Far Cry 5 not only takes place in a country and location that prides itself on its freedom and opportunity but also exemplifies that mantra in its gameplay. The game is a rare title that espouses choice and player agency and delivers on those promises, offering an entirely new set of systems that allows players to progress any way they see fit. Far Cry 5 provides all of the typical insanity and emergent moments that the series is known for, while also shaking up exploration and storytelling in ways that other open-world titles could learn from. Players can still light bears on fire, stealthily take down outposts, and javelin enemies using a shovel adorned with a smiley face, yet these absurd actions now move the story along. The new systems of progressing through the narrative do not always land, but they show a future that could change the way players approach free-roaming titles and make major shifts in a genre that needs a serious shot of adrenaline.
Far Cry 5 takes place in Hope County, Montana, that, while less exotic a location to many than the series’s previous outings, still has an air of adventure and mystery, especially to non-American players. In fact, Montana is still exotic to many of the country’s locals, with a population barely breaking the one million mark. The depiction of this majestic state is the crowning achievement of Far Cry 5, and the focus on a realistic, named location (though Hope County itself is fictional) is a boon to the series’s typical fish-out-of-water scenario. Montana is exquisitely detailed, full of life, and rivals many of the best open worlds of the last decade. The geography feels real, the locales are varied and gorgeous, and every turn offers little touches that enhance exploration in ways the series has yet seen. From character customization to the animals to the music, Montana feels authentic like no other fictional location has in years: the perfect amalgamation of a small town summer in the United States.
The enemy in this new location is distinctly recognizable compared to past efforts in the series. A cult led by a man named Joseph Seed and his three siblings has taken over the county, cutting off communication and gaining control through subversion, violence, and indoctrination. The line is always walked between whether people willingly join or are forced, but the story shies away from giving the cult any real motivation or enemies any real empathy. Outside of the Seed family, most of the cannon fodder comprises bearded men and scruffy women with iron crosses tattooed on their foreheads. These foes will scream about God and sin ad nauseam, but never feel like contemporaries or locals turned to villains, making them no different from the usual foreign element that players fought throughout previous entries.
Hope County is an incredible facsimile of Montana, and pulls from the best elements of the state, featuring steep mountains; rolling hills; rivers; and flat, open farmland. Each area has different missions, enemy types, and encounters that feel distinct to their geography and the cult leader that occupies it. Distinct sections offer different landscapes and gameplay opportunities, each of which comes with a unique atmosphere and visuals while staying within the artistic scope of the world. Hope County is a joy to traverse not only because of its inherent beauty but also because in part of the addition of new modes of transportation. Far Cry 5 sees the first time that a suite of flying vehicles is introduced to the series, and the enhanced driving mechanics make every vehicle a pleasure to explore with. None of these additions break the game, as the world has been expanded to make due, and, as a result, Montana is much larger than any previous Far Cry game world.
Far Cry 5 changes the leveling, story progression, and crafting systems of previous titles. Gone are the need to hunt for pelts to craft gear and upgrades, leveling up to earn new abilities, and the need to progress through a linear set of story missions to complete the critical path. Hunting earns players money, making it optional for those who are inclined to pursue other avenues of income such as taking down outposts or raiding “Prepper” stashes. Upgrades are earned by completing challenges and finding these “Prepper” stashes around the world, which make up some of the best exploration-based content in the game. Story progression is tied to a meter, which fills up by completing nearly anything in the world, from destroying convoys and taking outposts to side missions and exploration. Players can choose how to tackle each sector and not feel burdened to grind or complete every piece of side content before progressing through the story, and they can play any way they would like while still achieving the ultimate goals of the game. The new systems lend weight to every action and make all the side content feel as worthwhile as the story missions and exploration.
