If you're familiar with the premise of Far Cry--the idea of a one-person army taking on overwhelming hostile forces in large, unpredictable surroundings--then you know exactly what Far Cry 5 feels like. You'll engage in different styles of offensive conflict; attempt to tame the wild, natural environment to your advantage; and slowly build a guerilla resistance in the background. But for its fifth mainline entry, the series formula has undergone some very positive refinements, which make its core hook of exploring and engaging with its volatile setting a more free-flowing and pleasant experience. It lets you fully enjoy the sights and activities of its beautiful and interesting open-world without too many overt distractions.
The biggest change is that the series is finally confident enough to put you in charge of your own progression. After a brief orientation, the entire region of Hope County, Montana USA is immediately open for exploration. Three intimidatingly large regions surround your starting point, and you're given only a gentle suggestion of a good first destination. The moment when you're shown all the equally accessible possibilities and the furthest reaches of the map feels liberating--you may even be crippled by the choice, and that's a good problem to have.
To accompany this decision, Far Cry 5 now handles its story progression in a more freeform manner. The goal in each of the three regions is to earn enough Resistance Points to hit three milestones, and subsequently have three encounters with three lieutenants of the Eden's Gate cult, with the ultimate goal of reaching their leader, Joseph Seed, "The Father". Each of these individuals runs a different facet of the God-fearing group, but their role in the story ultimately isn't as interesting as you might think, despite Far Cry 5's potential for a controversial and politically charged narrative. Earning Resistance Points--an abstract indication of the growing opposition to Eden's Gate--can be achieved in a number of different ways. Completing story missions and side missions for resistance members is the most efficient way to do so, but you can also viably achieve your goal by performing smaller tasks that you might stumble across during your journeys through the county: rescuing civilians in random encounters, finding and destroying cult structures or supply vehicles, and liberating occupied compounds, seized as cult outposts.
Mechanically, it's a great, player-friendly system that rewards you no matter what activities you decide to undertake or avoid. But the reason why it feels so good in execution is due to a change regarding how you discover these opportunities in the first place. With the exception of the locations of each region's hub area and the whereabouts of Specialists (support characters who provide unique abilities), no points of interest are marked on your world map, and the traditional Far Cry (and Ubisoft game) practice of finding and scaling key structures to populate the world with icons has been removed.
Discovering points of interest can be achieved in a few ways. Physically stumbling upon a significant area will mark it on your map. Actively looking at wildlife road signs inform you of the fauna in that region. Finding notes, maps, and magazines located in homes and other buildings can point you to a number of different things, including Prepper Stashes, which involve solving obscure environmental puzzles that can lead to money and gear. Simply encountering a civilian might give you the opportunity to talk to them about the latest word on the grapevine about an outpost, side quest, or even the location of a story quest giver.
All these elements work wonderfully together to create a style of larger progression that feels mostly organic. I began my time with the game knowing I would be pursuing stealth tactics, so I immediately set off toward the given location of a Specialist who would complement that playstyle. Along the way, I encountered a civilian being led down the road at gunpoint. After saving him, he told me about a nearby pumpkin farm which had been seized by Eden's Gate. As a vegetable lover, I made it my personal duty to free the oppressed squashes from their gun-toting captors. I happened to find a map marking fishing spots while I was sneaking around the compound, and once I had liberated the farm, one of the farmers I had freed flagged me down to offer a side mission. While the initial expanse of the open world might cripple you with choice, the discovery system dishes out distinct options in small doses, encouraging you to follow and explore the small distractions you might find with genuine curiosity, as opposed to because it was one of a dozen icons you arbitrarily picked as they stared at you from a minimap.
In fact, there is no minimap, and it's one of the best things to happen to the series (as was also the case in Far Cry 2). There's a compass that helps you track your direction and will narrow down the general location of enemies and marked objectives, but there's nothing telling you about the specifics of the area. You'll still need to navigate to the menu to see the world map (the in-world physical map from Far Cry 2 was sadly not reimplemented), but it's a welcome change nonetheless. The absence of the minimap allows you to see the trees in the forest, so to speak. You can focus on details in the world without distraction, and can actively appreciate the stunning beauty of the natural environment you inhabit--the tall Douglas firs among the craggy hills, the serene fields and farms, the lively rivers teeming with fish--and pay full attention to intricate interior details in the homes and businesses you visit, each with distinct, lived-in personality.
