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Far Cry: New Dawn is the latest game in the series and because it is set after nuclear bombs have destroyed the world, things get a bit strange. Weird creatures roam the world, like deer with bright pink antlers or glow-in-the-dark critters. But another weird element of this nuclear apocalypse actually feels inspired by something first found in the original Far Cry on the Xbox.
Spoilers ahead. I’m going to be talking about the later parts of Far Cry New Dawn and the original Far Cry game.
In Far Cry: New Dawn players eventually find their way up North, where Joseph Seed is hiding away with a strange and powerful tree. This tree produces fruit that, when eaten, grants some folks special powers. These powers include strong punches, invisibility, extra speed, and double jumps.
Previous Far Cry games, like Far Cry 5, have included ways to temporarily give your character increased abilities. But giving your character a selection of powers that can be used permanently throughout the game reminded me a lot of the Xbox port of the original game.
Far Cry Instincts was a modified port of the first game in the franchise. It ditched the huge maps found in the original PC version for more linear worlds and also changed the storyline to include new superhuman abilities called “Feral Powers”.
These Feral Powers change the way the game is played and gave Far Cry Instincts a different feel than its PC counterpart. Jack Carver, the protagonist of Far Cry Instincts, can jump farther and higher, move faster, punch harder and track enemies better.
These powers would return in the sequel to Instincts, Far Cry Instincts Evolution. This story had Carver encountering other folks who had his same Feral powers. The campaign for Evolution was much shorter than Instincts and was more an expansion than a full-on new game.
Far Cry New Dawn gives the player similar powers, including a really fun double jump. Like Instincts, these powers change up how you interact with the world. For example, after taking down an outpost I returned with my new powers and suddenly things were much easier. I could sneak around better, get over tall walls without a ladder or door and I could quickly take down elite enemies silently.
While previous games have given players ways to power up, these were usually short term and not as powerful as the Feral powers of Instincts or Eden powers found in New Dawn.
One could argue that in the recent Far Cry games players eventually have so many abilities and weapons that you are already a fairly powerful warrior. While I agree the games tend to overpower the player, I also love becoming some superpowered hunter who can just destroy entire armies and outposts easily.
I have no idea what the future holds for Far Cry. I know some fans prefer more grounded games, while other fans like myself are into the weirder Far Cry adventures. Personally, I would love to see more games in the franchise build on the idea of giving the main character special powers.
Maybe it’s time for Jack Carver to return? What if Far Cry 6 returns to the tropical islands of the first game and gives Carver some new Feral abilities? Unlikely, but maybe a future spin-off like Primal or New Dawn will give us another taste of being a super-powered killer in the world of Far Cry.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I’m a sucker for a game series that lets me revisit a place I’ve explored in an earlier game. I loved it when I played Super Metroid, and I’m having a great time with it now in the new Far Cry. I’m not talking about old levels being recreated in new games. I’m talking about visiting a place you saw in one game and seeing how it has changed.
Far Cry New Dawn is set 17 years after Far Cry 5, but was only released a year later. Because of that, the look of FC5’s fictional county of Hope, Montana was fresh in my mind as I played through the New Dawn version. The first game ends with a nuclear blast. By the second game, we see a county where nature is aggressively growing back and humanity is in some Mad Max state of scrappy survivalism.
The jail from the first game?
It’s been overrun by Highwaymen who, by the way, love the color pink.
That spot where a guy named Larry Parker was building a device that he hoped would transmit him to Mars? Here’s that spot in Far Cry 5:
Here’s “Parker’s Vault”in New Dawn.
Being able to stumble across or actively visit places I’ve been to in a previous game and see what has happened to them has been my favorite thing in New Dawn. The game regularly rewards those who played Far Cry 5 with updates to the places—and people—they encountered in the first game. It’s so effective and seemingly such an easy button for the developers to push in their players, it’s a wonder more games don’t do it.
Sure, we see iconic levels in older games recreated in new ones all the time. What I don’t recall seeing much of, despite the many sequels I’ve played, is many games that simply take me back to where I’ve been and show me what happened next. My favorite example of this is Super Metroid which I played in, wow, 1994? Twenty-five years ago?? Anyway, in the beginning of that game, the player finds themselves in a location that should feel familiar to anyone who played the first Metroid game. The designers are having you walk through the wrecked caverns where the original Metroid’s violent finale took place. It’s wild to be back there.