The game also changes the way quests are encountered, allowing exploration to lead to emergent discovery and a real sense of accomplishment. Rather than having missions tied to hubs or locations with major characters alone, as is typical with open-world titles, the game has plenty of non-player characters requiring rescue or who are wandering the wilderness, offering little bits of information on the location of new quest givers, activities, or stashes for players to tackle. The system leads to players setting out to just enjoy the world and making progress by playing the way they want to. One can drive down a road and see a civilian to be rescued, who will then offer the location of stash, which will lead to more dynamic encounters on the way. These encounters end up trickling content that feels unique and tailored to each player, offering an experience that is different for everyone involved in the plight of Hope County. Exploration of Montana is varied, enjoyable, and exciting no matter what direction a player chooses to set out in, and the Crackdown-like structure of tackling areas and cult leaders at will only increases the sense of freedom.
The new resistance system is the basis behind the freedom of progression. Each area has a meter tied to it that is slowly filled with any number of player actions. The major issue with the system is that it requires the game to force the story onto the player. Once a quarter of the bar is filled, the protagonist is captured, no matter where they are in the world or what they are doing. A powerful hit-squad will arrive, drugging and capturing the character. Following this event, the forced story sections take place, and, usually, each is a monologue by the head of the cult in that area, followed by a linear mission. These capture sections happen at least four times in each of the three sections, and, while they highlight the villains in typical Far Cry fashion, they feel downright absurd in their vehicle of delivery. The player is constantly caught, only to continuously escape, much to the chagrin of the cult, and this recurring process serves to make the enemy forces seem completely incompetent. The writing is generally evocative and poignant, but the strict avoidance of politics and truly deep religious inquiry makes the villains feel as if they are talking in circles and saying nothing of value. Other than an intense, terrifying opening and the left-field ending of the story, no single element has any real lasting impact, feeling like a compromise due to the new systems that change progression. On top of the story foibles, the player character is a silent protagonist as a result of the new character customization system, which, for the first time, allows players to choose their race and gender, along with spending in-game money on clothes and cosmetic items. While the issues with storytelling are disappointing, the changes are two steps forward and only a step back, at most, and the hope remains that other titles will adopt this style of emergent design and work to fix the storytelling troubles in the future.
A new feature that harkens back to the glory days of Far Cry 2 is the Guns-For-Hire system, where players encounter unique characters who can help as AI companions along the way. Once their introductory quests are completed, the varied cast can be called upon and switched up at any time, with each fitting different needs and playstyles. While some offer helicopters or planes as air support, others are stealthier and more helpful for ground combat, and even animals can be called to the player’s aid, which redeploys some of the mechanics from Far Cry: Primal. The Guns-For-Hire system adds to the suite of tools at the player’s disposal, allowing for more dynamic fights and interesting experiences in the open world. The AI companions will drive vehicles, revive players, and fight alongside them through the entire game. The new system helps alleviate frustration through the revive mechanic, but the AI has issues with pathing and will routinely take too long to reach the player. Overall the new Guns-For-Hire system adds another layer to the insanity on display and only makes for more varied, intense, and even larger scale encounters.
Far Cry 5 offers the best mechanics the series has seen to date, from much-needed updates to driving and shooting to the addition of vehicles, the Guns-For-Hire system, and the changes in progression. On top of the new additions and updates, Hope County, Montana is the most well-realized and original location the series has seen to date and one of the best open-worlds to come around this generation. The variety of content, the way players discover it, and the process of progression all lend to a sense of freedom and possibility befitting the eye-catching northwest American locale. The story falters where past entries did not, with less memorable villains and repetition in the mission structure, but it is a worthwhile sacrifice to allow players to enjoy the game at their will. Far Cry 5 shows that the series is willing to head into new territory; whether it continues on this trajectory remains to be seen, but the ideas here could breathe new life into the open-world genre as a whole. Ubisoft’s design philosophy feels indebted to the game’s new location, as it is imbued with a unique sense of freedom and power to the individual not previously seen in the series. While the new changes are not all rocket-pops and fireworks, Far Cry 5 still goes off with a bang worthy of any Fourth of July celebration.
Reviewed on Xbox One