Far Cry 5’s open world environment of Hope County, Montana, is frequently of a beautiful, atmospheric sort, expertly capturing life as it is lived within one distinct region of the vast, diverse United States, and all throughout the developers embraced sincerity, authenticity. Much technical excellence permits the developers to achieve this vision; draw distances are expansive, extending outward for a protracted distance, while an overall sense of crisp vibrancy dominates – greens have their expected place, the various hills verdant and tranquil in their greenness, though this greenness is complemented by more Autumnal colors and atmospheres, while many regions are bathed in a beautiful, dazzling goldenness. Immersive lighting furthers the effectiveness of this vibrancy; the towering trees naturally cast many shadows, and, whenever they are explored on the ground, the player is literally bathed in darkness, the leaves and branches blotting out the sun, only a faint few rays achieving entry, a reminder of the day, its brightness, its perpetual graces and majesties. And the diversity of these environments, these graces, is immense. Just as there are rolling green hills, there are sprawling valleys and flatlands; just as there are flatlands there are rugged, mountainous regions. Just as there are mountains there are long, winding rivers and stagnant lakes of striking blueness. Again reflecting cohesion, each explorable region – numbering three in total – is not radically or unbelievably different; in so many games, crossing some artificial boundary instantly results in drastically different terrains and biomes: a desert can become tundra in an instant. Not so here, with a natural progression and environmental gradation in place; realism dominates. While ample artistry is indeed presence, one yearns for further artistry, something which could easily be achieved if more snowy environments were included; dustings of snow in the far north would only heighten the joys of exploration, expanding upon environmental diversity. But it is not to be.
Speaking more specifically of this environmental diversity, the fauna inhabiting Hope County are particularly numerous, both in terms of models rendered at any one time and in terms of pure modeling, the capturing of many different species, their distribution connected towards the geographic regions being explored: fauna in the southern region clashes greatly from the animals peopling and patrolling the north – there are bears, cougars, wolves and skunks, certain of these creatures menacing and actively threatening, others existing merely to further immersion, to inject some life into the world-building with their passivity. Animation quality for these creatures is impressive, only heightening the menace of the hostile creatures, as the bear hopples about erratically, sometimes breaking into a full sprint towards the player’s direction once sufficiently agitated. The fearsomeness of this creature is all the more observable whenever in this close proximity, and even towards the end game, whence the arsenal of weapons has expanded dramatically, bears, cougars, and wolves maintain their threatening status, while the constancy of their presence further communicates life; there is motion always. Even the myriad rivers and lakes are stocked with fishes of various species, bass and trout among them, and their distribution is also connected to the precise region where the fishing occurs. Some of these aquatic animals are miniscule in size, holdable within the palm of a hand. Others are hulking constructions, weighing potentially tens of pounds, and actually obtaining these creatures can be a taxing affair, requiring struggle and relative mastery of the fishing mechanics. Accordingly, landing one of these fishes was an exciting, rewarding affair, especially when considering they can be sold to vendors for a sometimes lucrative price, greatly incentivizing the fishing. And beyond the various fauna, the various fishes, further diversity is observable in the flora, a great many harvestable plants distributed throughout the county, mustards and oreganos among them, these objects used in the game’s crafting systems. Collectively, these things, flora and fauna, contribute to a sharp sense of immersion, and it is all too easy to grow completely engrossed, even something as seemingly simple as fishing capable of consuming multiple hours of playtime.