Far Cry New Dawn, which uses a smaller version of Far Cry 5’s map, is constantly doing that Super Metroid thing.
See all these spots in this corner of Far Cry 5?
You can re-visit them in New Dawn. They’ve all changed.
Far Cry New Dawn has a whole sidequest about how the virtual Montana landscape has changed. Players are given several photos of locations from 5 and are challenged to find them in New Dawn.
That water tower photo goes about here:
Here’s the iconic big bridge from Far Cry 5.
And here, through the glory of New Dawn’s photo mode, is my character in the new game comparing a photo from the Far Cry 5 era to what the bridge looks like a nuke and 17 years later.
Far Cry New Dawn’s transformed locations often include notes and audio recordings that add more details about how or why a place has changed. They tell stories of new survivors taking shelter in spots that other characters lived in in the last game. They reveal the fate of allies long gone in the 17 years that passed. That big bridge, it turns out, was wrecked because the folks in Hope County who were just trying to stay alive tried to run a supply train over it, but the bridge couldn’t take the weight.
Sometimes I’m even struck by a site in New Dawn that looks so familiar that I dive back into Far Cry 5 to find the old version. Take this thing in the new game. It rings a bell, but I haven’t found it back in Far Cry 5 yet.
So much of what I enjoyed about New Dawn is its constant comparisons of its people and places to those in the last game. I found it moving and exciting to go back, and I realize I’d happily play a whole series that stays in the same place but lets us revisit it as dozens of in-game years tick by between each sequel. It’s a phenomenon games are uniquely suited to doing well, so it’s a shame that games do it so infrequently.
Far Cry New Dawn is set nearly 20 years after a nuclear bomb has hit Hope County, the stetting of Far Cry 5. While many were killed in the blast and aftermath, some Far Cry 5 characters survived. Fans of Far Cry New Dawn believe The Judge is a surviving character from the previous game and a very important one too.
In Far Cry New Dawn players can find a silent and helpful gun for hire simply named The Judge. This gun for hire never speaks, unlike other gun for hires who will often talk about events happening around the player or locations they visit. The Judge will occasionally make some grunts and groans, but that’s it.
But who is The Judge? The character never talks or takes off their mask, so it takes a bit more digging to figure out who this masked friend might be.
New Dawn spoilers ahead!
Sprinkled throughout the game, fans can find clues and conversations that heavily hint at the The Judge being The Deputy from Far Cry 5.
The Deputy was the player character from Far Cry 5. They were a young rookie officer who became wrapped up in all the cult killing business of the game. Along the way The Deputy helped the folks of Hope County fight and defeat Joseph Seed and his deadly cult.
A conversation Carmina has with The Judge seems to be one of the most direct hints of the character’s real identity. In Far Cry 5 players help Nick Rye and his wife with the birth of their first child, a baby Carmina. In New Dawn, Carmina is now an adult and will mention to The Judge how her parents told her the story of how The Judge, before they were silent and wore a mask, helped during her birth.
So what happened to the hero of Far Cry 5?
It seems after the bombs fell and destroyed the world, The Deputy became a believer in Joseph Seed. Players can find a note which heavily implies this is the case. In the note it seems The Deputy wants to help “judge” the world and seeks forgiveness and too be reborn. So why does The Judge never speak?
Based on all of this evidence and more clues found in New Dawn, it seems certain that The Deputy and The Judge are one in the same. Though Ubisoft hasn’t confirmed this yet. I did reach out to them, but they didn’t respond with an answer.
I remember the first time I encountered Hurk in a Far Cry game. It was his very first appearance in the series, in Far Cry 3 as part of a downloadable mission pack called Monkey Business. I remember thinking “This guy seems annoying. I can’t take any more of him.” Seven years later and he is still around and still popping up in every game.
In his first appearance we get a good sense of who Hurk is. Hurk is loud, dumb, love explosions, beers and guns. In Far Cry 3 Hurk mentions that the tribal leader Citra is a MILF, “Malyasian I’d Like To Fuck!”. Hurk sucks.
