While Far Cry 3 may have frustrated Far Cry 2 die-hards, it was the adrenaline shot that gave the franchise a bigger profile. The series has had to contend with that game’s success as it churned out iterative follow-ups in the ensuing years. And even though Far Cry 5 was one of the best-selling games in 2018, it was one of the most divisive. Far Cry New Dawn is the upcoming standalone entry borrowing heavily its most immediate predecessor, taking place in the same area but after nature has reclaimed the American heartland from the nukes. But the greenery doesn’t seem to have brought many meaningful ideas since Far Cry New Dawn looks like it could be just one too many Far Crys.
Far Cry New Dawn preview | Painting the town pink
Far Cry New Dawn’s Montana-based open world is ripped almost straight from Far Cry 5 but by way of the 2018 film, Annihilation, sans some of the science fiction. Pink flowers and bright greenery has overtaken the landmass along with a few animals that aren’t quite in the fictional realm, thanks to the aforementioned nuclear bombs that peppered the planet at the end of the previous game. This beautiful look is what the team at Ubisoft calls “super bloom” and was one of the key words for the game according to Creative Director Jean-Sebastien Decant.
“It’s the idea of a world that has bursted with colors and vegetation everywhere,” he said. “It’s a very inviting world. It’s still a very harsh world in which people are fighting and it’s really tough but it’s super beautiful and it’s a place where you could spent hours in and feel good.”
Despite this more vibrant coat of paint, it does little to dissuade you of how much of a Far Cry game this actually is especially one rooted so heavily in Far Cry 5. Missions are set up nearly the exact same way and scattered around the map along with the freedom to go wherever you please. Such liberation is a solid outlook to have for an open-world game and good to bring over, but it also brought over parts that are wearing out their welcome regardless of the new tweaks.
Taking outposts, for example, is still relatively the same sneaking and shooting ordeal but now you can give up the outpost and retake a harder version for more resources. Recruiting companions is virtually unchanged from Far Cry 5 and has just a handful of UI improvements. The gameplay systems — driving, stealth, and shooting — that are the mechanical glue bind these disparate parts together are also practically the same, draping the entire game in an entirely too familiar feeling.
Far Cry New Dawn preview | New-ish systems
The newer elements don’t always seem inspired either. While it makes sense for the apocalyptic situation, crafting plays a big role in progression and is exactly what it sounds like. Supplies are littered around and must be scavenged from land. Chief among these elements is ethanol, a sacred resource that’s necessary for building up your base to earn different upgrades.
Weapons are now tiered based on the classic rarity system: gray for common, blue for rare, purple for epic, and gold for legendary. As if damage numbers flying off enemies didn’t make it enough of an RPG, the amount of upgrading and crafting will. Some, like the sweet saw blade launcher, are new for the series but run the gamut of expected firearms that helps mask all the newer RPG mechanics and the appropriately scrapped together look.
Players can also leave the map via a certain NPC and take on Expedition missions that task you with grabbing a box of goods and then escaping. The Expedition in the demo took place on a huge naval ship in Florida and was filled with enemies. Although they seem like an attempt to add variety, they end up playing out just like conquering large outposts in the normal map, which is something that the game (and series) has already had plenty of. It’s unclear if the novelty of these locations will override the familiarity of the mechanics.
Layering on more RPG systems and slightly tweaking the way outposts work doesn’t take away anything from the core of the game, but they also don’t add much to it either. They’re both building on systems that have been in the series for years. And given all these Far Cry games, it’s hard to gin up excitement for doing more of the same but with tiny incremental tweaks that standout less and less with each new installment.
Far Cry New Dawn preview | The path to the apocalypse
A lot of these Far Cry games have been leading to New Dawn, according to Decant. He stated that the team had always wanted to make a post-apocalyptic Far Cry game and Far Cry 5’s ending finally opened the door for them to do so. The series, to him, even matches the staples of post-apocalyptic fiction.
“I’ve been on Far Cry since Far Cry 3 and we’ve been dreaming of doing a post-apocalyptic Far Cry for a while,” he admitted. “When you think about post-apocalyptic things, it’s very much in line with what Far Cry is: a lawless frontier, a place where there is a lot of wildlife and dangerous animals, and where groups are fighting for survival. That is the core premise of a post-apocalyptic setting and that is Far Cry.”
Decant’s list can almost be taken as an explanation of why New Dawn feels a bit too familiar. Since the franchise has always been built around those points he laid out, adding a post-apocalyptic wrapper around them doesn’t fundamentally change much about its core.
Far Cry New Dawn preview | A history of killer villains
The villains have always been a big part of Far Cry’s identity, even hogging the box art from the last three numbered Far Cry games. New Dawn is no different, as it reveals the twins, Mickey and Lou, that lead the nefarious Highwaymen and their journey to live every day to its fullest even if it’s at the expense of those around them. Despite having such big shoes to fill given the series’ past, Leslie Miller, who portrays Lou, said she wasn’t frightened by the notion.
“I think it could be a trap to compare yourself to other or past villains because I’m not them,” she said. “I can only be the best version of my character. It’s actually really awesome to a part of the [Far Cry villains] list. It’s a really cool list.”
Her co-star, Cara Ricketts, who portrays her twin sister Mickey, echoed that sentiment in her own way.
“But the nice thing about it was just that the writing for our characters was so clear and the world itself was so different that even if we wanted to mimic it, it wouldn’t make sense for this world,” she said. “We have to be true to what our characters want in this situation.”
However, the few hours I played didn’t actually show much of the twins, which hopefully isn’t indicative of the final game. Outside of a few radio call-ins, they never actually showed up in the flesh. Far Cry 5 had a similar problem where the bad guy, The Father, hardly showed up outside of a small handful of missions.
This may be because of the title’s nonlinear nature that makes it hard to funnel in scripted beats, but it is a little troublesome given how the approach could help the gameplay yet smother the narrative. The game also had a weird “Space Force” reference that Decant insisted was “really a joke” and that tone-deaf reasoning is too reminiscent of Far Cry 5’s limp, gutless portrayal of the current political climate.
And that, in a nutshell, is what makes Far Cry New Dawn a bit troubling. The early hours paint a picture of a half-sequel that follows too closely to Far Cry 5’s footsteps; a game with all the same faults that also comes under the added scrutiny of diminishing returns. It’s possible that the RPG systems begin to come into their own after multiple hours and that the narrative opens up after diving deeper in. Although its condensed development schedule combined with its nearly identical structure might make the odds of this being a healthy refresh quite low. And if Far Cry is a survivor like New Dawn claims, then it should be able to overcome these obstacles when it comes out.