Far Cry games have always revolved around player choice. The world is built in such a way that you – the outsider in these wild lands – have full choice over the things you do, and the order you do them in.
From liberating besieged settlements to spelunking uncharted caves, Far Cry has always sold itself on letting you take the reigns of your own adventure.
But the trouble with allowing players to do what they want is that some players… well, they want to cause trouble. Accommodating for various players’ intentions means that the developers have to plan for massive deviations from the main storyline, and have to plan for their original intent being challenged by players that just want to live out their own fantasy.
“With Far Cry 5, I think we’re moving away from a linear experience” explains creative director Dan Hay when we ask him about the difficulty of making sandbox games whilst delivering a cohesive story.
“On paper, it sounds easy [to make these games]. In practice, that’s incredibly difficult. To be able to make it so the player has the ability to author their experience, go where they want to go, and do what they want to do how they want to do it, all whilst having a story that tracks, that you feel you have agency in… that’s really tricky.”
Take a walk on the wild side
One thing that Far Cry 5’s myriad systems got us thinking about during our hands-on with the game was the way different players will interact with the animals in the world of Montana.
Far Cry is no stranger to using fauna as a system (there’s a review for Far Cry 4 on Steam that simply reads “I saw an eagle fly away with a pig, 10/10”), but the way players interact with the animals has traditionally caused a little concern.
In Far Cry 4, a lot of attention was placed on the animals. From think pieces on the virtual critters to fairly popular petitions asking for animal cruelty to be removed, the wildlife systems certainly grabbed attention.
If you’re thrown into an open world as a vegetarian or vegan gamer – or maybe even just as a player that doesn’t want to slaughter animals – you can at least choose a peaceful option. Live and let live, get on with your campaign of chaos but leave the wildlife out of it.
That’s what Dan Hay and his team are all for – player agency. Author your own stories, live out your own narrative.
But sometimes, as Far Cry has been doing for the last few installments, youhave to be a predator. The Kyrat Fashion Week missions in Far Cry 4 were essential if you wanted to upgrade your gear – something that was pretty necessary to any player gunning for a stealth run.
To this end, you were literally tasked with hunting down endangered species – sometimes unique animals – and skinning them in order to placate the stylish (but brutal) Mumu Chiffon.
A fun distraction from a game about a military coup, or a brutal glorification of animal violence? That’s up to the individual to decide. But you can’t argue with the impact it had on wider media, as the links above will attest.
Far Cry 5 isn’t stepping down when it comes to this theme, either… but it is presenting a more balanced way of letting players interact with animals.
Friends, Not Food
One of the core mechanics in Far Cry 5 is the ‘Guns for Hire’ system – where a player in the game can recruit NPCs to accompany them and help out with various skills in the world. Some are snipers, some are artillery experts, some are veteran drivers and some… well, some are animals.
There are three animal companions in the game revealed so far: Boomer the dog, Cheeseburger the bear, and a cougar that we couldn’t find a name for (yet).
Each of these animals requires a mission to be completed before you can befriend them. In our most recent hands-on, we got to liberate Cheeseburger – a bear so-called because it was the central attraction at a redneck zoo where the main activity was, well, feeding him cheeseburgers.
This incarceration led to the bear getting diabetes, and when Project Eden’s Gate took over the county, Cheeseburger escaped.
So in a charming mission that shows off how Far Cry 5’s systems collide in unique stories, you can go catch a fresh salmon from a nearby lake, track down the bear and feed it the salmon. After years of being locked up and fed nothing of nutritional value, the bear is very happy with this setup and opts to become your friend.
Rewarding kindness, not just cruelty
There are multiple missions like this in Far Cry 5 – each one making you the agent of animal welfare. And the reward is more than just a bump to the amount of gear you can carry, too: you get a companion, a buddy, a friend to take on the vicious isolated county with.
Animals in games manage to get into our brains in ways that other supporting characters perhaps don’t: from your dog in Fable 2 (who we’d gladly sacrifice entire cities to keep alive) to GTAV’s Chop, we’ve made stronger relationships with in-game animals than their human counterparts.
Far Cry 5 is celebrating that: further up your skill tree, you’ll also find options for animal husbandry, meaning you’ll be able to befriend and liberate animals in the cult’s compounds, freeing them from a life of servitude, too.
Far Cry 5 is giving you the choice to be the player you want to be, even if you’re playing it from an animal welfare perspective… there aren’t a lot of other games you could say the same is true of.
The Hunt Is Still On
But that freedom means, of course, there’s a flipside: there will be hunts, there will be missions where you’re tasked with brutally and unapologetically slaughtering animals. The game isn’t even out yet, and a mission where you’re asked to > has already stirred the waters of controversy.
We expect there to be far worse tasks in the final build of the title… but so what?
It’s highly likely that if you want to avoid those missions, you can. It seems the progression system in Far Cry is far more modular than in previous titles – instead of following the open world game’s usual ‘golden path’ and completing missions to unlock new areas, instead, each region is kind-of built on a meter.
Liberating outposts, completing tasks for NPCs, exploring, uncovering caches… all of this undermines the Cult’s hold on the town and lets you progress after you hit a certain number.
None of this will include wilful acts of violence against defenseless animals (except a compound where one of the main villains breeds special evangelical wolves, or something). Far Cry 5 and Ubisoft give you the power to author your own character’s motives – that’s kind-of the whole point of the game.
Ultimately, the choice is yours
“As a developer, [building games like this] is really tough because I want you to see everything we’ve made,” explains Hay. “But I can practically guarantee you won’t. That’s tough. There are greats moments of charm, great moments of loss, interesting moments of storytelling, systems that collide… but we give the player the freedom to experience, explore and discover in their own way and eventually, and honestly, offer their own story. That’s the importance of freedom in open world games.”
When it comes to being told to do something in this game and perhaps not wanting to do it, Hay offers an interesting approach, too… the idea of inaction. Someone says ‘go kill that bear’ and you literally ignore them? Maybe something unique will happen.
“Maybe the world, in a few spots, will grow based on what you don’t do, as well as what you have chosen to do,” Hay explains. “It can react, and I think that makes the challenge [for us] incredibly high, but also super rewarding for us and the player.
“I’m not saying [inaction is going to be an option] everywhere, but what I am saying is that if you’re building a world, it has to respond to what you do, but it also might respond to what you don’t do. And you only need a few moments of that to understand it’s reactive, that it’s a matrix. And then players will understand the power they have in authoring a story.”
That, in itself, is exciting. Because how often do you get to protest in games, how often do you get to simply say ‘no, I’m alright thanks, I won’t be doing that’ and have a game react to you?
We look forward to seeing what that means for players that refuse to hunt, but instead opt to go and free every animal they can in a game series that has traditionally been on the wrong side of animal rights.