Far Cry 5 Review

Far Cry 5 is a game I have mixed feelings about. I’ve had it since release in March 2018, but decided to only recently go back and play the campaign some more. Very much a Far Cry game, which largely re-treads the same established formula. However I personally felt this is a game which is held back from greatness by bad design decisions. Most notable is just how busy the world is which feels completely at odds with it’s fictional setting in the US state of Montana. Indeed step out anywhere near a road in this game and it is like a warzone. But no matter where in the world you are enemies attack constantly and it can break any immersion with the game.

I have played many of the Far Cry games and always had some issue that stops me really enjoying or playing them. With the second game I couldn’t get over the checkpoints that would be repopulated with enemies even after you had just cleared them out. Although I don’t think Far Cry 5 makes any mistake as bad as that although it feels largely a retread of the gameplay of the third game to me.

The game itself is technically gorgeous. On the Xbox One X it runs at native 4K and a really solid 30fps. Apart from the early map screen tearing bug (long since fixed by an update) I simply didn’t run into any performance issues with the framerate or the game. Textures and draw distances are stunning. The vegetation and ground clutter is heavily populated and the flame effects as fire spreads on the ground are very realistic. It is certainly one of the best looking games I’ve played this generation. Background music changed to suit on screen action and the game has a neat use of different styles or musical genres. Sound effects too, but audio as a whole is very well done.

Far Cry 5 screenshot

I think the setting of the game is wonderful. The choice of having a game set in a US state was a good one. Indeed the story and the opening of the game feels very solid. It’s not the first Far Cry game to open strongly and this was as memorable as some of the others for me (particularly Far Cry 3). The game doesn’t offer up much diversity in the environment although the verticality in this game world is astounding. There were a couple of times when it almost felt like a vertigo inducing moment.

After the opening tutorial area you are free to go where you want and the game world is split into three distinct regions where you need to complete the story within. I will say the way story missions worked in this game were an annoyance. At certain points when a trigger point is reached the game will interrupt whatever you are doing to either playout a cut scene or force a linear mission on you. After the first time this happens you soon realise it is by design. All of that being said there is loads to do in the world and it is very easy to get lost collecting things, or doing a side activities like fishing or simply exploring. The game requires you to explore to help unlock skills point (called perks) or find new quests. It felt like there was a large amount of side quests to do which isn’t required to complete the main story.

So the game looks stunning, runs really well, has a great opening and fairly interesting story and lots to do. What isn’t there to like? Well there are a few things in my opinion. Firstly as mentioned the sheer number of enemies feels flawed. If it’s not the aforementioned warzones of the roads, it’s the over populated enemies all over the game world. Very often enemies spawn right in front of your eyes or just after a mission area has been cleared. And wildlife in this game is deadly. A few times I died to deadly, super high jumping wolverines that felt more like the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And there is the slowness of earning currency in-game. You earn money from quest rewards, finding it or looting from downed enemies. The money is used for buying weapons, vehicles or parts and unlocking weapons as well as ammo refills. You can also customise your character, weapons or vehicles. It never felt like I was drowning in money and until the late game there is an ongoing slightly nagging feeling of not having enough money if you want to unlock new weapons and vehicles. Despite doing a fair amount of side activities there are still many items I haven’t unlocked after 30 hours. Of course you can simply purchase silver bars (premium currency) with real world money to unlock items quicker. You can also find silver bars in the open world however I barely found any on my play through.

I’ve read a number of times that the microtransactions can be ignored or don’t impact Far Cry 5 in anyway. Your own view will probably depend on how you feel about them but it is hard not to say the design of the game hasn’t been influenced. These microtransactions are really meant to capture the more casual player that is only playing the game for a few hours. Certainly they aren’t egregious or manipulative like lootboxes however the presence of them still feels scummy. Most big triple AAA releases include microtransactions so Far Cry 5 isn’t doing anything that different but that doesn’t make them right. I can’t see any valid reason for them to be in this game which for most people will be an offline single player game. And a full price premium game with a gold version and season pass already.

Looting enemies was really fiddly. You have to hover the cursor over the enemy body and press X (or square on PS4) but it is very easy to accidentally pick up enemies weapons instead. I lost track of the number of times I would accidently swap out my favourite weapon instead of looting and then have to reset my loadout when back at a base. The game would have been so much better with an auto looting feature, in the same way it does for ammo.

