Far Cry has always been a contradiction, but perhaps no Far Cry game has ever been such a contradiction as Far Cry New Dawn. Ubisoft’s first-person action series goes post-apocalyptic in this new installment - the first direct sequel in the franchise - and the results, as always, are somewhat confusing.
Post-apocalyptic games are as overdone now as zombie games or World War II games have been in the past, and in terms of the trappings of the post-apocalypse, New Dawn doesn’t do much new. It’s got all the scrapper-style vehicles, armour, and weaponry you’d expect, along with deathmatch rallies, fighting pits, radioactive zones, (slightly) mutated animals, and a plentiful supply of enraged psychopaths. But surprisingly, all of at feels begrudgingly obligatory. New Dawn’s real interests lie elsewhere, and had it committed to this second philosophy, it’d be a far stronger game.
That philosophy lies in this particular post-apocalypse being both set around locations we’d already spent a game getting to know, and unlike the Fallouts of this world, being set not terribly far into the future. Most of the characters from Far Cry 5 are still around in this future, seventeen years after that game’s (now-canon) ridiculous “bad” ending, in which cult leader Joseph Seed’s prophecies prove correct, and nukes obliterate everything. Despite the presence of kitbashed equipment, this post-apocalypse is more well-researched than most, depicting the floral bloom of nature taking back former civilisation. The devastation isn’t as extensive as in most post-apocalyptic games, and for the most part, the map is pretty similar to the previous game’s. But the world-building gets more interesting when you consider the characters.
Far Cry 5 had a large cast of characters, and many of them managed to get into the ridiculous number of bomb shelters the game had. As a result, seventeen years later, New Dawn’s cast is made up of older versions of those characters, and newer characters who don’t remember the pre-nuclear world. The game’s best material lies in its exploration of these characters’ futures: seeing how they’ve changed, how they’ve stayed the same, and how they’ve adapted to their new reality. One major character is the baby your character helped deliver in Far Cry 5, all grown up. A side quest asks you to compare pre-war landscape photos with their post-war equivalents, echoing a similar activity in Horizon: Zero Dawn. There are tons of cool reversals here, and as a direct narrative sequel, New Dawn is surprisingly interesting.
One character who survives into the apocalypse is Joseph Seed himself, who is no more compelling now than he was in the last game. Now a Colonel Kurtz-like recluse, his cult has evolved under the leadership of another leader, but Ubisoft still seems obsessed with this guy. In one of the game’s more predictable reversals, he becomes the heroes’ “Unlikely Ally,” and it’s completely and utterly tiresome.
Almost as tiresome are the twins Lou and Mickey, the “real” villains, who lack differentiation and essentially play the same role as any Far Cry villain, generally occupying an area with brute force. Once again, our player character is just as violent as they are, if not more, and once again, the game is forced to introduce “lawful good” characters to help counteract that. Problem is, none of those characters are at all memorable, to the point that a major character death at the end of the second act provokes a “Huh? Who’s that?” reaction.
For the most part, if you’ve played another Far Cry game - especially Far Cry 5 - you’ve got a good idea of how the gameplay works here. The open-world formula - activities, activities everywhere - is in full force; you can capture outposts, engage in “spontaneous” events, hunt treasure and wildlife, and so on. This entry ups the RPG elements significantly, however: there’s way more emphasis on upgrading your home base and abilities, and crafting - now a core part of the gameplay loop - has extended to weapons, items, and even vehicles. Enemies now have health bars over their heads, and damage values appear when you shoot them. Intriguingly, the character-creation screen now includes male- and female-coded options under “body type” instead of “sex” or “gender,” and the same outfits, hairstyles, and facial-hair options are available for everyone.
Several new gameplay additions are surprisingly successful. The most notable feature, Expeditions, are standalone missions akin to The Division’s Dark Zone gear extractions, where you infiltrate an entirely new area, grab a package, and have to survive long enough to reach an extraction point. They're the most unique additions, thanks to the new locations and mechanics, and they function well. The new companion characters are super fun, including animals that can finally ride shotgun in vehicles, and a grandmother who’s adapted to the post-nuke world by becoming a crack sniper. And there's a killer new weapon, the saw launcher, that's a ton of fun to use.
Other additions, based around extending the gameplay grind, aren’t so great. Upgrades and perks are based around materials, and you’ll have to do a lot of replaying of activities - particularly outposts, which get tougher with each replay - in order to unlock those upgrades and their associated story missions. The perks you can unlock are a mix of fun additions and elements that feel like they should be included by default; as the story progresses, additional perks unlock that use whatever supernatural bullshit is attributed to Joseph Seed. But in order to get there, you’ll have to grind.
And it’s that grind that makes the game’s final act a real pain in the ass. The final bosses are bullet-sponges that simply cannot be beaten without a mountain of level-grinding and elite weapon-crafting; they’re a brick wall that halts all sense of momentum and basically requires you to go back to what you were doing before. It’s a true shame, because most of the story missions are actually quite good - even great, in some cases - until this depressingly contrived difficulty spike kills the enjoyment.
If you’re looking for more of the last Far Cry, this is it, in perhaps the most literal sense it’s ever been. Everything’s functional and it works as a game. The “infinite enemies” feeling is still there. The fundamental structure is the same. Even the game map is mostly the same. But the paradox of New Dawn is that in its narrative and design, it absolutely works best as a direct sequel, working better the more you’re familiar with Far Cry 5. But the more you’re familiar with 5, the more the gameplay will feel like a retread.
Far Cry New Dawn’s ending teases another direct sequel, centred on a specific non-player character's redemption, and narratively it’d be interesting to see that sequel. But if the gameplay loops are the same as usual, it’s gonna be a hard sell.