Far Cry New Dawn Review — The Great Far Cry RPG Experiment
Far Cry New Dawn is both a magnificent re-imagination of the storied series, and a lackluster approach by Ubisoft plagued with repetition.
I can imagine the development process behind Far Cry New Dawn. Ubisoft developers, project designers, and executives crowded around a conference room, pouring over the reviews of Far Cry 5, looking at the shortfalls and critiques and meticulously planning on how to improve the sequel–where to experiment on in the franchise. While the gambles they made with Far Cry New Dawn were mainly an across the board success, the experience feels lackluster, repetitive, and hollow in a usually engaging series.
If you are coming in brand new to Far Cry New Dawn, the game is marketed as a standalone experience following a decade or two after the cataclysmic fallout of Far Cry 5. Following the events of Hope County familiars like the Rye family, you are called in to help combat the invading marauder group–the Highwaymen, led by Mickey and Lou. The set-up for the game is fantastic and works to smooth over the regular complaint that Far Cry 5 felt disjointed offering an ending that felt unsatisfying.
While the set-up to the game and opening few hours are fantastic, the title begins unraveling the more you play. Without going too much into story spoilers, there just wasn’t enough time dedicated to the script or the enemies to bring anyone to life. The game has its significant emotional moments, acts of betrayal, and tragic deaths that try to draw an emotional gut punch. However, as you only ever deal with the major characters of the game a handful of times within the short 22-mission story arc, none of those emotional moments ever feel earned. I can’t be bothered to care about someone who I’ve spoken with twice.
Mickey (Cara Ricketts) and Lou (Leslie L. Miller), despite seeming like powerful antagonists with a different worldview and troubled history, get to display none of that. They likely get the most screentime of any characters of the game, but never had the opportunity to capture the Vaas or Pagan Min magic with so little screen-time. Instead, they come off as generic, malevolent antagonists with little-to-no reason behind their cruelty.
In fact, that is the majority of my issue when it comes to the story and pacing. Without a doubt, the best character personally was Joseph Seed (Greg Bryk) — the transformed antagonist of Far Cry 5. But even still, I probably have the most significant connection with him because the character has history in the series. Anyone coming into this game for the first time (given it is advertised as a standalone experience) wouldn’t benefit from that connection at all, and would easily get a less-worthwhile experience.
And that’s really a shame, because in so many ways Far Cry New Dawn is a better experience than any Far Cry game that came before it. I mentioned it within our preview of the game, but the title’s pivot to more RPG elements drive home the experience. Being able to upgrade the base in a way that substantially improves weapon quality and variety drives both motivation and purpose in what you do–as you liberate outposts and save allies, you feel like you are making an impact in the game (regardless of the story).
On top of that, Far Cry New Dawn can gloss over the issues of stagnant difficulty that plague the other Far Cry games. With tiered enemies, tiered missions, and upgradable skills, it would be nearly impossible for you to beat the game with your starter weapons. While previous games in the series would let you cheese difficult portions of the game, you are expected to improve in Far Cry New Dawn, and that is rad.
On the other end, adding RPG elements to every game is going to come with one notable shortfall: grind. And there is a repetitive grind in Far Cry New Dawn, whether it is going through the procedurally generated Expeditions or letting outposts fall back into the hands of Highwaymen scum. A lot of the game is going to be chasing after materials to upgrade and purchase better weapons; on the plus side, this feels like more of a balancing issue and less like a way for Ubisoft to target money with progression microtransactions (even if those are readily available).
While the mechanics and game design of the game do feel notably better than previous titles, that doesn’t extend to the actual level design. Though there are missions of Far Cry New Dawn that work to break the mold, most stages (story or side-quests) are simply shooting galleries or puzzle-solving bunker missions. Far Cry 5 injected far more personality into their missions and is going to feel far more memorable because of it. Lest we forget the Testy Festy mission that may perhaps define both the quirkiness and character of the series. There is no equivalent in New Dawn.
I likely spent about 20 hours in the game, and I would reckon that only 4 or 5 of those were in substantive story missions. Outside of that, most the game consisted of me doing Far Cry stuff: picking off enemies, building out an arsenal, and generally exploring the beautiful nuclear-tinted wasteland of Hope County. If you find yourself a fan of the Far Cry formula and are looking for a cathartic experience to sink your teeth into, this will certainly scratch that itch.
The game otherwise falls into other smaller issues along the way. Sound mixing and companion lines are uneven and drilling — I’d often mute all audio to avoid Granny telling me one more time that I shouldn’t crack a Miss Daisy reference as she shuffled into my car. Later sequences of the game seem weirdly time-dependent, where the game will fast forward time in the day for no reason, so you are at the appropriate time. And bosses (few that they may be) tend to feel like bullet sponges.
A nameless, faceless, voiceless protagonist once again feels like a significant backstep. While it is fun to make a bald, bearded Lou Contaldi to liberate Hope County, I think it is a decision that naturally leads to most games feeling narratively half-baked. When I’m unable to interact with the characters outside of receiving direction, I end up feeling like a backseat passenger (who happens to be doing all the work).
Also, the original soundtrack is far less engaging — as someone who regularly listens to Dan Romer’s original score and choir-like tunes from Far Cry 5.
On the other hand, Far Cry New Dawn has the most impressive landscape of any game in the series, bar none. Nuclear-reclaimed Hope County has visual diversity and beauty unseen in the series, clearing one of the significant issues from its predecessor. With both a stellar graphical engine and smart improvement of the map, its fun to explore the environment and settings — even if it ends up feeling like you are driving waypoint to waypoint.
Despite the middling score, I hope Far Cry New Dawn indicates and speaks to the future of the Far Cry series. Every risk and change that Ubisoft brought to New Dawn pays off in dividends and is a boon to the series. And though the RPG progression and world-building is a smart pivot, it’s no substitution for meek and half-hearted narratives — even when it comes at a value retail price out the gate.
Just like the series, Far Cry New Dawn is a game of exploration and self-discovery. Despite flaws and bumps along the way, New Dawn captures new magic and shows a glimmer of what the future of the Far Cry series looks like. Now if only Ubisoft could match the game design with equal level and story quality, we may be able to see the series capstone game in Far Cry 6.