Far Cry New Dawn preview: fresh challenges in a familiar world

Far Cry New Dawn takes us to the end of the world and the beginning of another in our hands-on preview...

Far Cry New Dawn takes place 17 years after the catastrophic ending of Far Cry 5, and developer Ubisoft Montreal is offering up a colourful riff on the post-apocalypse milieu. While you’ll explore the same map that you did in Far Cry 5, Hope County has transformed significantly. The once modernised landscape has been reclaimed by nature, and various factions fight over ethanol, the rarest and most valuable resource, to rebuild the world in their image.

I was invited to play the first few hours of the campaign and, in scale, New Dawn seems more comparable to Far Cry Primal than Far Cry: Blood Dragon. While this spin-off harbours tantalising secrets (and new developments revolving around storylines and characters carried over from Far Cry 5), the game has been designed to be perfectly approachable for new players who haven’t played the mainline title.

According to New Dawn’s creative director, Jean-Sebastien Decant, the idea for the game sprouted from the rubble left in the aftermath of Far Cry 5’s most infamous ending, which saw Hope County get blown to high heaven. (The game has multiple endings depending on your choices.)

“We were pondering different ideas of how to end the game,” Decant explains. “[The nuclear ending] opened up a lot of opportunities. We thought, wow, this allows us to get to Far Cry set in a post-apocalyptic setting, [which] we’ve wanted to do for such a long time. If you look at the post-apocalyptic themes, it’s actually close to what Far Cry is. It’s a lawless frontier, you have a space in which the wildlife and animals are quite dangerous, and groups of people are fighting for survival.”

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At its core, New Dawn operates largely just like any recent entry in the series. But the post-apocalyptic setting does offer a fresh aesthetic. Flora and fauna have essentially swallowed all remnants of civilization (cars are half embedded in the earth’s crust, buildings are covered in vines, bright purple and yellow flowers are in bloom everywhere you turn), an ostensibly hopeful sight until you realise that the planet seems to have been doing just fine without humans, a troubling thought that permeates the campaign.

This overgrown version of Hope County also offers a slew of new gameplay options. “It was really the context of the post-apocalyptic setting that gave us ideas and opportunities,” Decant says. “[The player is] lacking resources, the world is a little more dangerous… how can we translate that into gameplay? That’s how we came up with the light RPG approach. Characters might be more dangerous than before, so you’d better be prepared. And you’d better look around for resources to build tools that will help you take on big challenges.”

Indeed, light RPG elements have been implemented in New Dawn. Weapon crafting works hand-in-hand with the game’s emphasis on resource gathering, and both guns and characters have ranks, which encourages you to weigh your rank against a group of enemies before deciding to confront them head-on. In my playthrough, the higher ranked enemies did pose a far greater challenge than weaker ones, but their higher ranking wasn’t intimidating enough to deter me from running in guns blazing, and in most cases, while these encounters were challenging, I typically came out on top despite being outranked. This was only the first section of the game, so perhaps the ranking system becomes more pertinent later on.

The game’s main antagonists are twins Mickey and Lou, who lead the Highwaymen, essentially pirates who overtake communities by force. It’s your mission to fight off the Highwaymen by taking over outposts, sabotaging (or better yet, looting) their ethanol supplies, and generally opening fire on them wherever they’re in sight.

Speaking of outposts, they operate a little differently this time around. When you claim one, you have the choice of either keeping it and using it as a base and fast travel point or scavenge it for supplies and abandon it. Doing so will allow the Highwaymen to reclaim the outpost and fortify it with stronger defences. Capturing the reclaimed outpost again will reap much greater rewards. It’s a nice system that increases replayability in a way that fits snugly within the narrative.

Aside from gameplay tweaks like this, New Dawn doesn’t deviate too much from the Far Cry formula—there are both human and animal companions you can choose to accompany you on your missions of mass murder, and there’s a perk system that adds wrinkles to both combat and traversal.

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But there is one new feature, called “Expeditions,” that feels quite fresh and expands the experience in a big way. In these missions, you’ll be helicoptered away to other areas of the country to contend with the Highwaymen (they’ve got chapters all across the country) over valuable supplies and items. These missions are unique in that they’re not tethered to the main map, so they’re like more highly curated and specialised outposts that have been optimised for co-op play.

“I was excited by the idea of visiting other places outside of Hope County,” Decant says of the game’s expeditions. “I wanted a Six Flags [theme park] in the Bayou, and I wanted to visit Alcatraz, and we have it.”

The Expedition I embarked on with a co-op buddy saw us zip-lining down from a cliff to the flight deck of a massive aircraft carrier. We were tasked with infiltrating the bowels of the ship to retrieve a package and then escaping to an extraction point on a nearby beach, fending off waves of enemies throughout.

Gunning down baddies with a friend was a lot of fun, which wasn’t a huge surprise. What was surprising, though, was how much the level design added to the fun. The zip-lines were pretty cool, but once we hit the flight deck, things got quite frantic in a good way. I got a little overwhelmed, running and gunning out in the open, so I ducked into a doorway that happened to lead me up the gullet of the ship’s flight control tower, downing enemies as I ascended floor by floor.

At the top, I popped out onto a walkway that conveniently presented a mounted turret that I gleefully used to rain hell down upon the sea of armed thugs surrounding my partner, who was fending them off with a flamethrower. As if this wasn’t awesome enough, I then zip-lined back down to the flight deck (firing off rounds on my way down, as you do), jumped down into the cargo bay, grabbed the valuable package, and then sprinted to the beach, where I reunited with my buddy and took on a few more waves of grunts before our helicopter extracted us from the mission. Needless to say, the Expeditions look fantastic and could be the very best thing New Dawn has to offer.

The few hours I spent with New Dawn were enjoyable, and I look forward to exploring the new Hope County further and uncovering more of the story, particularly the threads that tie back into Far Cry 5.

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Far Cry New Dawn launches on February 15th 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.