Far Cry New Dawn’s biggest problem is that it is a narrative sequel to Far Cry 5. It’s otherwise a better game in every way, thanks to a renewed focus on outpost conquest and less of everything that made the last game such a slog to play, but its predecessor’s canonical ending left the series with a nuclear apocalypse. Where do you go from there? Bargain bin Fallout, it seems. Post-apocalyptic Americana is certainly not the sole property of the Fallout games, but yikes is it hard to shake the feeling that you’ve been through these colorful, darkly comic ruins before, in another life. I don’t necessarily mean that as a pejorative, more as a point of reference. A knockoff Fallout is still more fun than a lot of shooters these days, especially when bolted to Far Cry’s rock-solid gameplay loop of capturing outposts and messing around with wild animals.
The back-of-the-box selling point of Far Cry New Dawn is Prosperity, a settlement of peaceful survivors in post-nuclear fallout Hope County, populated by characters both familiar and brand new, most of whom you will likely forget about minutes after skipping the credits. Prosperity is your home base: a convenient hub for shops, workbenches, and the occasional respawning crafting material. Conquering one of the game’s ten outposts nets you Ethanol, which is the resource you use to upgrade different parts of the settlement. Upgrading your weapons workbench allows you to craft better weapons, upgrading your infirmary boosts your base health, upgrading your training camp raises the level of your companions, and so on. Essentially, your RPG-lite character progression exists in the form of a base that you can see grow rather than just a simple experience bar.
For example, instead of getting cash from completing missions or looting and using that cash to buy guns from a merchant, you craft a gun once using a mix of gun-specific components and generic resources like gears or copper at any workbench – it’s the same one-time transaction, only the guns are crummier because it’s the post-apocalypse. Same deal with vehicles; you don’t buy them, you craft them. Or, in my case, you find ATVs in the open world all the time and never buy a single one.
In order to get enough Ethanol to upgrade Prosperity and keep your character competitive, you’ll likely conquer each individual outpost a couple times before the game is over. The outposts can be “scavenged” to earn a bit of Ethanol, but the real reason you’ll want to scavenge is because the process resets the outpost with tougher enemies, which you can re-conquer for more Ethanol.
Outposts have long been my favorite part of modern Far Cry; you’re given a problem in the form of enemies and an unfamiliar terrain, and a set of tools in the form of weaponry and Far Cry’s reliably chaotic emergent gameplay, with no “real” solution other than what you make. However, it’s a little hard to shake the feeling that they were given a stronger gameplay emphasis in part to make New Dawn’s open world feel a little more lively. It feels like there’s much less to do in New Dawn overall, in part because the game isn’t constantly forcing horrible gameplay diversions on you, like a god-awful dogfight or yet another drug-induced hallucination, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing. And although the open world feels a little weak at times as a result of having fewer things to do at a glance, there’s a solid amount of new content in the form of Expeditions.
Expeditions are stand-alone missions set in bigger, self-contained outposts, where you’re choppered to a different part of the western United States and tasked with stealing a package full of valuable supplies from the game’s villains, the Highwaymen. Although I had no trouble completing them with my AI partner, they seem designed for co-op players, especially the run towards the extraction point where the package’s GPS activates and the whole map is alerted to your location. They’re admittedly worth playing just to see locales like a post-apocalyptic Alcatraz Island or a half-sunken amusement park; a cool slice of a larger world designed for this one purpose. You know, a level.
Far Cry New Dawn is just another Far Cry set on a heavily modified version of the last game’s map, with surprisingly inobtrusive crafting elements. It certainly feels like an old-school expansion pack, with exactly the amount of new content you might expect from this price. There’s a lot of new modelling work on display here, and Hope County certainly beautified in humanity’s absence, so I feel like the world of New Dawn is visually distinct in enough ways to justify its own existence. It’s just a shame that the story is very, very bad.
