When it comes to a typical Far Cry game the usual setup sees you, the player, taking on a big bad man who has near total control over a previously unexplored corner of the world. New Dawn is not your typical Far Cry game though, which is why we're up against two big bads, both of them women (twins Mickey and Lou), and we're doing so in Hope County, the setting of the last game, 2018's Far Cry 5. It's not the same Hope County though, largely because since the last game took place, a nuclear winter that lasted several years has come and gone, and now, 17 years after the events FC5, we're back in town and things are looking rather different.
For starters, nature has somewhat reclaimed the place. Plant life creeps over ragged buildings, society has been reset, and nearly all of the everyday comforts that we all take for granted have fallen by the wayside. It's familiar, yes, but it's not the same place - not even close - and while we had moments of déjà vu as we explored, this feels like a new play space. Simply put, it's not a simple re-skin even if there are unavoidable similarities.
What's more, you're not the same person. You're not even from the area. Following the nuclear apocalypse, a number of factions sprung up, including the one you're a part of. In fact, you're the second in command to enigmatic leader Thomas Rush, a captain of this resistance of sorts, and along with your brethren you're on a train heading around the country helping to liberate people trapped under the yoke of those who would abuse the vacuum of power that now engulfs the country. The only problem is, on your way to Hope County, your train is hijacked and your resistance scatters to the wind. Cue a quest to put things right, kick some villainous posterior, hunt some animals and gather resources, and generally be a badass who takes no nonsense from those who try to oppress their fellow man. In that sense, this is a pretty standard Far Cry.
There's much more to New Dawn that differentiates it from its predecessor than the setting. Perhaps the most notable change is the introduction of light RPG mechanics. Cutting a long story short, you'll need to level up your gear as you go, and having low-quality equipment effectively gates content. You can go where you want, that much is true, but when you get there, if you're not adequately armed, you're going to struggle. We found that out the hard way when we tackled one of the new outposts. Ostensibly, they're the same as before, but once you've beaten them you can rinse them for resources - or "scavenge" them for supplies - and in doing so hand them back over to the enemy. At this point they go up a level, the local grunts are upgraded to more capable soldiers, and if you approach them with the same low-level weapons that you used before you'll likely see the Game Over screen sooner rather than later.
Outposts have been upgraded, but they're hardly new. Expeditions, on the other hand, are totally new. These standalone missions take you to different areas across North America and you're tasked with getting in, grabbing a package, and then getting out ready for helicopter extraction. Like the aforementioned outposts they also level up, so once you've completed them you can go back and play against hardier soldiers and try and claim more lucrative rewards. Oh, and you can play both of them, and indeed the whole campaign, in co-op.
We completed one of the expeditions during our hands-on time. The level was set on an old aircraft carrier, and naturally, it was full of enemy soldiers. We snuck in, stabbed a couple of guards, found the package, although by then we'd alerted the Highwaymen to our presence and it was a case of grabbing the gear and heading to a nearby beach so we could get to the chopper and escape. It was hardly revolutionary stuff, but it was a nice change of pace from exploring Hope County and we envisaged these being a highlight much in the same way as the outposts are, perhaps even more so as the isolated nature of these areas allows the developers to explore new regions, add more detail, and crank up the number of enemies.
Once you're done with your expedition (there are going to be seven on the disc - if that's not an antiquated way of looking at things) it's back to Hope County for more exploration and story missions. In FC5 you had to tackle a certain number of missions to bring the Seed family out of hiding, but things are going to work a little differently in New Dawn, and you'll be invited to meet your opponents at a designated point when the time is right, rather than have them turn up unannounced. You'll still be meeting allies out in the world, doing jobs for them, taking out Highwaymen wherever possible, and generally stamping out injustice whenever you see it.
That said, by the looks of it you won't be doing quite as much stamping as you did in Far Cry 5. One of our biggest criticisms of the last game was that the open world felt far too aggressive and combat was initiated a little too often; getting anywhere on the map would often end up taking too long. One thing that we noticed (in this admittedly not final build of the game) is that we got attacked by fewer animals, and it felt like there were fewer enemies just waiting around looking for a fight. If the density of danger remains the same in the final build, we'll consider it an improvement.
It could also be argued that being left alone so we can explore more freely lets us discover the fascinating world that Ubisoft has built on top of the foundations laid down in FC5. For starters, it's a colourful place, and the series' love of bold pinks finds its way into plenty of environmental details. Even the wildlife has changed just a little. We're not talking about bold mutations and strange fang-toothed beasties, rather these are more subtle alterations to nature, but the changes do make a difference and help to make this Hope County feel different to the old one.
Other things have changed with regards to your exploration of Hope County. The towers that dominate the skylines of so many Ubisoft games are once again absent, and so if you want to find out more about the local area you'll have to talk to a scout (including their ringleader, who's working on his own version of Wikipedia for the post-apocalyptic age). These scouts, usually after you've helped them, will reveal more about what's in your vicinity, including information about outposts, enticing loot, where the best hunting spots are, as well as where the new treasure hunts can be found. There's also a new feature called Dear Photograph, where the player has to take a picture of the old Hope County and line it up to the same location (kind of like the Captured Memories in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). It certainly sounds like there's going to be lots to keep us busy.
We played a couple of hours of single-player, and then started again but in co-op, so we didn't get to see much beyond the area where the game starts. We did, however, get to poke our nose around our base of operations, which you can level up using the resources found out in the world. In fact, resource gathering and supplying your base is going to feed into your overall progress and looks to be a major focus of the game. Another thing that we didn't get to see much more of was the Peggies - the cultish antagonists from the last game - and they're going to feature at some point, creative director Jean-Sebastien Decant told us when spoke in London. How and why we do not know, but we're certainly interested in finding out.
While New Dawn felt like a quintessential Far Cry experience in many respects, in other areas it's clear that the series needed a bit of variation lest we start to suffer from a bit of burnout. Despite the familiar setting, this next entry looks set to deliver that variety, and the Expeditions are the most obvious example. Their wildly different settings offer the developers plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs but remain within the game's wider framework. Elsewhere we're going to see changes that affect the pacing the main story, the way we tackle late game content, and of course, there's going to be plenty of thematically-linked content that leans into the post-apocalyptic setting. Far Cry: New Dawn is shaping up to be another enjoyable entry in the series, bringing more of the chaotic violence and tongue-in-cheek world design that the series is known for. If that sounds like a good thing to you, don't be too worried about the prospect of taking another trip to Hope County - it's not the same place it once was, but it's still got plenty to offer.