The idea of the world ending, of everything beginning anew, is one of the most morbidly universal themes of our species. Cultures throughout history, across the world, have myths and stories telling of a time when the powers that be grew hateful of us lowly creatures and wiped the slate clean. In the case of Far Cry: New Dawn, despite the powers being nuclear not divine, you step into a world scrubbed of modern civilisation, the detritus of buildings and machinery poking out the ground like grave markers to a once thriving life. The fingers of nature drape over metal, our once great accomplishment, kneading through rust created by its own moisture, igniting your vision with sometimes nauseatingly bright coloured flowers; while animals, with only a ghost of familiarity, bound through these alien vistas, their antlers luminous, their eyes glowing red in the dark. The veins of roads peak under nature’s dominance, giving a passing nod to human-controlled traversal, while preventing the heart of the civilised open road from ever beating again.
New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5, so spoiler alert: The world literally ends in Far Cry 5. Set in a fictional part of the United States called Hope County, players will experience a first-person, open-world, Mad Max-em up. The game includes light RPG elements that go beyond merely a skill tree but I won’t spoil why that’s the case: It’s a fun, weird discovery that happens about half-way through the main story.
Players take on the role of a security head for a group of survivors. Since you’re the Captain of the security detail, everyone simply calls you “Cap”. After picking your body type, presenting either male or female, players can then customise their avatar to a limited extent. Of course, being a FPS, you’ll never see your character’s getup, except on the side of the screen with your wardrobe.
The canonical ending of Far Cry 5 sees the main character from that game ending up as antagonist Joseph Seed’s prisoner in a bunker, surviving the blast. I won’t spoil what happens to them in New Dawn, but it’s not hard to figure out – I quite liked what Ubisoft did and felt it fitting of the theme of the game.
As per Far Cry 5 (and 2) you are helped by a buddy system, where, after meeting incredible, over-the-top characters, you are then provided weapons and health aid. Players of Far Cry 5 will appreciate the connection to the first game with the choice of characters you meet. I won’t spoil who they are here, either.
Far Cry: New Dawn is perhaps the first major title I’ve played where your main antagonist are a set of twins, who control the evil gang the Highwaymen. Not only that, but your main villains are two black women. It’s not my place to comment on their representation, but I can’t help consider the contrast of a world destroyed by white men that is then being taken back, under the dominance of black women. What also helps, of course, is that the leader of the survivors you meet is a woman of colour and her daughter. New Dawn is nothing if not centering of women. Of course, that the villains are black women is a subject for discussion – and, at least here, they’re both leaders of a powerful group, rather than subordinates. Then again, I’m reminded of a certain, very popular Onion article.
If by now, you do not enjoy the Far Cry formula, it’s going to be hard to get you to like New Dawn. I enjoyed scraping together loose parts, but it didn’t feel nearly as advanced as, say, Fallout 4 (a game I loathe). Customisability in weapons, you’d think, would be key to a post-apocalyptic theme but alas: While weapons are colourful, they remain static. Further, Ubisoft has decided to implement their RPG tier enemy system, whereby you cannot perfectly counter or injure certain higher level enemies until your character herself has upgraded. This was one of the most annoying parts of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, where headshots and perfect sneak attacks would fail and this kind of MMORPG dynamic feels strange and breaks the immersion – when you’ve loaded three bullets into someone’s skull and they shrug it off, you start shrugging at the seriousness of the action before you.
However, I loved building up my home base, witnessing permanent, tangible changes to the world. Characters comment on everything: take them to a certain outpost dominated by the Highwaymen and they’ll give you a backstory and personal history. I took my first buddy, who I won’t describe, to a certain flight centre and she pointed out this was where she grew up. Unlike the bizarre RPG combat, it’s these character moments that felt fulfilling and rewarding, grounding me in a world that actually effects the people in it.
Speaking of: The story is one of the most solid I’ve encountered in a Far Cry game. It’s all over the show and ridiculous, but it works with the Mad Max aesthetic. The dialogue is often excellent and the voice acting has no right to be this good.
You will find yourself in a variety of locales, with different weather and times of day; there’s even a type of expedition mission, which opens the world up to contained, small open worlds, where the aim is to acquire a McGuffin, fight off endless waves of baddies until a chopper arrives. These can then be escalated for better rewards. Similarly, the traditional outpost conquering has achieved an upgrade: Key to survival in this world is fuel, which is primarily obtained from the outposts controlled by the Highwaymen. Taking over one, as usual, involves eliminating all red marked people hanging around. However, you can allow it to be taken back twice, each time escalating the difficulty but also the reward. The rewards then feed back into upgrading your home base, which opens up tiers for weapons, vehicles and so forth. All of it feeds back into systems you feel repercussions from.
Far Cry has become almost it’s own genre: You know what to expect now if you play one. It’s now merely a matter of theme: Far Cry but on an island, Far Cry but in the middle of modern America, Far Cry but sci-fi, Far Cry but it’s the post-apocalypse. This is by no means particularly innovative and re-used assets a map don’t make the game feel anything other than Far Cry 5.5. However, by now, players know whether they enjoy the new settings and the feel of exploration and grinding.
Main missions are often an excuse for set-pieces but it’s the side missions that, as usual, serve up more interesting scenarios: From helping a dog save his friends to retrieving a drug-addicted scientist’s bag, navigating a creepy, flooded underground bunker. Of course all of it almost always involves killing random men, in sneaky or loud ways to achieve your end. However, the developers created more scenarios for environmental story-telling that isn’t merely murder – but so much of the game is that the tiny cute stories are often in danger of being swallowed by the rip and roar of the explosive and murderous mayhem you always create.
The story is perhaps one of the more memorable, especially due to the performances of main villain twins, played by Cara Ricketts and Leslie Miller. Greg Bryk’s continues to chew the scenery as Joseph Seed but does so with some pathos this time round.
Far Cry: New Dawn is more… well, more Far Cry. I enjoyed my experience but it’s not going to convince those put off by the grinding and arduous achievements of 5.
While there have been some interesting innovations, some incredible characters and performances, a satisfying story that’s willing to be ridiculous, a gorgeous, lush landscape, it’s not enough if your barrier is the franchise itself. This won’t get you through the gate if you already groaned at the first two words of the game’s title. However, those of us who enjoy Far Cry – even if we don’t think they’re the best games ever made – will enjoy this title: it’s fresh, vibrant, fun and ridiculous. It does what the DLC in Far Cry 5 was never able to do: leaning into the silly for the fun factor, while having some grounding in reality to maintain length and depth.