Kotaku’s own Heather Alexandra had this to say about Hurk in her Far Cry New Dawn review:
I hate Hurk. I hate his fucking guts. He started as a joke character… and has been featured in all games since, including a baffling presence as ‘Urki’ in Far Cry Primal. Nothing he says is funny, every moment with him makes me want to choke on a pretzel.
Harsh, but fair. Hurk really isn’t enjoyable to be around. The idea of Hurk though, I like. The idea of a fun and exciting character who is all about big action packed missions is a solid idea. But the execution of Hurk is just the worst. Part of the problem is that since his appearance he hasn’t really changed. He still says the same sort of shit, still is written as an annoying asshole and still gets stuck with jokes that aren’t very funny.
A great example of this is found in Far Cry 5. Hurk has started a monkey cult, a reference to the cult found in Far Cry 5. The problem is that this bit isn’t really funny and gets constantly referenced and driven into the ground. That sort of sums up Hurk. He’s a joke of character that has been beaten to death over and over.
And yet…I weirdly enjoy his appearances. Don’t get me wrong, I hate Hurk’s dialogue, attitude and general behavior. But he has almost turned into the Far Cry franchise’s Stan Lee. This cameo that you know is coming and keep an eye out for. However, unlike Stan Lee’s cameos, which were short and hilarious, Hurk’s appearance always drag and never really make me laugh.
I can’t help but appreciate the dedication Ubisoft has to the Hurk joke, even going so far as to include him in the Mars DLC from Far Cry 5. While he doesn’t appear in Far Cry Primal, one of his ancestors does. The lengths Ubisoft is willing to go to include Hurk in Far Cry games is astonishing. This much work for such a bad character.
I hate sounding so negative about Hurk. I actually want to like Hurk. I love the idea of all the Far Cry games being connected in this weird action-movie-like-universe. I enjoy Willis Huntley, the CIA agent who appears in many Far Cry games. I really want to enjoy hanging out with Hurk, but he’s just so unfunny and annoying.
Hurk’s voice actor seems to be a good guy. He interacts often with fans on Twitter and even records Hurks lines bare chested. I’m not sure why, but hey, he’s certainly not phoning it in. Which is another frustrating aspect of Hurk. The voice acting is great. It feels like a waste to have someone this talented saying of some of Hurk’s dialogue.
The community reaction is mixed on Hurk. Checking Reddit and Twitter you can find plenty of fans who love him and folks sharing favorite Hurk quotes. You can also find people asking for less Hurk. Though I would say overall the internet seems to mostly enjoy Hurk, at least they enjoy him more than Heather or I do. Which is fine. Like I said earlier, I oddly enjoy searching for the Hurk cameo in Far Cry games. I guess I just wish the actual missions and jokes were better and writing less grating.
If you enjoy Hurk, don’t let this article ruin your love of the big idiot. In his less annoying moments Hurk can occasionally make me smirk. There is something to love about a big, dumb buffoon running around making references to Beyonce.
Just maybe don’t put him in every Far Cry game. Who knows, if he doesn’t appear in Far Cry 6 I might actually miss Hurk.
By the end of Far Cry 5, the modern world was no more. Washed away in a gout of nuclear fire, all there was left to do was retreat into our bunker and lament the loss. Far Cry New Dawn moves forward from that set-up. Mechanically, it is the same game we’ve been playing since 2012’s Far Cry 3. Underneath the gloss, it is more complicated but one message rings clear: even in Paradise, there will always be snakes. And you, Player One, will get to kill them in the most spectacular ways imaginable.
This piece was first published on February 14, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the game’s release.
Set 17 years after nuclear catastrophe shattered the world, Far Cry New Dawn brings players back to the fictional Hope County, a massive tract of Montana that was also the location for Far Cry 5. That game had wistfully golden fields and sun-drenched forest canopies. New Dawn’s Hope County is a pastel wonderland. Its mutations, which include bark-skinned bison and a Borealis’d sky, recall works like 2018 science fiction horror film Annihilation. Yet Hope County is far from a hostile hellscape; it is a genuine Eden amid nuclear waste. Communities there thrived until the arrival of the Highwaymen, Mad Max-esque raiders—led by twin sisters Mickey and Lou— who stomp on whatever idyllism that remains. That’s where the player comes in. Taking control of the security chief of a para-military fixer group lead by the charismatic Thomas Rush, your job is to stymie the Highwaymen and protect one of the last remaining free settlements, Prosperity.
