One of my favorite aspects of Far Cry is that the series has managed to avoid the current trend of turning every genre into an RPG hypenate. Sometimes it works out, as is the case with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Far Cry series is that its gameplay is somewhat mindless, simple fun set in gigantic sandbox worlds. I don’t have to grind for gear, and I don’t have to constantly upgrade. There are skills and upgrades to unlock, but most of them are completely optional. The idea that I can beat pretty much any Far Cry game with a pistol and some grenades if that’s all I wanted to use is one of the things that makes the series great.
But the Destiny series, The Division, and Anthem have made it seem like every campaign-focused shooter, specifically, has to self-administer RPG elements in order to stay healthy. This stuff artificially extends the longevity of a game, and it gives players certain goals to strive for, but it just isn’t for me. Far Cry New Dawn, the upcoming sequel to Far Cry 5, walks up to that RPG cliff, but thankfully it doesn’t go so far as to completely leap off the edge.
(Far Cry New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5. Therefore, the entire game is pretty much a spoiler, but if you still plan on playing 5 before New Dawn ships, then skip the next paragraph.)
Taking place 17 years after the bombs dropped at the end of Far Cry 5, New Dawn finds the citizens of Hope County slowly rebuilding their lives. Enough time has passed that the hazardous conditions of a nuclear holocaust have given way to the unstoppable emergence of natural life, specifically in the “super bloom” that has covered the county in pink verbenas.
Unfortunately, a group of raiders known as the Highwaymen, led by twins Mickey and Lou, also emerged to terrify, pillage, and murder Hope County’s inhabitants. That’s where the player comes in. Trading in the Deputy (who will make some sort of appearance, according to creative director Jean-Sebastien Durant) for a new character, players will take on the role of security chief to a man named Thomas Rush, who travels across the country, fighting back other Highwaymen chapters and helping communities establish themselves. That plan goes to hell when the train you’re traveling on is attacked and blown of the rails in an explosion, and you find yourself in Hope County’s main community, Prosperity.
Prosperity is where the first signs of Far Cry becoming an RPG begin to show. Similar to but more expansive than Far Cry Primal’s main village, New Dawn’s Prosperity is a main base where you can upgrade and build new gear, obtain critical story missions, and set off on Expeditions to other locations. In order to upgrade items like weapons and vehicles, players will have to seek out returning characters like Grace Armstrong and Nick Rye, who will come back to Prosperity and act as supporting characters. It’s all pretty standard Far Cry stuff, as you’ll need to collect scraps and ethanol to upgrade their shops and your items, but with an RPG-style town-building twist.
Where New Dawn veers closer to RPG territory is in its enemy types and combat. The game features four different basic enemy tiers, each with increasing amounts of armor. These tiers are designated by the amount of armor an enemy is wearing. Level 1 enemies basically run around shirtless, while level 4 enemies will be fully decked out in the Highwaymen’s signature BMX racing gear, with helmets, shoulder pads, and the works. These enemies are visually easy to distinguish, not just by what they’re wearing, but also by the health bars floating above their heads. Each level is represented by a separate health bar, so the higher the level an enemy is, the more damage you’re going to need to deal to take them down. This means that, in order to better handle higher-level enemies, you’re going to want to upgrade your weapons. If that didn’t already sound like an RPG to you, then get this: Every time you hit an enemy, a damage number indicator flies off their bodies.
Damage number indicators in shooters take me out of the moment and create an inadvertently arcade-y, video game-y feel to what should be intense, visceral experiences. If they don’t bother you in Destiny or The Division, they probably won’t bother you here, but they’re jarring to see in a Far Cry game. What’s more annoying is that the damage numbers really don’t serve that much of a purpose when you have the enemy’s health bar above their head and can actively see how much damage you’re doing without cartoonish numerals bombarding your screen every millisecond. It’s personal taste, and I’m hoping there’s a UI option in there that lets me turn them off, but it’s there nonetheless, and presents an annoying possible future for the series.
Fortunately, these numbers don’t mean that New Dawn’s enemies are necessarily bullet sponges. You can still take down lower-level enemies in a few hits or one headshot from an AR, but higher-level enemies will require more hard-hitting gear to accomplish the same feat. The ugly side of this is that areas crawling with high-level enemies will have soft level requirements that will be much easier to clear if you to upgrade your gear.
In theory, I get why Ubisoft has taken New Dawn in this direction. One of the most interesting new additions to the game, for example, is the ability to abandon cleared outposts. Doing so will let higher-level Highwaymen move back in, and clearing it out again will reap even better rewards. You can do this multiple times to bank materials, but each time you do, you’ll be faced with even tougher enemies, creating a sort of upgrade loop. Revisiting outposts is a feature that many Far Cry players enjoy, and injecting RPG elements into this process actually rewards players for their efforts. It makes sense from a replayability standpoint.
But in practice, it seems like little more than a needless complication to the series. I’ve heard the complaint that every Far Cry game since Far Cry 3 seems exactly the same and that the series’ formula is getting stale. To me, Far Cry is like the video game version of a Jean-Claude Van Damme or Jackie Chan movie. I’m not looking for them to reinvent the wheel. I’m looking for new iterations on a familiar, comforting formula.
New Dawn has plenty of that. It’s still an absolute blast to play. If you liked Far Cry 5’s gameplay, you’ll like New Dawn, and jumping back in is as familiar and enjoyable as ever. Players who skipped 5 are even better off in some ways, as they’ll be experiencing Hope County for the first time, though returning players will see enough changes to the map and callbacks to make it worth their while. There’s even some further streamlining with how you discover new outposts and other points of interest in the form of scouts that will give you missions and then point you in the right direction. In many ways, New Dawn is Far Cry at its finest and most accomplished.
It’ll be interesting to see how the RPG elements in New Dawn play out for me over the course of a few days, rather than a few hours at a preview event. As long as Ubisoft doesn’t pull an Assassin’s Creed on Far Cry, I’ll be good.