Ubisoft's open world games have been reluctant to change over the last decade, sticking to big maps with space to uncover, towers to climb, and icons to clear. But with Assassin's Creed: Origins, Ubisoft showed that they're capable of making tired formats fun again. Far Cry 5 skims a bit closer to Far Cry 4 than Origins does to its predecessors, but the new American setting carries some necessary, overdue change with it. Recently, I got to spend over an hour in virtual Montana, driving trucks and stealing testicles, evading armed cultists all the while. I came away with the impression that Far Cry 5 represents a shift for the series into something focused more on large-scale conflict and goofing off, encouraging total chaos and curiosity above all else.
Unfortunately, the game was running on a PS4 Pro, which didn't have the best framerate, and I'm awful aim with a gamepad, but I've included some clips anyway. You're just not going to see the prettiest possible version of Far Cry 5, in both looks and practice.
Filling out the map happens naturally, not by climbing magic towers
Open world games are finally moving towards design fueled by player curiosity more than mission prompts and icon-clearing impulses. There are no map-revealing towers in Far Cry 5, so you fill out your map and learn about the world in a much more natural way. You can talk to people for intel or look through your binoculars to permanently mark points of interest, or read notes and books left behind to find out where a prepper stash might be hiding.
My favorite new way to fill up the map is by looking at roadside signs. If you see a deer crossing sign and stare at it for a second or so, your map will automatically update to show that area as a deer hunting ground. It's not as all-in as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's self-stamping map tools, but the relaxed grip on what the player should be doing at any moment gives Far Cry 5 a more leisurely pace. Rarely does it feel like you're somewhere you shouldn't be, or punished for trusting your eye instead of a sea of icons.
The tone is off the damn wall
Maybe it's because Far Cry is set in the US for the first time, but it feels more like a rural GTA than Ubisoft's typical open world fare. My first set of missions sent me on a quest to collect three kinds of bull testicles, engorged, chopped, and roasted. To start, I had to bring the cows to the bulls, and once I shot open the gate to let them mingle, Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing started playing while the cattle got down to it. I was to shoot one while they were getting it on.
Funny, I suppose, but also extremely gruesome when I got down to it. There's a growing distance between the realistic world of Far Cry and the wacky tasks it puts you up to. Previous Far Crys could get pretty ridiculous, but slapstick redneck comedy is at the fore in Far Cry 5. Hopefully it works out, but I have my doubts.
Vehicles are more important than ever
Nearly every Far Cry game has had vehicles, but they're usually just there to get from point A to point B. The maps are huge, and hoofing it across them isn't the best use of time. Now you have trucks, semi-trucks, tractors, helicopters, planes, ATVs and who knows what else at your disposal.
Plus, most of them can be outfitted with weapons to make clearing outposts or taking out VIPs easier (and much cooler looking). You can even unlock garages where you can purchase new vehicles, customize them (exactly how remains to be seen), and spawn vehicles from your collection. Expect to be behind the wheel more than usual in Far Cry 5.
I think they made the fire meaner
An emerging theme of games I've played lately is spending their opening hours on fire. Divinity: Original Sin 2 reveled in setting my party on fire before I could even cast spells to put it out. Assassin's Creed: Origins, another Ubisoft joint, had a great fire propagation system, even if most enemy forts looked like they were built to burn with oil and straw bestride nearly every torch. Maybe it's just that I haven't played Far Cry 4 in a while, but I spent the better part of my two hour preview either on fire, setting people on fire, or watching it spread. It feels faster and meaner (and looks a whole lot nicer) than ever, but it's difficult to say for sure. Take a look for yourself.
The story progresses based on your actions against the cult
New to Far Cry 5 is the Resistance Meter, a system that measures how much damage you've dealt to the cult's presence in Montana. Filling this meter up requires taking back outposts, completing Guns for Hire character missions, side missions, and small activities like blowing up cult-owned silos. Reach a notch in the Resistance Meter and the cult will 'push back' by sending huge hunting parties after you. It's not clear whether you can escape them or not, but it seems like you're meant to be captured and taken in at these intervals. Once captured, you get to play a more linear story mission and interact with some big dogs in the cult hierarchy. I played my first and only in co-op, defending an area from waves of cultists using mortar rounds and some mounted LMGs. It was standard FPS stuff, but good fun with a friend.
One of the cult leaders sits at the end of the Resistance Meter, likely indicating an imminent showdown between you two once enough damage in the world is done. I'm thinking these will be per region, and tied to different cult leaders who watch over each section of the world.
Freed hostages might fight with you
Outposts are back, because it wouldn't be Far Cry without them. You can still complete them quietly, though there seems to be an emphasis on large scale combat in Far Cry 5. To this end, any hostages you free while clearing outposts might just grab a gun and start fighting with you. Choosing whether or not inviting a loud friend to the party or leaving them to potentially die is a welcome wrinkle to the ages old activity.
The setting feels true to life (except for the ravenous wildlife)
To be fair, I can't remember the last time Montana was depicted in a game, but Far Cry 5 nails the look and feel of the western half of the state, even including a few small landmarks for authenticity. While the Testical Festival isn't a perfect recreation (there are far more naked people and illegal substances), that it's included at all is a nice nod to the strange traditions that form far away from civilization. There's even a complete fly-fishing system with (from what I can tell) all the right trout accounted for.
The best sign of authenticity (that almost no one will care about but me) is a massive plaster bull.
Sentry for Stoney's Kwik Stop and Wildlife Gallery right off Clearwater Junction, all the locals know and adore 'the big cow off the road'. While not quite off the beaten path, it's an obscure enough reference to charm me. I'm looking forward to seeing what else I might recognize in Ubisoft's Montana. Between bears and trees and a big plaster bull, things are looking good.