Taken on its own, Far Cry New Dawn is as straightforward a post-apocalyptic tale as can be told. Indeed, it’s a concept as old (and fraught) as communal history itself: enemies are at the gates. The Highwaymen are the Visigoths attacking Rome. They are the inescapable sin of mankind, made manifest again after the End Times, patrolling conveniently placed outposts for the player to assault. Because of this, it is tempting to say that New Dawn engages with post-apocalyptic iconography only as a means to facilitate more stabby, shooty video game fun times. That’s certainly true on some level, but as things progress it becomes clear that New Dawn provokes a conversation about its genre, its medium, and conflict itself. These ambitious goals are tackled with the series’ characteristic clumsiness, stopping just shy of satisfactory conclusions in spite of an earnest attempt.
New Dawn’s mechanical framework is the same as it has been since Far Cry 3. This is an open-world first-person shooter with main quests, some side quests and a lot of bases to raid. While there is a string of main story quests to complete, New Dawn focuses on dropping the player into a majestic space and dotting it with an assortment of challenges to complete, stashes to find, and characters to recruit as companions. This space is best explored during the early game, when enemies and creatures can easily dispose of the player, and before they have amassed enough high quality weapons and abilities to trivialize combat.
The first two thirds of New Dawn represent the series’ formula at its most effective. Wandering the map is a mixture of scavenging and combat engagements that feel mysterious and deadly in equal measure. It’s never quite as freewheeling as its closest competitor, Fallout, but there is a clear cadence to the exploration. You will slip through the countryside and dodge Highwaymen patrols until you stumble upon the ruins of a church. There, you might read a note about a hidden stash in a tomb beneath the ground and solve a puzzle to locate the key. Using what you’ve scavenged there, you might craft a new rifle that allows you to single-handedly topple a Highwaymen camp, securing a cache of ethanol to upgrade your own settlement. This process feels natural, more like an actual progression of events instead of merely ticking off check marks on your map.
When broken down, all that’s happening here is two different activities playing off each other. The first is a return of Far Cry 5’s “prepper stashes,” reimagined as post-apocalyptic scavenging excursions. These special scenarios are dotted liberally throughout Hope County, some offering combat challenges and platforming courses, others leaning towards puzzle solving. On one expedition, you might find yourself disarming a lock in a heavily booby-trapped bunker by tinkering with a collection of animatronic fish. In another, you will be forced to dispose of a mutated wolverine inside a dilapidated community center and escape from encroaching flames after your attempts to burn the creature’s nest ignite the entire building. These sequences, nestled off the beaten path but never so secret that a non-player character can’t mark their location conveniently on your map, breathe life into the world and admirably experiment with genre tropes of trash scavengers and old world ruins. They remain one of the series’ best additions, and feed admirably into Far Cry’s brand of open world combat. As you explore more, you can craft more weapons using the collection of duct tape, components, screws, and other materials you find from these stashes.
As you amass resources, you will slowly start tackling the map’s various outposts and refineries. The goal is simple and remains unchanged after all these years: kill everyone and take what they had. Whereas games like Far Cry 4 and 5 tied this process into vague political or religious struggles, New Dawn’s rationale is much more immediate. Each enemy base contains a cache of ethanol, a resource that is spent exclusively in upgrading the various features of your home settlement. If you want to craft higher tier weapons, upgrade your garden, or enable fast travel you will need to upgrade your home, and that means accumulating ethanol. Read cynically, this is a much more self-interested motivation for tackling outposts than other Far Cry games. But divorcing these activities from the series’ ill-defined and mismanaged ideological struggles and framing them solely in terms of resource acquisition is a remarkably good fit for the post-apocalyptic genre. It makes sense for New Dawn’s central mechanical struggle to center upon who actually gets to thrive in Paradise.
