The more I play Far Cry 5, the less interesting and challenging it becomes. That’s a common problem for a Far Cry game, but I hope it doesn’t remain the status quo.
When I started Far Cry 5, Hope County was a war zone. Armed members of the Eden’s Gate cult patrolled every roadway and trail, and their stronghold outposts stretched to the horizon. My un-upgraded character had a wimpy arsenal and was so physically weak that, on hard difficulty, a couple bullets could be fatal. If I jogged in one direction, I’d be spotted by a random patrol, a watchful helicopter, or an enemy convoy, and gunned down. Death awaited over every hilltop. I had to be careful.
I spent the next 40-odd hours making Hope County less and less interesting, just by playing the game. I began to liberate regions of the map, which removed cult patrols. I conquered enemy outposts, converting them into friendly depots where I could buy gear and get sidequests. I upgraded my character so that I could carry better weapons, more health kits, and take a lot more damage without going down. I also assembled a collection of computer-controlled followers to fight alongside me. They help me kill enemies and, on the off chance that I do get “killed,” they can revive me an unlimited number of times.
Many games allow you to become more powerful as you play, but few of those change their game-world to the extent that Far Cry 5 does. In Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, enemy encampments gradually repopulate, and enemy forces never really leave the map. You can turn on level scaling—a feature added in a post-release patch—so that even the low-level grunts in the opening areas put up a fight against a level 40 main character. The open-world role-playing game The Witcher 3 works similarly. In GTA V, cops don’t stop responding to your crimes no matter how far you’ve made it in the story, and emergent chaos is always a possibility. Souls games and similar action-RPGs repopulate their worlds every time you load in, and if you finally get so high-level that the game is too easy, there’s always New Game+. Techland’s terrific open-world zombie game Dying Light takes a lot of cues from the Far Cry series, but after 56 hours, the world remains as engaging and zombie-ridden as it was when I started.
The slums of Dying Light are still as full of zombies as they were when I started the game.
Far Cry 5 works differently. It starts out plenty tough, but it becomes easier and easier as it goes. There are fewer obstacles and enemies in the world than there were when I started. As a result, I’ve found myself going to greater and greater lengths to give myself a challenge.
The opening hours of Far Cry 5 gave me what I come to this series for: the sense that I’m alone and outnumbered, deep in enemy territory with only my wits to help me survive. (Maybe it’s a yearning for the appealing, pervasive entropy that caused so many of us to fall in love with Far Cry 2.) As I made progress and grew more powerful, I felt that initial danger and excitement slipping away. I began to impose limitations on myself: no silencers on my guns, no LMG, no grenade launcher, no using explosives. Now, with the story complete and all enemy outposts cleared, those self-imposed limitations just aren’t enough.
In Far Cry 2, enemy outposts regularly respawned, so the map constantly felt dangerous. Far Cry 3 was the first game in the series with outposts that would stay empty after you cleared them, and while those who’d grumbled about Far Cry 2's respawning outposts were happy with the change, Ubisoft added an outpost toggle in a post-release patch after PC players started modding the game to reset outposts. Since then, Far Cry games (including Far Cry 5) come with an “Outpost Master” switch that you can flip after beating the story and clearing all outposts. Flipping it repopulates the outposts with enemies and lets you clear them again. I’ve always liked this feature. After finishing a Far Cry game, I tend to do some sort of “Outpost Challenge,” where I reset the outposts and then see if I can clear them all with a set of self-imposed restrictions.
Given how much I like Far Cry 5’s core gameplay, I was excited to come up with a new custom Outpost Challenge. Here are the rules I started with:
- Hardest difficulty.
- Only use bow, throwables, and one unsilenced pistol.
- Turn off all HUD assists, compass, tags, most other HUD elements.
- No fast travel.
- No companion characters.
- No first aid kits.
I reset the outposts and began the challenge, but it quickly became clear that something wasn’t right. For starters, the game did put bad guys back in the outposts, but the world around the outposts was still friendly. That’s a significant difference compared with how the game starts out, when enemy patrols are everywhere and the world feels so much more hostile.
In Far Cry 4 (top) as in most games in the series, health is broken into segments that limit how much you can automatically regenerate. In Far Cry 5 (bottom), health is a single bar that will automatically regenerate in full over time.
My character was also too elite. Her health was still triple its original strength, which meant that I could take a hell of a lot of damage before I needed to retreat for cover. The health thing is part of why clearing outposts in Far Cry 5 is less engaging than it was in Far Cry 4. Health works differently in Far Cry 5 than in past games in the series. They’ve cut out the gnarly field surgery that your character used to do, as well as the segmented health bar, which restricted your automatic health regeneration to the current segment. If you take cover after taking damage in Far Cry 5, your health bar will eventually fill all the way back up with no further action required on your part. No longer will I cower in a hidden corner and frantically attempt to patch myself back up to full health. Now I just wait a bit, and my health bar refills on its own. That’s a big difference, and one for which I can’t really come up with a clever way to compensate.
After starting my Outpost Master run, I cleared three outposts without breaking a sweat. I got spotted on the third one, but was able to brute force my way through using only my bow, thanks mostly to my character’s ability to take five machine gun rounds and keep on fighting while passively regenerating health. Near the end of the fight, a carload of good guys arrived to back me up, helping suppress the remaining cultists in the base. Piece of cake.
I started thinking of some new rules I could impose to get the difficulty I wanted. No bow, only throwables and a pistol? Maybe go shovel-only? Or permadeath? I soon realised that unless I started an entirely new game and did a no-upgrade run, there was no way for me to undo the powers my character upgrades had bequeathed on me, nor to return the map’s enemy density to where it was at the beginning. Far Cry 5 currently only has three difficulty settings, and scant further options for modifying gameplay.
If ever there was a game that deserved custom game modes and hardcore difficulties, it’s this one. Ubisoft has done a fine job of post-release support with recent games like Watch Dogs 2, Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Far Cry 5 seems ripe for all sorts of post-release support and tweaks. I asked Ubisoft PR if we could expect them to add new game modes and difficulties to Far Cry 5, but didn’t hear back in time for publication.
This is nice and everything, but it’s not really what I’m here for.
Far Cry 5 has the raw materials to provide hours of good times well after the credits have rolled. It just needs to give players more options. Those kinds of options exist in the game’s customisable Arcade mode, but I’d love to see more of them spilling out into the core game. It could be in the form of a survival mode, where you have to hunt animals and rest in between battles. It could be in the form of a new hardcore difficulty setting, or a new set of enemies, or a tweaked health system, or all of the above. Whatever form it takes, I hope Ubisoft gives me a reason to return to Hope County and blow up more stuff. I don’t want to cruise around and peacefully see the sights. I want danger, baby!