Far Cry New Dawn Review: A Vibrant Wasteland

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When I last visited Hope County, I was handcuffed to a bed by cult leader Joseph Seed, probably about to be indoctrinated. It wasn't a satisfying ending by most people's standards, especially when they entirety of the game was spent fighting Seed and his followers.

But Ubisoft is taking another bite at the apple and returning gamers to Hope County, 17 years later, for Far Cry: New Dawn. The world as we knew it is gone, burned away by nuclear fire. What remains might just be paradise. However, every paradise has a serpent –– this time around there's two.

Where We Left Off

So it turns out, Joseph Seed was right. The apocalypse was indeed at hand and came in the form of nuclear bombs. Thankfully, Hope County was a hotbed of doomsday preppers with plenty of well-stocked bunkers to hunker down in. Seventeen years after the initial fallout,  the Hope County denizens who survived re-emerge above ground and start over.

Despite all the obvious hardships, they manage to carve out a piece of paradise called Prosperity. And everything's pretty good until a Mad-Max-esque gang called the Highwaymen come and take everything. Now it's your job to get it back.

Post-Apocalyptic Paradise

Typically, when I'm fighting my way through a post-apocalyptic hellscape, it's made from varying shades of brown, with some gray and black thrown in for good measure. New Dawn is a welcome departure from the usual shabby dressings. Seventeen years after the bombs dropped, Hope County might be even prettier than the first time I saw it in Far Cry 5.

Thanks to a “super bloom” after years of nuclear winter, forests are lush, verdant and bursting with life. While traveling to my next mission, I picked a variety of vibrantly colored medicinal plants that ranged from a deep purple to a golden yellow. Gentle flowing streams gave way to either placid ponds or roaring rapids. Outside of the Highwaymen trying to gun me down at every opportunity, it's downright bucolic.

However, 17 years was enough time for some of the more serious effects of the nuclear fallout to dissipate, but not all of them. During my travels, I ran across a herd of snow-white deer dashing through a field. While the scene was definitely breathtaking, I had a sneaking suspicion that there were going to be some not-so-cute mutations to deal with somewhere down the line. And I was proven right by Elite-level “Monstrous” Beasts.

Covered in green and white splotches of what appears to be mold, these animals are larger than their regular counterparts and have a glowing orange-red patch of radiation. So far, I've taken down the boar and the bison and both encounters took a lot of ammo, skill and a bit of luck.

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The biggest change you'll notice in Hope County are the buildings, or lack thereof. Ubisoft Montreal did a great job of remixing the setting of the previous game. If you played Far Cry 5, you might be able to make out a few landmarks. I definitely got extreme deja vu when I had to revisit John Seed’s bunker. However, thanks to the blast, the town has been pretty much demolished. The only way you’ll recognize most places is via a photograph side quest. Otherwise, most of buildings you’ll run across will have gotten a coat of Highwayman paint -- pink, yellow and disjointed or gutted out hovels. And even though I explored just about every nook and cranny of Hope County the first time around, New Dawn was like seeing the place for the first time.

A Dash of RPG

So at its core, this is your standard Far Cry title. The world is open and immense with the highly polished fighting and scavenging mechanic that gamers have come to expect from the series. But in an attempt to shake things up and really lean into that post-apocalyptic vibe, Ubisoft added a few RPG elements that you'’d typically see in the Fallout series.

Now when you scavenge for junk, you're not just going to be crafting explosives and extra ammo. Now you'’ll be making legitimate weapons, like the crossbow reconfigured to shoot saw blades that I wielded during the demo. You'll also need scrap and resources to build out your home base of Prosperity. Fun fact: Gasoline goes bad after three years, so since we’re 17 years later in the story, ethanol is now king. You'll need it to keep your base running and to explore what's left of the United States.

But it's not just your weapons and base that'’s getting shiny new RPG elements. Outposts and enemies can also level up. In the case of Outposts, you can either hold them or scavenge for resources. If you choose scavenge, the Highwaymen come right back in and take it over, only this time the replenished forces make it that much harder to take back the Outpost. The more difficult the exercise, the bigger the reward, which means more ethanol and special crafting items like carbon fiber and circuit boards.  So don't be afraid to hit a place up a few times over the course of the game, just be sure you have appropriate weaponry when you do.

As far as your enemies go, the more powerful they are, the more armor they’ll have equipped and the more powerful weapons they'll wield. I highly advise scoping out the lay of the land before you go running willy-nilly into any situation. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, out of shotgun ammo trying to tackle a nearly- fully armored madman with a flamethrower. It did not end well for me. But after an upgrade to Prosperity, which allowed me to craft a sweet assault rifle and a big ole’ boomstick and I came back with a vengeance.

And speaking of weapons, they have almost as much color and personality as all the side characters. I mean there’s an actual saw cannon that can be upgraded to shoot six blades that lock onto your enemies. And to play up that post-apocalyptic ingenuity, there are guns that use silencers fashioned from plastic bags and soda bottles.

Like Riding a Bike

If you’ve played any of the entries in the series after 3, you know that New Dawn is a first-person shooter that lets you play your way. You can run and gun, sneak, use in-game friends or go co-op to bring the pain to the Twins. Despite having a rather large arsenal of weapons to choose from, each managed to have its own unique feel. Taking it back to Far Cry: Primal the bow became one of my go-to weapons -- I even managed to take out a guy flying a chopper with a headshot.