And yet, here is where New Dawn starts to run into a problem. In the act of conquering enemy fortifications the series’ vapid repetitiveness makes itself known. First, comes the ability to replay these challenges for further rewards. These “escalations” allow players to cede the base back to the Highwaymen. This increases the raw difficulty of the encounter—New Dawn adds an ascending four tiers of difficulty for activities and enemies starting with grey common encounters and ending with golden “legendary” encounters—and allows players to continue the violence. For all of their new difficulty, additional guards, and extra alarms, these challenges never escalate so far that you can’t clear them with some sneaking and a decent quality bow and arrow. That weapon and its continued prominence within the series belies one of Far Cry New Dawn’s most explicit motifs: cycles and repeated conflict.
The bow was first introduced in Far Cry 3, along with this base-clearing activity. In that time, it has remained one of the most effective tools across games. It is essentially silent and can kill most enemies with a single shot. This is true all the way from modern settings like Far Cry 4 and 5 to the prehistoric times of Far Cry Primal. It is true here as well, after the end of the world. And that truth reveals the series’ underlying thesis, the dark heart that led Far Cry 5 to end in fire and ash: we are no better now than we were in our most distant past. The mechanical truth of Far Cry, expressed in countless bases claimed and arrows fired is that humanity will never be free from violence. New Dawn has two responses to this cynical thesis. First, it wants you to enjoy the chaos. If you can’t stop it, you might as well have some goddamn fun. Secondly, it wants to understand why all of this has happened before and why all of it will happen again.
That first impulse is best expressed in New Dawn’s vivid aesthetics. Far from the dark and dingy post-apocalyptic worlds characteristic to the genre, New Dawn’s Hope County is a technicolor wonderland teeming with shades and hues that are both unnatural and astounding. Rivers flow with water the same color as robin’s eggs, deer antlers feature bizarre shades of pink, the sky shimmers with neon light, and bears’ hearts glow yellow within their chests. New Dawn retains some of the vague Biblical allusions of Far Cry 5 but weaponizes them to greater potential. Hope County’s splendor is miraculous and treated as such. This is an impossible sanctuary, a true Garden of Eden in both lushness and color palette. This is made all the more apparent if players go on “expeditions,” missions that take them them outside Hope County and into the rest of the United States. These areas lack the same energy and brightness of the main map, but the resulting contrast only serves to highlight Hope County’s splendor.
That brightness bleeds into the visual flair of the Highwaymen and their design. Their armor and vehicles are painted and marked with the brightest colors, and they announce their attacks with literal fireworks and colored smoke. They have an undeniable flair, as both a visual extension of Hope County’s mutated majesty and a hip-hip vanguard of the new world. Unlike Far Cry 5’s Eden’s Gate cult, which held onto pretensions of ideology that the game could never adequately define, the Highwaymen are more understandable: they are here to fight, fuck, and have fun.
The result is both a post-apocalypse that feels distinct and a Far Cry setting that feels much more allegorical. Whereas Far Cry 2 and 4 wanted to touch on socio-political struggles in their respective African and Himalayan facsimiles and Far Cry 5 bumbled about in a muddled American pastoralism, New Dawn leverages its flashy aesthetics into a world that is concerned with broader concepts. It is telling that the series’ most vivid setting and straightforwardly honest villains come after the pretensions of polite society have literally been burned off the face of the earth. Far Cry 5’s biggest flaw was attempting to appeal to modern day issues without mustering the bravery to actually point fingers. New Dawn opts for something less complex and is stronger for it. The corresponding freedom allows it to be more visually communicative and altogether coherent than its predecessor in both design and aesthetics.
New Dawns’ villains, the twin sisters Mikey and Lou, feel less like actual entities in the way that other series’ villains have. Far Cry 4’s Pagan Min, for all of his problematic foppishness, was a clear agent of monarchy and tradition with a defined backstory and motivation for his selfish impulses. He was a small man, ruling over a small country, lashing out against a world that had failed to love him. Far Cry 2’s Jackal was an agent of forever war, seeking to fan the flames of conflict so high that they might burn away all facilitators of violence including himself. Mickey and Lou are thankfully not as crass as Far Cry 3’s villain Vaas Montenegro but their motives are often as murky and ill-defined. Because the Highwaymen are the allegorical snakes in Hope County’s Garden of Eden, the Twins are nothing more than Id and Ego made manifest. When they are on screen, their raw charisma makes up for their lack of complexity but their role in the narrative is largely functional.
