Far Cry New Dawn Review
A merely amusing Far Cry detour
Far Cry New Dawn begins almost immediately with a smug misdirection. After its obligatory scripted opening that introduces the twin antagonists, you’re tasked with building an aptly named saw launcher. This saw launcher propels circular saw blades that automatically ping-pong between any nearby enemies, and these blades can even be ricocheted off walls for some stylish kills. It’s one of the first weapons you get your hands on, and it’s a lot of fun to play around with. It sets the stage for what you might expect to be a fully-fledged Far Cry game that’s willing to toy with established norms for the sake of zany and unexpected fun. All that promise quickly dissipates when you go through the other craftable weapons and realize all that’s there are the typical pistols, shotguns, and sniper rifles as in every other game in the series. The saw launcher is a symbol of what this game could have been. Instead of pushing the boundaries of what a Far Cry game can be, New Dawn settles for being a typical spin-off with a few neat new ideas that don't have as much impact as you'd hope.
New Dawn continues the bad narrative losing streak, but it’s usually merciful enough to not spend too much time on it. The events take place seventeen years after Hope County, Montana was struck by an atomic bomb at the end of Far Cry 5 (spoiler alert), and the nuclear winter that immediately followed has since subsided. You control an individual lovingly referred to as “captain” and are tasked with combating the war-crazed highwaymen and building up your home base as a bastion of hope and peace in a tumultuous time. The story doesn’t have the delusions of grandeur that made Far Cry 5’s plot so off-putting, but it also doesn’t go much of anywhere or say much of anything in its roughly 8-hour runtime. The stage was set for a narrative that wasn’t bogged down in the previous game’s plot, but New Dawn feels the need to conclude too much of what was set up in the last entry, which slows some story portions down to a crawl. The new antagonists aren’t much to speak of either. You see them a few times whereupon they do something revolting to establish that they’re bad, and they’ll randomly chime in on your radio just to remind you that they’re still there. That’s about it.
New Dawn’s direct sequel approach does allow for a setting with a strikingly unique aesthetic. Post-apocalypses in video games are far from novel, but New Dawn depicts a landscape that’s full of life and vegetation. It still takes place in Montana’s Hope County, but man-made structures are dilapidated and overgrown with tall grass, lush foliage, and piercingly pink flowers. Snow white deer also roam the landscape which give everything a more beautifully serene feel whenever guns aren’t being fired. The highwaymen enemies that blare their bass-heavy music feel far more derivative, but they do mesh well with New Dawn’s look and feel.
The moment to moment gameplay is almost identical to the last four games in the franchise. It’s an open world first-person shooter with missions to complete, collectibles to find, and side-quests to check off your list. The infamous outposts make yet another return, so a lot of your enjoyment will be based upon whether you still like liberating them the same way you’ve been doing it for the past seven years. For the unfamiliar, these outposts are enemy encampments that can be cleared out in whatever manner you prefer. You’ll get a resource bonus for doing everything stealthily, but there’s nothing stopping you from running in and mowing down the reinforcements that come your way after being spotted. The outposts in New Dawn are fewer in number, but each one can be liberated three times, with each subsequent attempt cranking up the difficulty by buffing up the enemies and increasing the number of alarm stations that trigger the waves of reinforcements. The stealth and shooting mechanics are still rock solid in New Dawn, so it remains fun, but it has nothing new to offer those who are doing it all for the umpteenth time.
The RPG-like progression is the only thing gameplay-wise that has seen a noticeable overhaul, but it doesn’t really change much. Everything has a level now: missions have levels that indicate difficulty, higher level enemies have more health, weapon levels represent their damage output, and vehicles have levels that translate to their durability. There are even persistent health bars and damage numbers that pop out of enemies with every hit. It sounds like a complete reimagining of the Far Cry formula, but it doesn’t radically change how you play. Your character doesn’t level up, so you’re required to craft higher tier weapons to deal with the tougher foes. This tiered weapon system is surprisingly fun to progress through since each new weapon provides a sizable damage boost, and blazing through easier missions with better gear can be a cathartic power trip. However, there are only four possible levels and enemies scale with you outside of missions, so it’s a progression curve that doesn’t last long. Finally crafting the highest-level weapons and adding them to your arsenal after initially struggling with tougher foes feels great, but the four-level system becomes almost entirely irrelevant afterwards. At the end of the day, you’re still doing the same stealth takedowns and using a largely identical arsenal to riddle the highwaymen with bullets and stab wounds.
New Dawn makes changes to the in-game economy by doing away with money entirely - you’ll instead find and use resources out in the environment to craft preset weapons and upgrade your headquarters. Like the new four-level system, this change to progression doesn’t really differentiate New Dawn from other recent Far Cry games as much as you’d expect it to. Certain types of resources are used to craft things like weapons and vehicles, while others have more specific purposes like ethanol which is used exclusively for base upgrades. Most of the resources are plentiful, and each new location has a preset number of a certain resource that can be gathered there. A couple of types are harder to find, but side activities like intercepting a supply drop or liberating outposts are consistent in their resource rewards which mitigates scarcity headaches.