As solid as the gunplay is, the driving is still a bit floaty. Also, I’m not too thrilled that Ubisoft took away the option of switching to third-person. I never hit my stride and found myself always veering off into some ditch, much to the chagrin of the prisoners in the truck I was chasing.

Ubisoft also needs to work on object interaction. As is, the system is spotty, causing me to do all sorts of maneuvers to trying to cue up the interaction button. It’s fine when you’re trying to loot a prepper stash, but I caught too many bullets trying to revive Guns and Fangs for Hire or trying to pick up a new weapon. It’s uncanny in such an otherwise polished game.

Double Trouble

Typically, Far Cry games consist of the protagonist going through legions of soldiers controlled by three or four mini-bosses before you take on the main antagonist. New Dawn sticks to this format for the most part. But instead of one main bad guy, you get two, and they're women. Nikki and Lou are the twin masterminds of the Highwaymen, the anarchist group that's turning what could be a post-apocalyptic paradise into a living hell. Whether it's stealing weapons, food or people, one thing's for sure. If The Twins see it, they want it, and they're not going to ask nicely.

So just how bad are The Twins and the Highwaymen? They're a roving band of people who live for today. They're not really sure if they're going to make it to tomorrow. But it doesn't matter as long as they're enjoying themselves now. Which, in small doses, doesn't sound too bad. But when the Highwaymen arrive on Prosperity's doorstep, the situation goes south so fast that you'll have to work with Joseph Seed, the charismatic doomsday cult leader of the Project at Eden's Gate, the big bad from Far Cry 5. So far, there's no direct word on how closely you'll be working with Seed, but rest assured, you'll want to try to keep him at arms length.

But back to The Twins. When the team started working on New Dawn, they knew they wanted a female villain, and they wanted twins.

"Usually villains in Far Cry have a really one-on-one experience with the player. It's the player and one other person that's trying to fill up the screen," said narrative director Olivia Alexander.

"And we really wanted to see what happened if there were if there were two and there was this familial dynamic that the player was coming face to face with. That there were these two people on united front against them."

And if you're expecting some over-the-top evil caricatures, you might want to go play something else. After holding casting calls (some with actual biological twins), Ubisoft found the actors Cara Ricketts and Leslie L. Miller to bring Mickey and Lou to life. While there will be that twin dynamic, they "...are very much three-dimensional-rounded people," according to Alexander.

"Lou will definitely see things with a certain nuance, while Mickey sees things with her own sort of different way."

However, The Twins share the same brutal philosophy and will have no problem doling out the pain. During one incredibly tense scene, Mickey and Lou nab some of the kids living in Prosperity. After publicly calling you out, Mikki cavalierly hands one of the kids a live grenade to hold after taking the pin. Then after delivering a few more threats, she leaves, but not before tossing you the pin so you can save what’s now a severely traumatized kid.

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And where does Joseph Seed fit into all of this madness? I’m not sure. It seems that the brand new world he foresaw isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. But since the Highwaymen are causing him grief, it’s an enemy-of-my-enemy situation. Besides, he might have more problems from the ones closest to him. Either way, keep an eye on him at all times, that’s if you can keep a straight head with all that hallucinogenic bliss floating through the air.

Fan Service

If you played Far Cry 5, you got really familiar with the denizens of Hope County as you fought back against the forces of Eden's Gate, derisively known as Peggies. And you might have wondered what happened to some of your favorite doomsday preppers. New Dawn will give you plenty of answers, some of which you might not be happy with.

Let’s start  with the good news. Kim Rye and her daughter, Carmina, survived the bombs. In fact, they're going to be your point of contact throughout a portion of the game. When the bombs dropped, Carmina was only a newborn, and she reveals during the game trailer that she was 6 years old when she first saw the sun. Other survivors include Pastor Jerome and Grace Armstrong, your expert sniper in Far Cry 5.

While it was definitely good to see some of my favorite Hope County denizens still around to fight the good fight, I wasn't happy to see that Seed and the Peggies made it. And according to some early theories, it looks like Rook, the protagonist of FC5, did not fare as well I would have liked. But after everything that happened in the previous title, I'm not surprised.

Bottom Line

Ubisoft’s done it again. From the ashes and gnashed teeth of Far Cry 5 comes New Dawn, a direct sequel looking to pick up where its predecessor left off. Forever changed from nuclear fallout, New Dawn is a visual treat with the semi-polished gameplay I've come to know and love. Some of the dialogue is a bit over-the-top, but the Twins exude a genuine malice that you can’t look away from.

If I had any one complaint, it’s the spotty object interaction. There were far too many times where I was trying to grab a weapon or revive someone but the corresponding button didn’t appear. Having to needle and thread your position is frustration, especially with a game as polished as Far Cry.

But if you’ve got 20 or so hours to spare and want to see how the folks in Hope County fared after the bombs dropped, you should pick up Far Cry: New Dawn. It’s a fun game with compelling villains and a pretty satisfying ending.  

Credit: Ubisoft

Sherri L. Smith

Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.