope County, Montana. Despite being topographically familiar, the land has changed almost beyond recognition thanks to a series of nuclear explosions that forced the population underground for the best part of two decades. When they emerged, they found nature had reclaimed the land that humans gradually covered in concrete and chewing-gum. Towns and villages are half-rotted and covered with vegetation, while almost everywhere you look is carpeted by purple flowers.
The story puts you in the black shiny boots of the Captain, the nameless leader of a sort-of post-apocalyptic Red Cross. Travelling the US via one of the few working trains, they help communities re-establish themselves in the new-world. When the train arrives in Hope County, however, it is attacked by a tribe of Warboy wannabes who call themselves the Highwaymen, led by a pair of twin sisters who chew the scenery in typical Far Cry fashion. After an introductory fight, you escape the wreckage and team up with the local community to rid Hope County of the Highwaymen once and for all.
From a play perspective, this means doing much the same things you did in previous Far Cry games – capturing bases, investigating prepper-stashes, and embarking upon various kinds of side-missions. The difference is that the new theme – along with a handful of new mechanics – makes the whole experience gel much better.
For example, one of the first things you do in Far Cry 5 is craft a saw-launcher, literally a crossbow-like weapon that fires saucer-sized sawblades. It’s patently absurd. But Far Cry has always been patently absurd. It’s a series whose highlights include firing a rocket launcher from the back of an elephant.
Instead of fighting this absurdity, however, New Dawn acknowledges and embraces it, an attitude that makes the game much more entertaining. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a giant warthog called Horatio as a side-kick, or a blabbermouth octogenarian who also happens to be a crack sniper, because it’s the apocalypse! Far Cry’s script has always been written in crayon, and it’s a lot easier to read when the world is painted with similar colours.
There’s more to New Dawn than a lick of fluorescent paint, however. New Dawn makes a couple of system-based amendments too. One of these centres around a new home-base called Prosperity, which you need to expand and improve in order to access certain new upgrades, like health boosts, more powerful weapons, and so forth.
Achieving this boils down to scavenging various kinds of resources from the environment. The game calls it 'crafting', but it’s crafting in the same way that getting your dad to do your homework is “doing your homework”. You collect all the bits, press a button, and the game does all the work for you.
Normally this design approach would get a NO the size of the Hollywood sign from me. However, the system succeeded in incentivising me to explore and capture outposts in a way that Far Cry 5 didn’t. This is partly because the lovely prepper-stash puzzles make a return from the first game, little bespoke first-person conundrums that are a delight to solve. But beyond those it still feels good delving into old nuclear bunkers and dilapidated barns looking for scrap to salvage. I’m not sure that it should work, but it does.
This turns out to be a theme for Far Cry New Dawn, because it adds another mechanic that I normally hate and yet quite enjoy in this specific interpretation –tiered loot and enemies. Every enemy and weapon is ranked in that familiar RPG league table of Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Epic that seems to pervade modern games (New Dawn calls them something different, but it’s the same system and I can’t be bothered to look up how Ubisoft has re-labelled it).
Normally I don’t like this stuff in games because it feels too artificial. There’s something intensely annoying about stabbing an enemy through the eye in Assassin’s Creed and yet they don’t die because they’re an 'Epic' opponent. A knife in the eye stops anyone, mate, no matter how much of a legend you are.
Again though, this system works in New Dawn. Fights are longer and more challenging, which in turn means there’s more opportunity for the systems to collide and produce ridiculous emergent events, like your gunfight suddenly being interrupted by a massive bear. It’s also less rigid compared to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. A headshot against an unarmoured opponent will still kill them instantly, while explosives do massive damage to anything.
All told, New Dawn is much more balanced than Far Cry 5 was, an element that I think is aided by the smaller, more focussed scale. New Dawn will probably take you about 20 hours to finish including all the side stuff, about half the size of FC5. That’s still a fair chunk of game, but it also means the incidental encounters on the road feel more like part of the game than an obstacle to the next icon on the map.
There is a But here. I like a lot of what New Dawn does. But there’s no escaping the fact that it is very similar to Far Cry 5. It would be harsh to call it a re-skin, but it’s also not a completely new game either. It is priced like a full game at almost £40, which I think is steep for what feels like a standalone expansion pack.
As I said, though, I didn’t care much for Far Cry 5, and I find New Dawn to be much more palatable. It’s a more compact, better thought-out, and all-around more enjoyable package. It’s hardly a New Dawn for the series as a whole, but it does make for a surprisingly pleasant sunset on Far Cry 5’s turbulent lifespan.
February 24 2020 | 12:00