Far Cry New Dawn quietly crept toward its release date without much in the way of hype.
The latest from Ubisoft Montreal in the massive series serves as a continuation of the story found in Far Cry 5 and shares a familiar location, too. But at the same time, New Dawn throws some fresh wrinkles into the tried-and-true formula of the series both in an effort to innovate and appease the wants of fans.
New Dawn exists in a weird space between add-on content and standalone title status at a cheaper price point and takes some big leaps of faith in the process, introducing some PRG-esque elements into the equation. The series wanted to innovate while trending toward a post-apocalyptic Far Cry, which is as fun as it sounds.
Romping around Montana again within Far Cry's varying systems is a blast, though the new changes to the formula might not be enough to sway a player's opinion on the series either way. For newcomers, a fun ride with a fresh coat of paint awaits.
Graphics and Gameplay
This isn't the typical apocalypse. The nuclear winter and ensuing dust storms reshaped the land before a great bloom.
Funnily enough, New Dawn releases alongside Metro Exodus. Where Metro is gritty and liberal with its needing to survive toxins and mutants, New Dawn is colorful with flora (think The Last of Us on PEDs in the visuals department) and overgrown—and the biggest danger is often other humans, who are equally as colorful as they go about spray painting the land.
Which isn't to say the map looks like a toddler's first foray into fingerpainting. It's colorful, but distinct environments exist. The game takes place over a portion of the Far Cry 5 map, and let's just say some areas are blooming and handling the apocalypse a little better than others. Expeditions to areas completely outside of the open-world map have their own flavor, too.
And yes, the biggest talking point about New Dawn's visuals and presentation is the world itself. Some of the more unique characters look great, but the NPCs encountered out in the world aren't anything too different from the game's predecessor.
That isn't to say they look bad, but they all start to blend together quickly aside from a different coat of graffiti paint, and the lip movement looks odd when trying to match voice-overs.
Yet again for the series, one of New Dawn's best feats is the immersion factor. The fauna flows in the wind and fire progress naturally, tearing down things in its path and traveling with the breeze. Varying wildlife inhabits this new world. A memorable one is a tiger-like predator with sporulating moss on its back.
The sound design is excellent, as usual. The guns pack their own special punch, which is a nice feat considering everything is makeshift from components laying around the world. Dialogue is well executed and surprisingly varied from A.I. companions, too. The music is also superb for setting the scene, especially once nearing an outpost.
Funnily enough, gameplay follows a bit of a makeshift approach. How to tackle what and why is left in the hands of players. Stealth is still a massive mechanic of the series if a player chooses to go that route. But it's quite fun to sift through the entire arsenal and unload on enemies with something creative like the Saw Launcher, which does exactly what it sounds like—slicing through enemies, bouncing off surfaces and likely taking down a few more.
Most of the weapons have their own flavor and are a blast to use, especially in tandem with the environment. Bouncing saws off a wall for skill shots isn't necessarily encouraged, but why not? Granted, it's a little strange these weapons cobbled together with duct tape after the apocalypse don't fall apart more often, but hey.
As always seems to be the case, tackling enemy outposts and now gunning for the bigger expeditions is a joy. Supplementary items like driving are still spotty but passable enough to justify the open world. Enemy A.I. seems about the same as it has ever been, which means getting detected while trying to sneak around can still feel random at times. But oftentimes it will be interesting to see enemies at least attempt to relocate to an advantageous position while peppering off shots in the player's direction.
For those familiar with the series, this is a Far Cry experience. Gameplay in most instances is smooth with fun feedback and sounds great. The items at a player's disposal have changed thanks to a narrative device, and while it doesn't feel too different from its predecessor, New Dawn drops the player in a fun sandbox worth a time investment, which these days is saying something given the seemingly endless number of open-world games.
Story, Expeditions and More
The story in Far Cry 5 wasn't anything too special, to be blunt. It followed a cult and its supposed messianic figure to the end of the world. Simple enough.
New Dawn is simple in this area as well. The so-called "Collapse" has passed, and the game again picks up in Hope County, Montana. But, as mentioned, the area looks a little different 17 years later. The player is unfortunately once again a mute who was the right-hand man to Thomas Rush, leader of a roving band of liberators who traveled the country helping new settlements get off their feet.
Unfortunately, Rush's gang of do-gooders got derailed (literally) while attempting their final good deed, succumbing to a spray paint-happy motocross gang of sorts called the Highwaymen, led by the game's twin cover stars, Mickey and Lou.
Those twins create a really fun dynamic. Like past villains in the series, they think they're doing the right thing while going about their by-the-day, violent approach. This isn't Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3 levels of awesome, but the twins manage to get close.
Like the past few games, players will either like the humor or they won't. That's just how it is with Far Cry, though some of the balances between funny side characters and the serious story aren't as jarring this time out. But some of the story beats are odd. Right at the beginning, an ally dangerously shoves the player's character off a cliff in an effort to save them from capture. It's silly, though fitting at this point.
An important note: The blandness of the story or otherwise will vary by the player. More important is that it allows the game to function differently from a progression standpoint.
The player ends up at Prosperity at the start of their adventure, which functions as a home base and is the first major wrinkle to the formula players of the series will encounter.
This is where some of the RPG elements come into play. Gathering resources out in the open world and recruiting specialists opens up story progression. Forging out into the world and acquiring ethanol, for example, leads to the base's helicopter being functional again, which then allows access to expeditions.