As the Twins escalate their efforts against the player and Prosperity, New Dawn finds itself moving along with a much more confident pace than Far Cry 5. Gone are the long wanderings and intermittent monologues of vague ideologues. Instead, the Twins exert a real and constant threat against the player through the sheer power of their will and desires. They want so deeply and feel so convinced in their own strength that they never fade to background like some other series villains. What they lack in complexity, they make up for in sheer presence. The result is that New Dawn’s narrative maintains momentum, even accounting for the moments it pauses and asks to player to take some time upgrading their base.
One of New Dawn’s chief thematic concerns is parenthood and children. It teems with absent fathers, struggling mothers, and wayward children. From Carmina Rye, your first AI companion and daughter of Far Cry 5’s Nick Rye, to the inexplicable decision to give series comedic relief Hurk Drubman Jr. a child of his own, New Dawn is positively fascinated with the relationship between parents and their offspring, and it is here that we start to understand the Twins more. They take because they can, they kill because they want to, and their development—arrested early due to nuclear fire—has manifested in one prolonged temper tantrum.
Far from blaming the Twins, New Dawn more pointedly blames their father, an unseen individual who responded to the challenges of the new world with violence. There are problems with this, but as New Dawn starts to explore generational violence and starts to ask how even after the end of all things, we still have villains like the Twins, it starts to become something more interesting than expected even if it never completely shakes off the series’ superficiality or hasty shorthands. It comes and goes in the briefest flashes but there is, I think, something here.
New Dawn’s fascination with father figures means reaching back to address the flaws and shortcomings of its own parent game. It is therefore impossible to talk about New Dawn without talking about Far Cry 5 and its own villain, the David Koresh knock-off Joseph Seed. As a result, New Dawn is not merely a spin-off sequel but a text which actively complicates a player’s existing relationship with Far Cry 5 and Seed himself. In Far Cry 5, Seed made vague proclamations about politicians and the horrors of moderns news as portents of an end that actually did come. What made Seed falter as a compelling villain was the game’s inability to make his prophecies bold enough to name the forces of injustice sending the world towards annihilation. Seed’s eschatology was couched in Christian metaphor but lacked a coherency beyond the surface trappings. He resurfaces in New Dawn as a new type of “Father,” both in the context of his religion and in a more literal sense. And while New Dawn over-assumes how interested players will be in the fate of Joseph Seed, its decision to connect him into its broader thematics turns Seed into an honest to God character this time around. Not necessarily a good character, but a character nonetheless.
In the years following the Collapse, Seed became the leader of a survivalist group called ‘New Eden,’ a colony of Luddites disconnected from the rest of Hope County. In an allusion to Far Cry Primal that emphasizes New Dawn’s belief that there is nothing new under the sun, New Eden functions more like one of that game’s many pre-history tribes than the cult found in Far Cry 5. As Joseph is once again thrust into leadership and as he reckons with the fact that he was right in the worst possible way, he also becomes a literal father to a young boy named Ethan. This core relationship complements the relationship between the Twins and their father. In this case, Seed’s continued religiosity and faith forces him to come into conflict with Ethan. It is a much more understandable story, focused on a much more human and haunted man that the paper thin villain from Far Cry 5.
Seed’s presence also brings a corresponding shift into magical-realism that begins to complicate player’s relationships to the game world and Far Cry 5 itself. This comes most notably during the game’s mid-point where, desperate for allies against the Highwaymen, an alliance is forged with New Eden that ends with Joseph giving the player a piece of fruit from a forbidden tree. It’s eye-rollingly on the nose as visual metaphor, but is also how New Dawn justifies an entire new tier of character perks and abilities. In a move that caught me off guard, New Dawn starts to more adequately incorporate notions of religion into the fabric of its narrative than Far Cry 5 did. It does this while maintaining levels of ambiguity that mostly feels earned rather than cowardly. Did you truly eat fruit blessed by God or can your new abilities be explained away as mutations? Were Far Cry 5’s Sheriff Whitehorse and his deputies unknowing avatars of the Four Horsemen? New Dawn never goes so far as to answer these questions, but it is in the posing of these things and their corresponding ambiguity that it begins to open up and explore matters of faith and prophecy with more consideration than its father text. It’s not perfect—this is still a Far Cry game, after all—but New Dawn’s willingness to play with these ideas is certainly welcome.