There is a challenge system that can help unlock perks to help improve your character, and indeed as you do so it definitely helps increase your enjoyment as things like carrying more ammo, or additional options like parachutes and wingsuits add more variety to the gameplay. There are also friendly NPCs who can unlock in the game and add to your team to help with gun fights.

Away from the main campaign the game also includes an online arcade mode which is user creation tool and includes a mix of single player and multiplayer levels that have been created and uploaded. I barely scratched the surface of this (or the DLC) but thought this was a neat addition to the game. Some of these are available in Co-Op as well, like the main story mode.

Overall I had some fun with Far Cry 5, however the slowness of earning in-game currency, the fiddly control system, extremely high numbers of enemies respawning really held back the game for me. I’ve got to the 30-hour mark and completed two thirds of the game but I’m struggling to find a reason to play it through to the campaign’s end. When the game got into a flow of missions there was a very enjoyable experience. And it was very easy to lose myself and go exploring. And that’s why it so frustrating to have the quiet moments continually interrupted with gunfire or killer wildlife. I can see why some people really enjoy this series but for me some of the low moments with Far Cry 5 were as exaggerated as some of the high moments. A shame as it meant the game was just OK rather than being anything truly special. In other words a reasonably flawed game, albeit a visually pretty one.

Played on the Xbox One X.

The Division & Destiny sequels

Over the weekend I saw streamer MarcoStyle mention he intends to move away from The Division 2 and play other games. Whilst this isn’t really news. Streamers constantly change games or move on from things. It seems to be a case of another of the more well known original The Division streamers moving away from the series. I remember before launch comparing The Division 2’s launch with that of Destiny 2 and that it would face the same challenges. And after watching the launch of Ubisoft’s latest Division game it feels like there are similarities.

In September 2017 Destiny 2 launched to good reviews (84 on OpenCritic) but within weeks faced a backlash from the community over a number of issues; a reduced feature set, lack of endgame content, changing XP rates and egregious microtransactions. We never saw sales figures but it’s likely that the game was successful although by the time of Destiny 2’s first expansion, Activision Blizzard stated publicly it wasn’t happy with sales of Forsaken. How much that led to the breakup with Bungie is speculation, although it’s hard to imagine that overall revenue and microtransactions sales didn’t play a part in the decision making process.

The Division 2 also launched to good reviews (83 on OpenCritic) and there appears to be criticism of lack of content and broken builds although praise for some of the new content in the game. Interestingly MarcoStyle specifically called The Division 2 endgame more casual in his aforementioned video, stating that it felt like it was more for people who only play a few hours a week. Similar criticisms were levelled at Destiny 2 at launch.

We have heard nothing on the sales figures from Ubisoft about The Division 2. Odd given they were very vocal about the first game’s launch setting company and industry records. The March 2019 NPD figures (physical and digital USA sales figures) included some news :

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was the best-selling game of March 2019 and is now the second best-selling game of 2019. Launch month sales of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 are the sixth highest in history for an Ubisoft-published game.

NPD March 2019 (ResetEra post)

This probably explains why there have been no press releases about sales because unlike the first game it has set no milestones by the looks of it.

Of course this isn’t meant as criticism of either game and there is much detail around how the games are different. The Division 2 is about to get its first Raid and that will probably boost player engagement. And Destiny 2 players seem to love the Forsaken expansion. This is no ‘hot take’ and maybe stating the obvious given both games are similar Live Service games from large western publishers. It simply has been interesting to observe how the games have launched very similarly; good reviews, limited or lower sales after a very successful first game, tailing off player engagement and criticism of endgame content. And indeed what is also probably true of both is that the developers moved onto the next games straight after launch.

I am still torn on whether to pick up The Division 2 at some point. I really enjoyed the first game and it was streamers like SkillUp and MarcoStyle who helped me master some of the metagame. The beta for The Division 2 left me cold and I got the distinct impression it was more of the same albeit improved. Recently I have been enjoying shorter, narrative experiences and looking forward to being able to try new games all the time. With one game already my Live Services game of choice, I’m not that keen to start more. I just don’t need more games as a service at the moment. And that continues to be a reason why I’ve not purchased The Division 2.