Human NPC’s of course have their own prominent position within the game world, and as was the case with animal life, they are very abundant, communicating the bustling, lived-in nature of the county; the player is rarely in total isolation, meaning a certain stressfulness sometimes arises, directly evoked by the NPC’s, many – though not all – hostile. The hostile NPC’s fly the banner of Project at Eden’s Gate, attacking the player on sight. Cleverly, though, friendly NPC’s also navigate the landscapes. Character modelling for these minor characters has the tendency to repeat, while even the voice acting is limited, prone to repetition; constraints are in place. Despite this fact, each of these characters remains enigmatically endearing; they are all likable, that likability perhaps attributable to their endurance, their confidence. Exploration could mean death at the hands of the antagonistic cultists, and yet still they explore, displaying a fierce American spirit. Additionally, these NPC’s often serve more practical functions; if they are spoken with, they will usually impart some useful information, like providing the player with coordinates to a nearby location, to the location of a potential ally, or, more valuably, coordinates to hidden caches, here dubbed “prepper stashes.” Because of this information endowment, there is swelling excitement whenever they are encountered – where will their discourse, their advice, lead? They are compelling individuals all. And considering briefly the prepper stashes: these zones serve a sharp world-building function, abounding in environmental storytelling, tangibly developing Hope County, communicating its complexity, oftentimes its association with tragedy. An abandoned bunker may be explored, for instance, suggesting history, its claustrophobia stifling. The very existence of these bunkers is telling, reflective of the citizens’ fears of cataclysm, destruction; Hope County’s residents were characterized by fear and uncertainty, though these negatives have been displaced by strength – resilience. And resilience is desperately needed in this region, the cultists also circulating Hope County’s hills, its valleys, constantly asserting their presence. In a stroke of brilliance, their presence lessens as the narrative progresses, as any given region’s lieutenant is deposed; conquer Faith in the east, and presence there diminishes. It is a clever way of lending gravity and impactfulness to the player’s actions; they are exerting influence on the world, literally and tangibly changing it. Hope County is dynamic, never in a protracted state of statis; consequently every minute is a story.
Mankind asserts its presence within Hope County principally through architecture. Many of the constructed buildings are simple and mean, showing a valuing of practicality and a total rejection of the lavish and gaudy; instead, these structures are characterized by a great deal of robustness, ruggedness, ruggedness being inserted into almost all constructions, especially the largest. Small, sturdy log cabins have their place, as do comparatively sprawling lodges crafted of the same material. These precise structures, with their size, are simultaneously imposing and impossibly beautiful, clearly built under great exertion, investment of time; they are majestic, representing efforts to tame nature. These efforts are even more observable when considering the comparatively large urban environments distributed throughout Hope County. Even with their largeness, these regions are architecturally meagre, houses rather shack-like in nature, suggestive almost of poverty – or a firm lack of desire in the frivolous. Alongside these shacks are other societal necessities, like bustling bars filled with patrons, and stores stocked with modern conveniences; in the former structure – the bars – life is again communicated. In a place of relative security, removed from the harassing cultists, these citizens show persisting happiness, an additional reminder of their indomitable spirit. Amongst the most prominent manmade structures, though, is a sprawling prison complex, particularly frightful in what it suggests about man, the very need for imprisonment, while the entire construction is characterized by austerity, the façade simplistic. Attention to detail abounds, too, in this environment and beyond, as is observable in the various conquerable outposts, a signature of the series. While the gameplay mechanics surrounding them are mostly the same throughout – dispatch the enemies either through stealth, combat, or a mixture of the two approaches – aesthetically, these environments rarely repeat, a radical departure from the early games where a certain copy / paste formula was in place. One outpost may serve as a firing range, for instance, while another serves a completely different function, in this case a botanical purpose, the lands and buildings used to refine a drug employed by that region’s lieutenant, who greatly exploits the landscape in her efforts at control, disorientation. Certain of these outposts are indeed sprawling, their grandeur, their existence, pointing towards the fact that, maybe, Hope County’s citizens, its oppressors, have conquered nature, taking the land and making it their own. But there are the bears, the wolves, the cougars: perhaps it is completely impossible to tame this County, pointing towards humankind’s limitations. Cleverly, too, these regions, these structures and animals, are all observable from above, the player capable of taking to the skies, wherein a completely new perspective is provided them; seeing these things and beauties from above is almost mesmerizing, as literally hundreds of vibrant trees are rendered at any given moment.
