Far Cry New Dawn: All Style, No Substance
Far Cry New Dawn is the latest in the hugely successful Far Cry series from Ubisoft. The Far Cry series has a formula. Since the initial entry in 2004, the series has expanded on, refined, and improved this formula. The player gets dropped into some kind of wilderness, where, against the odds, they fight a guerrilla war against the area’s despotic tyrants. During this conflict, they gain more weapons, abilities, skills, and allies. Eventually, they grow powerful enough to defeat the antagonist and save the day. Ubisoft is no stranger to the formula-refinement method of game development; they did it with Assassin’s Creed, they did it with Rayman, they did it with the Settlers, and they’ve done it with Far Cry.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. The results speak for themselves – the Far Cry games have been engaging, exciting, and commercially successful. With the release of Far Cry 5 and now Far Cry New Dawn, however, I can’t help but feel that Ubisoft has lost sight of just why the Far Cry series has been so successful.
Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Lootin’
New Dawn’s gameplay loop remains consistent with the rest of the series. The map is dotted with outposts which are initially in the hands of the enemy and can be liberated (read: assaulted with extreme prejudice) to spread the influence of the good guys. Each outpost is replayable several times at higher difficulty. Killing enemies grants XP, allowing you to level up The Captain, unlocking new abilities. Loot junk to craft better weapons. Repeat ad nauseam between side quests and story missions.
In New Dawn, you play as an unnamed soldier of customisable gender and race, known only as “The Captain”. The character customisation options are fine, nothing to write home about – about on par with Far Cry 5’s system. And, like Far Cry 5, New Dawn’s lack of personality or agency from its protagonist is a massive weakness. The Captain has no desires, no likes or dislikes, no weaknesses, and no quirks. The Captain never has any compelling reason to do anything he or she does, other than I (as the player) tell them to. One would think that this approach to the protagonist would create an opportunity to make the NPCs you interact with that much more interesting. One would, unfortunately, be dead wrong.
As compelling as Far Cry’s previous voiced protagonists have been, where the story has lived and died has generally been on the NPCs. 4’s Amita and Sabal, 3’s Dennis and Citra, Primal’s Tensay and Sayla – they made the world feel real, the stakes high. 5 had few of these, and New Dawn none. The antagonists, Mickey and Lou, are incredibly disappointing. In theory, the twins are charismatic leaders of the anarchic Highwaymen. In practice, their dialogue is lazy and derivative, and they’re absent and irrelevant for most of the game. Traditionally, Far Cry’s antagonists have been the series’ best-written characters, compounding the disappointment. Your allies are no better – these NPCs are either saccharine and bland (looking at you, Carmina) or pointlessly wacky and insane. Memorable, the NPCs are not.
Crafting with Booze, Credit Cards & Crap
Crafting makes a return in Far Cry New Dawn, allowing you to craft weapons, vehicles, and upgrades to your home base. New Dawn’s crafting is arbitrary at best. Any weapon or vehicle, regardless of complexity, can be MacGyver’d from a combination of springs, gears, and odds-n-ends. Weapons and vehicles come in four tiers, each essentially a copy-pasted reskin of the earlier tier. The late-game play feels identical to the early-game because your damage output arbitrarily goes up at around the same rate as your enemies’ health. Vehicles are nice but basically unnecessary. Base upgrades are, bizarrely, all done with ethanol. Tell me, why do I need big barrels of booze to add another floor to my hovel?
Microtransactions return in Far Cry New Dawn, integrated with the crafting menu. “You could grind and save up to legitimately craft these weapons”, the menu taunts, “or you could just buy me”. Thus introducing the last, most powerful crafting ingredient: the credit card. As you can imagine, this approach is somewhat immersion breaking. Or it would be if Far Cry New Dawn was immersive, to begin with.
Neon Pink is the New Post-Apocalyptic Brown
Pre-launch, Ubisoft touted Far Cry New Dawn’s design as exciting, vibrant and counter to run-of-the-mill apocalyptic settings. In practice, it falls somewhat short. After exploring maybe a fifth of the map, you’ve seen pretty much all there is to see. Bright pink flowers cover every surface that isn’t plastered with graffiti. All-in-all, it feels like the design team had some lovely ideas, but were pushed to get it done as quickly as possible. The result is a disappointing copy-paste job that makes the world feel one-note.
Far Cry New Dawn had potential. The post-apocalyptic setting could have made for a compelling exploration of the ethics of violence, something previous Far Cry games excelled in. The design choices were bold and exciting in concept. Unfortunately, when push came to shove, execution on all fronts was lacking. I’m optimistic, however. Ubisoft’s intention was good. The series needs a change in the formula – maybe just not these changes.