As alluded to earlier, there's also the addition of a persistent home base called Prosperity. While such an idea is full of potential in an apocalyptic setting, it’s essentially just a skill tree and little else. You can walk through the walled-in settlement and NPC’s supposedly live there, but there isn’t really anything to do in Prosperity that can’t be done at any outpost. You’ll end up just using resources to upgrade its separate components in the pause menu to improve things like your total health or fast travel capabilities. You can still complete personal challenges to get skill points that you use to unlock perks like faster movement speed while crouched or lockpicking, but there aren’t as many here since some of the series staples were carved out to make the base upgrades feel worth the effort. The ability system works well enough since the variety of challenges incentivize you to try out different gameplay styles, but it’s a shame that the game has squandered the new base-building system to be essentially just another set of menus.
The story missions in New Dawn have hardly changed at all, and they suffer because of it. They’ve abandoned the previous non-linear structure of Far Cry 5’s promising mission design in favor of the traditional open world “this mission unlocks the next one” approach. It’s a notable step backward from the predecessor, and the uninteresting nature of the story doesn’t help things. With a turret section here and an escort mission there, it’s hard to maintain any interest when there's the more entertaining and hands-off side content. The story stuff even goes so far as to strip you of your weapons so that you go through everything exactly the way the developers want you to.
Online campaign co-op is back in New Dawn and, while it’s a blast to screw around the post-apocalyptic Hope County with a friend, it still suffers from a handful of incredibly frustrating progression issues that prevent both players from retaining the progress made while playing together. Only the host keeps progress toward story quests, liberated outposts, and base upgrades which isn’t new or unexpected, but it is disappointing. We hoped they would’ve sorted these progression problems out for the next go-around after Far Cry 5, but the host keeps all the credit for any co-op session and the guest will be dumped back into their world that’s full of things that they already completed with their buddy. Any unlocked perks stay unlocked, but everything that doesn’t carry over will make anyone joining another player’s session almost feel punished.
Companions make their obligatory return to keep you from feeling lonely if you don’t have a co-op partner, and their personalities and side-missions provide some welcome levity to the otherwise serious circumstances. Before adding any of them to your roster, you’ll have to complete an optional mission or two to earn their trust and make them comfortable enough to join your ranks. These side-missions follow the linear format, but these characters are far more interesting and talkative than anyone you encounter in the game’s main plot. They do begin to lean into stereotype territory with the likes of an elderly lady who’s obsessed with sharpshooting, or a loud-mothed and crass southerner that can’t help but embellish the truth, but they fit well in the setting. Their AI is still atrocious - getting stuck on all sorts of things and keeping idle in front of attacking enemies, but it can be nice having a dude along that spits profanities and occasionally fires a rocket launcher in a game that’s otherwise devoid of personality.
Secret stashes also make their return as treasure hunts, and it’s nice to have them back. They’re essentially mini-quests that involve getting a tip from an NPC, going to a marked location, and figuring out how to access the nearby stash of resources. They’re excellent little pockets of fun that offer both gameplay and narrative variety. Each stash has its own story to tell, and they usually require unconventional means to access. Completing them is well worth your while since each is stuffed with rare resources, free perk points, and even some of the game’s microtransaction currency which also rears its ugly head once again. There are only twenty of these secret stashes, and it’s a shame that there aren’t more because they’re great bits of fun that reward you amply for your efforts.
The only new structured optional content in New Dawn are the small but fantastic Expeditions. They’re little missions that take place in their own maps and not only function as fun distractions, but they also make excellent use of the apocalypse setting. One such Expedition will have you hopping along the rails of a crumbling roller coaster in a collapsing theme park, while another requires you to navigate the halls of Alcatraz. The Expeditions themselves are simple affairs that require you to get in, find a backpack that’s rigged with a tracking device, and get out in one piece while being bombarded with enemies that now know your position; but they’re no less fun to screw around in and complete. Each one can be played cooperatively which affords plenty of opportunities for tactical creativity and cunning coordination. The Expeditions even have some added replay value thanks to randomized starting positions, extraction points, and objective locations in addition to a progressively increasing difficulty. Each one largely unfolds the same way with some stealth sleuthing at the beginning that sparks into an all-out guns-blazing firefight at the end, but they’re a fun and creative breath of fresh air in a franchise that rarely innovates.
While the prospect of a post-apocalyptic spinoff seemed incredibly promising, New Dawn is surprisingly uninteresting. It has a pretty setting, one new weapon, a fun new mission type, and some new RPG systems. All this new stuff is welcome, and New Dawn retails for the sub-AAA price of $40, but it comes at the cost of a squandered base building system, identical shooting mechanics, no Far Cry Arcade multiplayer, another uninteresting story, a much smaller map, and side content that’s meant to be repeated with minor enemy differences. What could’ve been a fun little experiment in the vein of Far Cry Primal is instead a minor sequel that continues to live in the shadow of Far Cry 3. New Dawn is still fun, don’t get me wrong, but most will be better served by dusting off a recent Far Cry game they haven't beat yet and giving that a go, as they’ll be saving a chunk of change and sacrificing next to nothing in the process.