Clearly, one of the biggest challenges Ubisoft Montreal has had with the Far Cry series is in creating a core story that’s more compelling than the world around it. In fairness, it’s not like they’re alone. I put 100+ hours into Skyrim and barely touched the main quest. The same is true of Fallout 3. Hell, even my experience with The Witcher 3 is of the same ilk.
While not entirely comparable (that whole sandbox vs open-world thing), it’s a problem that’s seemingly inherent to any game with an open and ambitious game world whose primary pillar is player freedom. That’s Elder Scrolls. That’s Fallout (in recent years). That’s The Witcher 3. And that’s definitely the Far Cry series, too.
Fast-forward to Far Cry 5 and it’s clear Ubisoft Montreal has taken this challenge to heart. The result is admirable, to say the least. It’s easily the best campaign in the series, and the only thing it lacks is the next Vaas or Magan Pin on the villain’s front. What you get instead of those fleeting-but-iconic nemeses is a family of twisted cult leaders who believe so fanatically they are right that they actually think they’re doing the right thing by forcing the fictional Hope County (set in the very real Montana) to convert to their apocalyptic way of seeing things.
It still feels like I spent the majority of my time exploring the rich side content of Far Cry 5, rather than chasing the main quest, but Ubisoft Montreal has an interesting solution to that. There are points in the narrative, after you’ve caused a wee bit much destruction in one of the three regions, where the main narrative catches back up to you. Forcibly. You’ll be dragged back into the main quest for a breath, and while there was one frustrating moment where that took me away from something very specific I was doing, the other times, I appreciated how the deliberate interruption tied into the cult’s modus operandi.
Better still is the way the protagonist (now a mute and partially customisable cypher for the player) is tied into the main narrative. It’s not hugely obvious, but this kind of subtlety is part of what I enjoyed most about the quiet confidence of Ubisoft Montreal’s storytelling. The narrative is bookended by the threat of Joseph Seed, the main big bad, but you’ll spend more of your time toiling against his three sibling underlings, each of which have a very different approach to converting the masses.
While unquestionably wicked in the execution of their united beliefs, Ubisoft Montreal stops these villains from being two-dimensional by fleshing out their motivations. You’re not likely to agree with what they’re doing (and if you do, please seek help), but by the time the game ends, you’ll at least understand why they did what they did. And that ending is a real doozy, too.
More importantly, the gameplay is on point. While, arguably, Far Cry 5 only incrementally builds on what’s come before it, it’s the way old and new systems are weaved together that presents the most appealing gameplay loop yet. Ubisoft Montreal calls it the “anecdote factory” and with good reason. While not as far-flung as the previous settings of Far Cry games, there’s so much to see and do in Hope County and the game is constantly tugging at you to entertainingly tempt you away from what you were just doing.
As a shooter fan, the shooting is much-improved, too. Forget about hitscan. That longsuffering Far Cry trope has gone the way of the dodo. The new projectile-based ballistics make mid- to long-range cultist felling particularly satisfying, thanks to the added skill gap, and the weapon sounds are so on point you should play with a decent set of cans.
The other reason you’ll likely want to use headphones is because Far Cry 5 supports co-op. Unlike Far Cry 4, it’s more generous with when you can use it, too, which equates to all the time outside of the opening island. Far Cry 5 is a lot of fun alone, but it’s even more fun with a friend.
Unfortunately, here’s a huge caveat to that recommendation. Only the hosting player gets to keep their region progression. I played co-op almost immediately and that turned into a four-hour session. As the host player, that was great, because I got to keep all of that progress. For my co-op buddy, though, well, he lost almost everything that matters.
Ubisoft Montreal splits the progression into two parts: World and Player. While the hosting player keeps both, the joining player only keeps their Player Progression, which amounts to “XP, in-game currency, inventory items, and more”, according to this Ubisoft blog [https://far-cry.ubisoft.com/game/en-us/news/152-304752-16/co-op-faq]. The problem is that World Progression isn’t just sacrificing your completed missions as a guest player—which, in and of itself is deflating already—it’s also your resistance level. The higher your resistance level, the greater the arsenal you have access to in the gun stores.
This is more frustrating issue for players hoping to cooperatively play the majority or all of the game (that was my intention), as it detracts from player freedom, rather than adding to it. Considering Ubisoft Montreal is quite stingy with in-game monetary rewards, especially in relation to the comparatively high cost of weapons (not to mention attachments and cosmetic upgrades), it adds an extra level of undeniable grind for the guest co-op player.
Couple this with the fact that you can’t get too far away from your co-op partner or the game freaks out—which means you can’t have, say, one player in a plane flying large strafing circles and the other on the ground—and while Far Cry 5 is absolutely best played cooperatively, the provisos are such that it taints its recommendation.
The added grind for a guest player’s weapon unlocks also serves to highlight the questionable inclusion of microtransactions linked to the stores. Yes, you can unlock everything through in-game currency, but considering how limited that is—and also considering you have to pay a whole wad of cash to replenish your ammo (which, illogically, can’t be done by ammunition type)—there’s definitely a waft of underhandedness in terms of attempting to entice players to part with real money to stop the grind in a game that’s already full priced.
What complicates things a bit more is that Ubisoft is calling these microtransactions cosmetic. That’s a half-truth because, while technically cosmetic, players can use silver bars (that’s the currency you can buy or find scarcely in the game world) to purchase prestige weapons. These are variants of weapons you can unlock later, but you can also pay cash to buy the silver bars early in the game to unlock the specific prestige weapon. It’s not like the system can be branded pay-to-win, because you’re fighting against AI, but it’s not 100% cosmetic. Considering the first page to load at any gun store is the promoted items (which can all be purchased with silver bars, or a stack of hard-to-get in-game currency), it’s a constant reminder of the presence of microtransactions. On one hand, how biblically serpent-like of you, Ubisoft. On the other, Ubisoft Montreal is transparent with the in-game price and stats of weapons, so I was selective with what I spent my hard-earned Far Cry 5 dollars on.
The microtransactions and the big-disclaimer co-op do leave a bad taste in the mouth. Ultimately, though, there’s more praise to be heaped upon Far Cry 5 than condemnation. Now, if Ubisoft Montreal can patch in World Progression to co-op and be more generous with in-game currency (safes that consistently only have $250; really?), what’s already the best Far Cry game can also ascend to the lofty heights of being one of the best sandbox shooters of all time.