The new freeform flow sits comfortably well with the most celebrated aspect of the Far Cry series: the capacity for you to engage with the game's conflicts in your own way, seeing what kinds of chance scenarios you stumble into, and attaining those watercooler tales about what happened next. There are still numerous ways to approach tasks like liberating outposts--go in sight unseen with stealthy movement and silent weapons, lure predatory animals into the compound to do the dirty work for you, take advantage of the propagating fire system and set the place alight with flamethrowers and explosives, or just be traditional and go in guns blazing.
Far Cry 5's altered upgrade system helps you make these modes of play more viable from the get-go. Perks are grouped into disciplines but aren't arranged in any kind of tree, meaning prerequisites aren't necessarily needed to unlock particular skills, and almost nothing is progress-locked. So if you begin the game and prefer stealthy approaches, you can unlock perks that let you run silently, move faster while crouched, and perform multiple takedowns (all previously higher-level skills, typically) as your very first unlocks. Points to spend on perks are tied to an item you'll likely find often during your regular travels in the world, as well as a laundry list of very achievable challenges that correlate to every weapon, personal action, and support character in the game. You can go out of your way to vary your approaches and maximise perk points, but if you tend to stick to a specific kind of playstyle, it's unlikely that you'll need to. There's also, thankfully, less of an emphasis on hunting. Selling animal skins is the most lucrative way to earn money for purchasing weapons and vehicles, but the series is finally past the point of needing to hunt specific creatures for the purposes of crafting upgrades.
Another fantastic change (again revived from Far Cry 2) involves the aforementioned Specialists and their more generic relative, the Guns for Hire. They allow you to utilise and command the unique skills of one of many support buddies, adding another fun and dynamic element to your toolkit. Specialists provide a variety of options, from the humans that lay down covering fire with different weapons and vehicles to the animals who can assist you in marking enemies and stealth takedowns. They're fantastic assets who can complement your skillset or fill in a necessary gap. You might recruit tortured archer Jess to give you a silent attack option, or order helicopter pilot Adelaide to fly in and provide suppressing fire and a distraction.
The AI that drives support characters sometimes makes poor decisions that puts them in harm's way, but in lieu of a co-op partner, Specialists help bolster the series propensity for emergent, fist-pumping "hell yeah" moments. You could be crossing a bridge and find that an enemy SUV has surprised you by driving up onto it from behind, completely blocking your escape. You could dart into the forest ahead for cover and inadvertently disturb a cougar, who starts by chasing you, but turns and decides one of your aggressors is an easier catch. You might then find yourself in a high-speed car chase, and call Specialist Nick to fly in with his armed seaplane to attack the pursuing vehicles. And as you hear him hooting and hollering over the radio, you look out the rear window to see his airstrike completely annihilate the convoy in a fiery explosion, right before you turn back around and find yourself driving off a cliff.
That's what Far Cry 5 is all about--fluid and dynamic engagements that act as different canvases and let you use the game's variety of tools to finish the picture. At least, that's the case most of the time. While many story and side missions also incorporate secondary activities like outpost takeovers, many hone in on single-style experiences which can be hit or miss depending on your preferences, and are less open to experimentation.
There are a number which can be, depending on your patience, intolerable. Once you've hit one of the three milestones in liberating a region, the Eden's Gate lieutenant in charge will capture you, whisking you away from the world, no matter what you're doing, with an insta-kill macguffin. You'll escape each time, of course, and in doing so, typically plow through single-style corridor affairs until you escape or reach an opportunity to kill the lieutenant. These missions showcase some of the game's most stunning setpieces, but mechanically they're bland at best, featuring elementary stealth challenges, on-rails turret sequences, and monotonous platforming among other scenarios. These missions are relatively brief, but they're semi-regular occurrences that pull you away from the world that makes Far Cry 5 great, and it's easy to hold that against them.
What makes these missions more egregious are the prolonged, close-up encounters with the Seed family members upon capture. Joseph Seed and his lieutenants are nothing if not charismatic villains, and their performances are impressive. But every encounter with them is the same--you're restrained in some manner and can do nothing but watch them get all up in your face, preaching about topics that make sure you know just how evil they are, which becomes tiresome very quickly. Far Cry 5 devotes too much time in belabouring the point here, and the few attempts to try and capture your sympathy for their cause feel cheap. Part of their plan in making sure you really, really, really hate them is capturing and hurting major allies. Scenes of violence against them will make you wince and are supposed to be motivators, but the reality is that you'll likely only have spoken to these people once or twice before, if at all, and won't have formed any real attachment.
