While many may have first mistaken Far Cry: New Dawn for a Blood Dragon-like spin-off, with many of the series' more serious overtones being replaced by psychedelic self-awareness and 80s humour, it soon became clear that Ubisoft Montreal allowed itself to be a little more ambitious this time around. Only one year has passed since the launch of Far Cry 5, and we're already back to visit Hope County, but why not try a more serious story? How about a post-apocalyptic twist on things.
In other words, it is clear from the start that Ubisoft has, in many ways, been far more ambitious with this spin-off than first assumed, and that is despite the fact that many design elements have passed directly from Far Cry 5 to New Dawn.
But what is New Dawn? Let's start with the basics. To be cynical, New Dawn is in many ways a post-apocalyptic "reskin" of Far Cry 5 's Hope County, which you are now exploring 17 years after the atomic bombs came down and wiped out a great deal of humanity. Flora and fauna have reclaimed the ruins of the now crushed civilization, but people who sought refuge in bunkers or otherwise survived the doomsday have now resurfaced and have begun to rebuild infrastructure. You will see other kinds of animals, more colourful surroundings, ruins where small towns once lay, Mad Max-inspired vehicles, and one crazy weapon after another.
But unlike Blood Dragon, New Dawn is not an exaggerated parody, because it is actually a serious story of survival, and of putting down the foundation of what ultimately becomes a new human civilisation. You are the right-hand man/woman of the charismatic and resourceful Thomas Rush, and together with a group of loyal followers, you have made it your mission to help small grassroots communities around the United States to restore law and order and rebuild. On the way to Hope County, however, everything goes wrong thanks to the two violent and eerie twins Mickey and Lou, who want what you've got and therefore kidnap Rush. It is now up to you to unite the people of Hope County, get Rush back, rebuild Prosperity, and defeat the twins. Although there are a number of bizarre aspects of the whole narrative set-up and a sarcastic angle is a natural part of the package, Far Cry: New Dawn is a game to be taken seriously.
Although it hasn't baked the same kind of sensitive subject into its story as was the case in Far Cry 5, the game, like its predecessor, wants to ride the line between comedy and brutal seriousness, and surprisingly it manages to take that pretty far. In fact, the story is much more linear this time, something we actually missed. Where you could deal with missions in the order you wanted in Far Cry 5 (apart from the triggered story missions), New Dawn is far more traditional where you have side missions and main missions, and where the story evolves in one uniform direction, and that is something of a relief. The pace is maintained thanks to the more linear progression, and in many ways, this is closer to the sort of narrative experience we're used to in a Far Cry game. At least compared to Far Cry 5.
New Dawn is a slightly smaller experience than Far Cry 5, but not in the way one would immediately think. The game is not only more linear, but it is also more streamlined. First of all, you are not driving from town to town, but are rooted in one place, namely Prosperity. A normal Far Cry experience offers a lot of loot, so the developers obviously thought to give this loot a function, a role to play, a reason to exist, and from here the idea of the upgradeable main base was born. You collect duct tape, motherboards, titanium and other junk, as well as the primary resource - ethanol - from all around and this is used to upgrade the base. Upgrades provide the opportunity to create new weapons, grow plants, get more information about the surroundings, and different vehicles. It's a brilliant way to give the player a primary and structured purpose, and even though the systems are primitive, they are extremely effective. Going out into the wilderness for more Titanium to create a new rifle, or more ethanol to upgrade the garden is a source of motivation that simply works. Furthermore, it also gives the player a narrative purpose. You are in Hope County to strengthen the locals through Prosperity, and the fruit of your labours is constantly seen in camp.
Then, as you head on out into Hope County, you'll recognise plenty of things. There are Hideouts which are small individual puzzles that are rewarded with perk points and resources, Outposts to be captured, animals to hunt, fish to catch, and collectables to ... well, collect. However, there are a number of differences here that force you to change your approach. Ubisoft Montreal has introduced light RPG mechanics, which means that each enemy comes in levels 1-4, indicated by colour; grey, blue, purple or yellow. The quality of your weapons is also divided into the same categories, and as you upgrade your base, you gain access to stronger weapons. In order to get more ethanol, it is also possible to "scavenge" an already captured Outpost. Then the level of all enemies increases, and it is now more difficult to overtake. It's a small but quite fun change for those who constantly want to be challenged. Not only that, suddenly running into a mutated bison at level 4 requires ammunition and patience, and precisely this kind of diversion gives the world a little extra edge. These light RPG mechanics hardly ever hurt the experience.
In addition, the entire game is available cooperatively with a friend, and this system works just as smoothly as in Far Cry 5. It is both entertaining but also without major technical problems. However, if you are more interested in having a computer-controlled companion with you, there are a number of allies that you are recruiting throughout the county, and that you also train, which means that they get more skills in combat. It's a solid system.
Furthermore, Far Cry: New Dawn offers a number of Expeditions, which are perhaps the most notable new feature of the game. By upgrading your base, you get access to a helicopter pilot who offers to fly you around to various hotspots in the post-apocalyptic United States, such as the Five Flags theme park or Navajo Bridge. The idea is that you get a separate challenge where you, either alone or with a friend, can flex your tactical muscles, and smuggle a package out of a hostile stronghold. You can sneak in as you like, but while you wait for the helicopter to pick you up, you are automatically detected, so there is a nice balance between intense combat and tactical sneaking, and as a bonus, you get a change of scenery. In reality, it's just a little tweak on the Outpost formula, but when the core component, namely the combat, works so well, more content built on the same foundation is hardly an issue.
It sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It is surprisingly the case that, by scaling things back a little, telling the story more directly, introducing mechanics where it matters, and rooting the player in the world you're trying to save, Far Cry: New Dawn actually comes closer to being an optimal Far Cry experience than Far Cry 5 did.
But then we arrive at the elephant in the room. Far Cry: New Dawn is at the time of writing (a few days before release) in a slightly messy state, and it's not just technical flaws that need attention; the whole world could have done with a coat of paint. Often textures look flat and the quality is uneven. At the same time, the game stalled a number of times, and the synchronisation between lips and voice acting is a bit hit and miss. However, we will throw in the caveat that some things can be saved with the Day 1 update, a more and more common practice. If so, we would like to look at New Dawn again.
Fortunately, a slightly mediocre technical state is not enough to ruin the overall impression of New Dawn. Ubisoft Montreal has recycled some structural elements and the same world, but by introducing RPG elements, grounding the playing in the world, and reverting to a more linear narrative progression gets it closer to the optimal Far Cry experience. In fact, we hope that many of these elements will go on to become features in future Far Cry titles. From a mechanical point of view, New Dawn is a positive surprise to say the least, and that is what matters most.
Correction: The original version of this review stated that the game was built using the AnvilNext engine, but that isn't actually the case and it was made using a modified version of the CryEngine called the Dunia Engine, much like previous entries in the series.