Out in the world, a new mechanic called Outpost Escalations allows players to scavenge the outpost for resources, leaving it exposed for the Highwaymen to reoccupy.
Doing this ups the difficulty by a significant margin and creates a bigger challenge for likewise bigger rewards a maximum of three times. It is a nice gameplay wrinkle adding replayability to the open world as a whole. In similar titles and within the series itself, checking off each spot on the map usually left players with little to do. Now, recapturing outposts again is possible.
Expeditions, one of New Dawn's biggest talking points, sound simple in execution. Go to a new location removed from the game's open world, infiltrate and obtain the cache, then escape. Player agency decides how violent or silent the approach is, just like encampments.
Except it isn't so simple, and that is what makes them such a joy in most cases. Like outposts, there are three levels of difficulty, and each uppage not only adds more enemies and defenses, it mixes up the location of details like the cache. It helps that, as hinted, each of these places feels unique and offers a peek at a small pocket of the country that was ravaged by the nuclear winter.
Guns for Hire and the Fangs for Hire return to assist in all these areas. A colorful cast of characters accompanies the player if they so choose to seek out help.
These partners generally functioned well and stayed out of the way until the action started. As for the latter types of companions, having another dog as a friend on the journey is always a good time.
Painting in broader strokes, New Dawn isn't the first Ubisoft title to implement an RPG feel aimed at shaking up the experience of a well-known franchise. Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey turned some players away by level-gating enemies and overall story progression at times.
New Dawn revises the approach with just three levels of difficulty and with some creativity, players can take down a level three opponent with level one items. It's a grind and a bit bullet-spongey at time, but it does feel more doable than in other recent releases of the same ilk.
Aesthetics are a big part of this. The graffiti-tanned motocross armor on the gang might seem silly, but it does functionally help in this regard.
Games like The Division got hit with criticism because enemies wearing hoodies were taking more bullets than Iron Man to take down. Enemies in New Dawn have Borderlands-esque health bars and damage numbers as they receive damage, but the layers of armor (which varies from level one to three) make the strength of opponents more believable.
While we're on the topic of RPG elements, it is critical to point out the "bliss bullet" to drive the narrative in Far Cry 5 is gone. The forced attempts at pushing the narrative along via getting captured are out, and the player-driven story progression as Prosperity evolves is a welcome, much-needed change.
And on the fundamentals front, the game runs well without any notable dips in performance, which sometimes can't be helped in bigger open-world efforts.
The dearth of options is a plus, even on the PC version, and the UI, in general, is well done as far as item and vehicle management goes, which is a plus given the wealth of makeshift items, crafting and more at a player's fingertips.
Those pluses aside, it is a little weird to pause the immersive game and see an ad on the right for meeting the voice actors or cosplay tips.
Speedrunning in the Far Cry series took an interesting turn with Far Cry 5.
Technically speaking, that game can be speedrun in about five minutes thanks to an alternate ending. The normal speedruns take three or more hours.
Those shooting for normal speedruns in New Dawn can likely expect similar times by following similar strategies. The player agency in the open world presents some interesting ideas and possibilities for runners, but it usually boils down to something simple—tear through enemies in the way of progression.
The limited level gating here makes it possible. Players who smartly keep an eye on ammo counts and chip away at enemies well above their level can succeed, meaning side content is skippable in the pursuit of advancing the story.
Later on, pouring upgrade points into certain skills is key. Covert, for example, increases move speed while crouched. Dexterity accelerates crafting and other processes. Locked and Loaded allows reloading while aimed. And More Lung Capacity increases the amount of time a player can sprint.
There are also perks that up ammo counts, which can lessen the chance of running out. Earning these perk points by besting others for supply drops (an apparent ode to battle royales) momentarily on the way to main-story objectives is efficient.
Companions will play a key role in runs, too. Far Cry 5 runs required a bit of NPC manipulation, but some of the perks these specialists come with are a big help. One, for example, sits back and snipes well. It sounds simple, but her being away from the threat of getting downed helps. Another assures the player wildlife won't attack, which is a bigger help than it sounds.
From a traversal perspective, hopping on vehicles early on is critical until the liberation of encampments, which then enables fast travel. As always, memorization and test runs will need to unfold, as map knowledge and an understanding of where to farm the most resources possible is a must.
While New Dawn doesn't require anything too intricate to speedrun (beeline for the story-progressing objective in most cases), it still takes enough skill and has an element of variety in each run that there is plenty of appeal here.
Until the next release, New Dawn should be able to hold over the speedrunning community awaiting it.
Polished, willing to take a few risks and revamping the overall aesthetic, New Dawn still won't change the minds of those familiar with the Far Cry series.
That's not such a bad thing.
It's disappointing New Dawn has gone on the silent character route again, though the return of extremely interesting villains players won't soon forget does the series some good as a whole. The story isn't brilliant by any means, but the series desperately needed those iconic villains to once again seize control.
It's fitting New Dawn strikes a balance between old and new quite well, because at the same time it is more replayable than recent titles in the series while also not being as restrictive from a level-gating standpoint as recent Ubisoft games.
Gamers aren't hurting for experiences in a stacked spring 2019 lineup, yet New Dawn stands firmly on the ground with its usual formula and some new tweaks atop it.