“Far Cry New Dawn” is trying to do a lot with very little. Announced last December at The Game Awards 2018, “New Dawn” is the latest in a long line of “Far Cry” spinoffs made using the engine and parts of the primary entry in the series that came before it. Unlike Far Cry publisher Ubisoft’s past spinoffs, “Blood Dragon” and “Primal,” which had only tenuous connections to the games they succeeded, “New Dawn,” is very much a sequel to “Far Cry 5.”
Warning: This review contains spoilers from the ending of “Far Cry 5.”
The game returns to “Far Cry 5’s” somewhat infamous setting, Hope County, Montana, albeit in a post-apocalyptic mode mandated by the end of “Far Cry 5.” Every anthology series, at some point, tries to turn its stories into something larger. “New Dawn’s” evolving world makes it easy to see why creators see the appeal, but it is also a textbook case of what happens when a story (and the formula for a game) overstays its welcome.
Picking up 17 years after the nuclear attacks in the now-canonized ending of “Far Cry 5,” Hope County has mostly regenerated following the nuclear attacks but also changed considerably. Most of the landmarks in its shrunk-down version of Hope County are ruins. The plants and animals are decidedly brighter … Like neon bright. The world is dotted with pink flowers, yellow-tinted bison, and white deer. Despite that, if you played “Far Cry 5,” you will see places you remember.
And people, too. Much of “Far Cry 5”’s supporting cast returns in some capacity, but after nearly two decades, their faces appear wizened by grey hair and wrinkles. They’ve changed — their looks and their personalities — but all still feel close enough, familiar enough, to their past selves that you can believe they’ve changed with the passage of time.
The way “New Dawn” depicts how time can change even the most distinctive characteristics of a person or place is far and away its most interesting quality. Walking the ruined highways and shockingly pink wildlands of Hope County, there’s a balance between new and old in the world that fosters a sentimental connection, even if the place looks decidedly new.
Some things never change, though. In the post-apocalyptic world of “New Dawn,” Hope County has become a post-apocalyptic cliché, overrun by an outlaw motorcycle gang called the Highwaymen, led by a pair of women warlords clad in motocross gear simply called “The Twins.” As “Cap,” the chief of security for a group of traveling engineers helping Americans rebuild civilization, you find your way to Montana to help its people kick out the Highwaymen and help them rebuild.
“New Dawn” ticks all the boxes required from a Far Cry story: A revolution led by an outsider defies an oppressive ruling power, embodied by its charismatic leaders. It doesn’t matter if the supporting cast is new or familiar, if the story is set in the past, present, or future: At this point, it feels as if there is no version of Far Cry’s yarn that hasn’t been spun, and that sucks the life out of the experience. The series’ shock tactics — implications of grisly violence, brainwashing, and torture — all return, but fail to add any meaningful texture to the story. The bad guys are bad, but you already knew that, right?
Mechanically speaking, the core DNA of “Far Cry 5” remains intact in “New Dawn,” though some aspects of the game have been reworked — mutated, if you will — to expand and stretch out certain parts of the experience. Like “Far Cry 5,” “New Dawn” is essentially open book for the player to peruse at their leisure. At any given time, players have a story mission, sidequests to recruit AI-controlled partners and caches of resources to discover. It seems like “New Dawn” has pared down the types of activities, however, so you have a lot of chances to do a few things over and over.
Case in point, “New Dawn” triples down on “Outposts,” puzzle-esque open-world missions where you take out an entire base worth of enemies single-handedly (or with a friend in co-op). “New Dawn” allows you — in fact, it almost forces you — to replay tougher versions of Outposts after you’ve completed them for more resources. There are new missions called Expeditions, one-off heists in locales away from Hope County, which look and play like extended versions of Outposts. Outposts have been a staple of the modern Far Cry games for a reason — They allow you to improvise and can reward both tactical precision or brutal, rampaging efficiency. “New Dawn” continues to deliver on that score, but with fewer Outpost locations and interesting stuff around them, the experience inevitably wears thin.
“New Dawn” similarly overextends Far Cry’s progression, adding role-playing-game-style stats and color-coded tiers of loot. Your weapons now have a few stats, such as damage and rate of fire, which theoretically give you a greater sense of how much damage you do, as do enemy health meters and damage indicators — numbers that fly off the highwaymen with every shot. In theory, using weapons that match the tier recommended for each mission should prepare you for the enemies it throws at you.
In practice, the system feels out of place. You can check the stats on a gun, but you aren’t upgrading frequently enough to make a gun’s individual statistics meaningful when picking your loadout. The system does, however, mean you can get stuck fighting a powerful enemy that can withstand buckets of bullets, which does not feel right in a game that moves fast, as all the Far Cry games have.
All the new systems transparently work to keep you on the game’s upgrade wheel: Though Outposts and Expedition missions are optional, they earn the many currencies you’ll need to keep upgrading your base and weapons. It’s a pretty common way to guide players and keep them motivated, but it is often masked (or at least massaged) by an interesting story or a drip-feed of equipment you’re excited to try. ‘New Dawn’ doesn’t have either, so its progression feels pushy, especially when it gets in the way of you playing your way.
Sequel or side story, “New Dawn” feels like an overextension of both the story and ideas in “Far Cry 5.” Even as a streamlined experience tweaked to play up its strengths, the formula feels tired and bloated. A trip down memory lane always seems like a good idea, but sometimes it better to leave the past in the past.