From a design perspective, the tropes of the open-world genre were fiercely embraced, the design being rather conventional and safe in construction, though certain of these tropes are in time subverted, originality eventually achieved. In terms of mission design, the game is wonderfully open-ended, in that the three lieutenants can be tackled in any order. This approach has grown increasingly commonplace, though not too long ago open-world design was far more restrictive – consider Grand Theft Auto IV, where progress was firmly gated, large portions of the environment unexplorable until a predetermined narrative threshold was met. In a manner, then, Far Cry 5’s Hope County is an illustration of the progress made within the open-world genre. And then there are the conventions. Four central antagonists exist, one being elevated above all others. Before he can be confronted and destroyed, his supporting lieutenants must themselves be toppled. This formula has been employed countless times over now, and it is indeed rather tired, unoriginal. But the freedom is immense, in that total power is vested in the player only an hour into the entire affair. This near instantaneous freedom has the tendency to overwhelm, though this overwhelmingness is wonderfully avoided here, everything being intuitive; the game world is an inviting one, even with its largeness. With this openness, meanwhile, a plurality of different experiences exists – one player may tackle the north first, another the south, while other players will circulate through all environments, combat all lieutenants simultaneously, rather than focusing exclusively on one foe’s deposition. Some failings seem to characterize this precise approach, though, it that it naturally leads towards a more disjointed narrative, weakening the narrative; a focused approach seems preferable, though it is very admirable that the developers provided players with the opportunity to leap from environment to environment, again reflecting the privileging of the player, the player’s experience. Still, it seems only logical to slaughter one lieutenant before beginning to weaken another. Exploration of this world, too, is perpetually engaging, the player empowered, particularly when considering traversal methods. Aerial vehicles, completely liberating, have already mentioned, but another tool is even more critical to exploration: a grappling hook. The inclusion of this object – carried over from Far Cry 4 – opens up many opportunities for navigation, fostering a great sense of verticality and efficient locomotion, climbing. With this verticality comes access to many scenic vistas, while the motion blur accompanying wingsuiting – the wingsuit being a similarly empowering tool – results in exhilaration. The world design is perfectly fused with the gameplay design, and it is difficult to overstate the joys which arise when pairing these tools together. A parachute, meanwhile, increases the joys of exploration just as it increases player safety. With the world-design, the inclusion of friendly NPC’s, hostile NPC’s, and hostile animals, exploration in Far Cry 5 was primed to be effective, wondrous. And so it is. But these immersive, engrossing strengths are only heightened by the inclusion of those locomotive tools; there is rarely a dull moment here, rarely a useful cliff or mountain which cannot be scaled. The more bombastic moments of gameplay are perfectly balanced by the inclusion of these quieter, more contemplative moments of exploration, moments which the player can engage with for as little or as long as is desired – total freedom is provided here.
While the Montana vastness is mundane on paper, Ubisoft have been able to seize upon that mundanity and craft it into something creative, singularly compelling and engrossing. Repeated technical successes complement this inspired creativity, resulting also in a heightened sense of immersion, which is further enhanced by the minimalistic HUD, it being stripped of any needless frivolities. The draw distance, the usage of color, the dazzling usage of lighting and shadow illustrate the great technical feats achieved here. Notable to this world-building, too, are the secondary characters, quite abundant and distinct, though one secondary character stands above the rest: Hurk. While excessively humorous and thus sometimes irritating and obnoxious, his presence injects life and levity into the world-building, while his presence is complemented by many other NPC’s, some well-developed, others characterized by cliché; Ubisoft, a French company, has crafted a world which is decidedly American, and therefore a cultural disconnect is in place. But the game, the world-building, ultimately transcends this disconnection, and Ubisoft display a great deal of heart, respect for the region and the peoples and animals that inhabit it. Here is a living, breathing region, animals constantly moving to and fro, hostiles and allies similarly navigating the landscape; the player is rarely completely isolated, though this is not to say freneticism is universal; many moments of quiet tranquility are provided the player, principally in the sequences of protracted exploration, where the game truly shines. Even if exploration and environmental action were excessively dull and mundane, enjoyment could still be derived, owing to the excellent traversal options provided the player, facilitating a certain sense of freedom, which is also reflected in the immediate openness of the gameworld. The player is repeatedly endeared to that gameworld, to the county’s inhabitants, meaning that the ultimate triumph is an almost cathartic experience: the oppressed have been liberated, the villains have been pacified. Some flaws inevitably emerge, namely the destruction of player agency, but this destruction is an inevitability, finding insertion into almost all modern open-world games. Here, though, the destruction is not quite as intense as in other games of the genre, though still it exists; the narrative is pressing, the people harassed, yet the player can engage in fishing, can hunt animal life and explore sites major and minor? Yes. But Hope County is a remarkable environment, aesthetically beautiful and pulsing with life. While not abounding in innovations, this central environment serves as a calculated refinement of the design principles employed in the earlier games of the series, and the environment must absolutely be lauded.