The other quest giver characters are mostly extreme caricatures you'll either love or hate, but you're not asked to put much investment in their livelihood outside of the outrageous quests they give you. They'll send you on adventures that show you the goofy side of Far Cry, from hunting down alien turkeys for a mad scientist or watching bovine mate as Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing plays. These missions feel more in line with the freewheeling spirit of Far Cry than anything that directly involves the Seed family.
The Seed family missions ultimately aren't an enormous detraction, but there are additional gripes. Weapons and vehicles that have the capacity to be purchased with real-world money take prominent positions in every shop menu, and their connection to an online storefront also seems to increase the loading time of these menus, which is annoying if all you want to do is swap weapons. And, despite Far Cry 5's unquestionably relevant, religiously and politically volatile setting, the game doesn't do or say anything interesting with it beyond a few hammy jabs here and there. It's unchallenging satire, and for all the attention paid to the Seed family, you would expect there to be something more.
But there are so many more simple, experiential joys to be found in Far Cry 5. The exhilarating feel of jumping off a mountain and flying through the skies in a wingsuit. The idle chit-chat between your Specialists. Fishing in one of the many rivers or lakes for hours on end. Petting your animal companions. Flying a plane for the first time in the series. The taut and precise gunplay. The relaxing feeling of cruising down a picturesque highway in a 70s muscle car, listening to the great selection of classic American (and one Australian) rock and country tunes on the radio.
If you'd rather experience this with someone who is a little more autonomous, or you prefer your worlds to be a little more bonkers, Far Cry 5 also includes a couple of major features: two-player online co-op for the campaign, and Far Cry Arcade. Co-op has a few restrictions--the host is the only player who can control Specialists, initiate quests, or have mission-specific progress saved. Being unable to truly advance through the campaign together with a friend is a disappointing omission, but if you're happy to simply be that extra Gun For Hire, there is a lot of joy to be found in sharing Far Cry's exciting impromptu moments--and you can rave about it with them immediately afterward.
Arcade houses the game's custom map editor, allowing you to build and play your own single-player, co-op, or competitive multiplayer maps, or play ones uploaded by the rest of the community. While the process of jumping into custom maps requires a lot of patience to cater to potentially lengthy download and loading times, Arcade allows for the possibilities of a diverse array of levels and game modes that are far removed from the tone and rules of the main game (Although, the Hope County denizen that pimps Far Cry Arcade deserves a mention as the most irritating character in the game).
The editor itself is robust, and its asset library is generous, offering resources from Ubisoft games like Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed on top of existing Far Cry titles. As you might expect, it will take you some time to become completely familiar with it, but with diligence, it's obvious that the results can be amazing. Levels created by Ubisoft are a nice showcase of how interesting things can get, but there are a lot of bland examples out there, too. It's easy to weed out the duds when picking and choosing single-player levels, but when it comes to multiplayer, you leave some of it up to chance. Three players in a multiplayer lobby are selected to pick an upcoming map, with the rest of the lobby voting between them and a server-selected option.
There are already some wonderful PvP maps--a pirate-themed shanty town and a recreation of Counter-Strike's famous de_dust2 were nice surprises, but there is a fair share of ugly, empty maps with poorly thought-out modifiers. Enclosed caves with infinite ammo (the sound and vibration of grenades constantly going off got pretty unpleasant) and one-hit kill modes in arenas with no cover just aren't that fun. It's great to see that people are experimenting with the tool, but you're not required to publish any of your work, so it's a little annoying. Post-match, you're asked to like or dislike a map to help with ratings, so we're hopeful that after a while, the cream will float to the top.
If you like to gamble, there's also the option for Arcade Hero, a version where you can opt to play new and relatively unplayed maps. It's evident that there aren't a lot of people willing to try out multiplayer maps in this fashion since I wasn't able to find a match in Arcade Hero, but I encountered some interesting ideas in the single player version. You're awarded bonus experience towards your Far Cry Arcade progression if you participate in Arcade Hero modes, and levelling this up will reward you with in-game currency and Perk Points, which you can bring over to the campaign.
Despite some brief irritations and missed opportunities with its narrative, spending time in the world of Hope County remains absolutely delightful. Far Cry 5 boasts a wonderfully harmonious flow to its adventure, with its smart changes to exploration, discovery, and progression distinctly bolstering the enjoyment of creatively engaging and experimenting with its spectacular open world.