The end result is a game that I enjoyed but which also frustrated me greatly. On some levels it is crass and annoying. Far too many of its citizens are prone to stupid dick jokes and its tone can vary wildly from scene to scene. It is often tired with its metaphor and fails to think through the implications of its tropes, even as it remains fair-paced and occasionally introspective. Its raw gameplay is both satisfying but also so remarkably shifted away from the complexities of series critical darling Far Cry 2 that additional veneers of gloss—damage numbers, enemy rarities, and the baffling decision to allow players to purchase crafting materials—make it clear that the series will never reclaim its messier, more interesting ideas. But if I dig deeper, scratching off the fine varnish of AAA quality and safety, there are pieces of a genuinely interesting game. Whether that is the vivid art direction or a willingness to address its themes with a great degree of awareness than previous titles, New Dawn has instances where everything comes together.
Near the middle of my playthrough, I rescued the foul-mouth buffoon Hurk from the Highwaymen’s clutches. I hate Hurk. I hate his fucking guts. He started a joke character in Far Cry 3’s Monkey Business DLC pack and has been featured in all games since, including a baffling presence as ‘Hurky’ in Far Cry Primal. Nothing he says is funny, every moment with him makes me want to choke on a pretzel. Here he was again, a reminder that the Far Cry that compelled me most—the dark and considered Far Cry 2— could never return. Like the old world, it was gone. I could try to cling to it, to cling to a world that was, or I could accept that this was the new status quo. That even as New Dawn sometimes surprised me, it would also have Hurk and everything he represented.
“You look dang familiar,” Hurk said to me the first time I saw him again in New Dawn. “As if we’ve done this before in some endless haunting loop from which neither of us will ever escape.” I see you too, New Dawn.
I thought about shooting him in his stupid face. I thought about how his sudden appearance was undermining all the work New Dawn was doing with its narrative. I thought about how much I wished this game was like Far Cry 2. I thought about how long I’d been caught up in Far Cry’s cyclical violence and formulaic gameplay. Then, I finished the dialog and added Hurk to my roster of companion characters.
There are always snakes in the garden. There will always be a new map of bases to conquer. There will always be another Hurk.
The best video game sidequests are detours worth taking. They can be even more delightful than a good game’s main quests by their very nature of being optional. Bad sidequests are tedious filler that are best ignored. Those good ones, however, were made for you to find and enjoy, but only if you want to.
I found some great sidequests in Far Cry 5 early last year and just got back to finishing them in the last week, as I took a break from playing more recent releases. They’re called Prepper Stashes, and they amazed me. They’re a wonderful deviation from the series formula. These games are mostly about chaos, but each of these Prepper Stashes is a conundrum set in relatively calm crevices of these violent Far Cry worlds. They’re also coming back in a modified form in next week’s Far Cry New Dawn, a return I learned more about as I quizzed Ubisoft about how Far Cry 5’s superb Prepper Stashes came to be.
The big Far Cry games of late offer satisfying first-person shooting set in a vast, violent open world full of bases to raid, animals to fend off, and vehicles to commandeer. They have main missions and side tasks, but they deliver their best fun when players roam a map that is always on the verge of eruption. You stalk an enemy soldier only to get pounced on by a bear, rush to a Jeep to escape, get chased by an armed patrol helicopter, drive off a cliff, and dive into the sea. That’s the series’ thing. It’s cool.
Prepper Stashes are different. In Far Cry 5’s fictional Hope County, Montana, the towns and countryside are overrun by a violent, religious doomsday cult. Hidden throughout are hideouts made by “preppers”—people preparing to survive a catastrophe by building shelters and stockpiling necessities. The Prepper Stash missions involve accessing these hideouts, all of them abandoned and all of them initially blocked off by some sort of environmental puzzle. Or sometimes the prepper was trying to flee Hope, but they left their stash behind in a box that can’t easily be cracked open.