Your character is a mute, customizable avatar that – in my case – bore a striking resemblance to the Deputy, the mute, customizable avatar from Far Cry 5. It seems like the Far Cry team took the wrong lessons from everyone complaining about how Far Cry 3’s protagonist was a white saviour, with their eventual solution being “just make your own damn main character.” Not really a bad thing on its face, but does that also mean the character isn’t allowed to have a voice or a personality?
New Dawn gives you nothing like that. Instead, all you get is a job description: you are a Security Captain working under an unnamed California group and their emissary Thomas Rush, a man trying to rebuild America one settlement of survivors at a time. You run into a survivor from Hope County, looking for help dealing with the evil Highwaymen raider gang, whose largest chapter has taken over the county and kidnapped her father. On the way, your train is attacked by evil twins and Highwaymen heiresses Mickey and Lou, who kidnap Rush as you fall down a waterfall to safety. Eventually, you encounter the New Eden settlement; the remainder of the cult encountered in the previous game, led by Joseph Seed’s son Ethan. The Prosperity settlers don’t trust them, the New Edeners claim they want to live in peace, but you’ll need their help either way if you want to beat the Highwaymen.
These are the simple facts of the story, emotional beats stripped aside, because all of them are terrible and none of them land. Before the game’s two major boss fights (both of which are not good), the player is shown an “intermission” cutscene that desperately tries to get the player to feel bad for the boss. In one case, after the fight, a character recaps the flashback, making the cutscene pointless. In the other, it’s just a recitation of a story you’ve already been told, shown exactly as you were told it.
This confused, redundant approach to narrative persists throughout the entire game, taking what might have been intended as ambiguity and twisting it into confusion. The Highwaymen assault Prosperity once, halfway through the game, at which point the Captain goes off to enter a Highwaymen fight club. Oh no, Thomas Rush has been kidnapped! Wait, no you got him back. Or, wait, no, he’s just been kidnapped again. When characters died, I felt nothing, because I knew almost nothing about them as people. All the personality or charm allotted to New Dawn went to the Highwaymen or your travelling companions, not the emotional cores of the story.
The game is poorly paced because the missions feel almost out of order, and the missions don’t feel worth doing because I don’t care about any of the characters involved. A barbecue with cold, bottled beer, cute kids running around, and faded but still visible American flag iconography is a cheap, transparent way to tug at the player’s heartstrings. There’s little room for dynamic storytelling when characters act exclusively based on motivations that are either overly simplistic or needlessly obtuse until they sit you down and explain what’s going on. There’s no real input from the protagonist in anyone’s story, least of all your own. You’re little more than a tool for your friends to use, and if this wasn’t the direct sequel to one of the most narratively inept video games I’ve ever played, I would guess that was an intentional choice.
Also, it’s weird how you can just straight up buy good guns and crafting materials with real-world money. For what it’s worth, just by playing the campaign, the outposts, the side missions that interested me, and the Expeditions, I was never left wanting for equipment or materials. I suppose that’s for people who just want to see all the story mode content without doing literally anything else, but the story missions are the worst parts of this game, so I don’t know why you’d want to do that. Maybe if you’re playing co-op with somebody else, and you don’t have the time to play on your own and they keep getting ahead of you in the game? You can’t get Ethanol with real-world money, so it’s not like you’re skipping the Outpost grind. It’s not bad, just…weird.
Far Cry New Dawn’s best moments are found outside its story missions, which is basically the series’ unofficial subtitle at this point. That’s a reputation the series has earned handily, with a great sandbox gameplay loop that strains under the weight of designed shooter missions. What makes New Dawn worth playing is the outpost to price ratio; between the scavenge mechanic and the Expeditions, you’ll have your money’s worth if you like multi-approach combat puzzles. But the story is extremely crummy, to the point where I think you would have a better time than I did if you just skipped all the cutscenes and inferred context from the post-cutscene conversation. The outposts are out there, waiting…waiting for someone to throw a pile of bait right smack in the middle and watch as an irradiated bear rips apart everything in sight.