One Prepper Stash mission involves trying to access a hideout that’s been set up in the trestle of a massive steel bridge. You need to swing on a grappling hook underneath the bridge to get it.
Another presents you with a locked box on a lake shore. You need to follow a debris trail underwater to find the key.
Then there’s the one about trying to find a key eaten by one of the dogs living at an otherwise-abandoned summer camp. The clue you’re given is that the one of the dogs must have shat it out:
“In Far Cry 5 we wanted to encourage players to fully explore the world, and Prepper Stashes were created as a way to hide loot in specific locations and points of interest,” the game’s assistant level design director Alain Greco told me over email. Far Cry worlds are vast, but he and his colleagues at Ubisoft Montreal noticed that players wouldn’t wander into areas of the map where there wasn’t combat. “Level designers then started to add some ingredients to make the loot in these locations more challenging to get: for example, players had to push a vehicle to access a bunker, break crates to access hidden doors, or wingsuit into a rooftop to get rewards.”
Far Cry games are knocked for being formulaic to the point of being repetitive. If you’re not into, say, stealthily raiding a base filled with a dozen guards, a few explosive barrels, and a caged attack dog, then you’re going to be tired of these games before any one of them presents the tenth such base to take down. Some of us find the basic mechanics and the myriad ways attacking such a base can unfold to be fun enough, but the Prepper Stashes need no defense against monotony because they’re refreshingly varied. There’s a clever one set in an overstuffed garage and another in a toxic mine. Greco said the dog poop one is a team favorite, and that a fan favorite is the game’s Prepper Stash that involves a haunted house.
One of my favorites is called “Long-Range Lockpick,” which involves a lakeside building that is locked from within. It’s Greco’s favorite, too. “The main reason is that for this stash, we do not explicitly tell players what to do but just give them clues on how to resolve the puzzle,” he said. “The title, the notes, the enemy on the outer shore, the ladder, the zipline, the boat, the hidden sniper gun on the shed, the bullet holes on the building—every single ingredient used in this location points to the Prepper Stash, without giving away the solution of how to get it. I like how this Prepper Stash gives players agency, and provides them the foundation to create their own story, accomplish their own goal, and play their own way.”
One of the reasons I got back to Far Cry 5 in the last week is because I am fascinated by the fact that Ubisoft is releasing a sequel, Far Cry: New Dawn, next week, just 11 months after 5 came out. I’m curious how the game will connect to the original. It’s set 17 years later, after a disaster has transformed Hope. I figured I’d experience all of FC5’s story and then see how New Dawn references it, but as I went back I kept breaking from the main path to do more of these Prepper Stashes. That got me wondering if New Dawn would be making callbacks to that design features as well. It will, Greco said.
Prepper Stashes are evolving in the new game into something called Treasure Hunts. Greco said they differ from the Stashes in two ways. “First, on the gameplay side we are not holding players’ hand anymore. Treasure Hunts are much less objective-driven and much more demanding of players’ attention to detail and experimentation. Instead of asking players to ‘get the key’ and give them an objective marker, we are asking them to ‘find a way to get the key,’ and any means of doing this is valid. Increasing the challenge was in line with the overall goal of providing a more challenging experience in this harsh but beautiful world.”
Greco said New Dawn’s Treasure Hunts are also being used to provide glimpses to what happened to some key characters and locations from the previous game. The sidequests will reveal the fate of the fisherwoman Skylar, or of that big bridge that had that stash in its trestle. “With Far Cry New Dawn we were able to mix the familiar and novel in very exciting ways,” he said. “Each Treasure Hunt is unique, and the rewards you will get from them are invaluable to your progression through the game.”
It’s inevitable that a good new idea in a Ubisoft game will become part of the formula for the next. Prepper Stashes were a winner in Far Cry 5 and I’m looking forward to seeing what they become in New Dawn. Our violent pastimes can always benefit from some smartly-structured puzzle-solving calm.