Update 17th May 2019: Since publishing this post, Ubisoft confirmed The Division 2 didn’t meet expectations. There are probably many reasons for why; fatigue with GaaS games, lots of competition, Fortnite and people bouncing off the first game hard. Although probably more interesting is the why are all these AAA, big budget, western developed GaaS games failing to meet expectations? Maybe a thought for another day.

The Division 2 Private Beta (Early Impressions)

I written before how I generally was a huge fan of the original game and how the The Division 2 was definitely on my radar for 2019 upcoming releases. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be included in the private beta after registering last year.

I played this on an Xbox One X despite having played the original on PC and these are my thoughts:

  • I’ve had a few bugs and glitches with enemies floating or zooming about once or twice. Also the game disconnected and crashed to the Xbox dashboard twice on the first hotel mission. And the ‘poor connection to host server’ message has appeared a lot suggesting the servers are struggling on Ubisoft’s side. When I’ve been disconnected both times I’ve had to start the whole mission again which was very annoying. At least Anthem would ask if I wanted to re-join the expedition to resume where I was when this happened.
  • Framerate seems fine (on Xbox One X) and as far as I could tell the didn’t fluctuate badly. I would guess the game is dynamic 2160p or 4K – scaling down the game’s resolution when required. On a personal note having played the original on PC I can’t say the drop from 60-100+ fps bothered me that much.
  • Like the original a very pretty game. It appears to recreate its location in stunning detail. Washington, D.C. might not be as iconic as New York City but the more open, green areas are welcome.
  • AR’s and SMG’s seem to have more recoil on them, almost like LMGs from the original game.
  • The map doesn’t seem any bigger than the original, although wider. I know Massive have said it is 20% bigger though.
  • The UI is very similar and very badly implemented. They feel like they are optimised for console/controller, over flashy, don’t use space well and are even more complex than the first game.
  • Although a new look the game seems to have the same enemies types in this, but again they try and flank and take cover etc. when they need to.
  • I also followed some friendly NPC’s around because it says they are scouting for water thinking it might be an organic side mission, but alas even with an enemy shootout there was no reward or anything.
  • I also could play everything so far solo (haven’t tried endgame stuff) but unsure if it scales up for groups.
  • It feels like there are more lootable objects hidden around which is good and encourages exploration.

Overall

Everything feels very similar to the first game; the way the story starts, the way you build the base, the gunplay, movement, skills, perks, echoes, audio recordings etc. It’s simply more of the first game as if the same template has just been lifted from the first one, and simply put into the new location with some minor changes. And whilst that’s great for fans of the game I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I personally wanted an Assassin’s Creed 2 or Mass Effect 2 style improvement.

This all feels so remarkably similar, that my hunch is that we are looking at more of the same. Meaning you are replaying the same mission content over, and over. Of course many will argue that is true of the genre but I very rarely have the same complaint of similar games like Warframe where it always feels like there is more actual content.

Of course as mentioned this is a demo/beta and the full game may unlock more new features. And I do think there is enough enjoyment here for hardcore fans of the original who will love this as it is more of the same. However whether irrationally or not I did burn-out on the original Division and I haven’t seen quite enough to buy at the initial asking price. Although I will likely purchase at some point in the future.

Which is good in some ways because there are other games that I am really looking forward to playing and my backlog is still as big as ever.

A changing of the guard

Over the festive period the retailer HMV in the UK announced it was going into administration. Whilst in no way personally affected it did trigger some slightly irrational thoughts on what format I wanted to still buy films on. In the run up to Christmas I had purchased a few movies on Blu-Ray discs. However seeing the only national physical entertainment retailer in trouble (again) made me question whether it is time to finally adopt buying movies on digital. In part because there will inevitably be less choice where to buy a movie on disc as time goes by.

I’ve been a Steam user since the very early days (17 Sept 2003 – only 6 days missed!). Over the years I’ve watched Steam grow from a multiplayer network replacing the old WON system to the feature rich digital platform we know today. It continues to be the only PC Storefront or Gaming Client that automatically starts with my PC and has since the Windows XP days. It is where I gravitate towards when looking to buy any new PC game. But slowly it feels like that relationship might be under strain.

The news that Ubisoft won’t be releasing it games on Steam anymore isn’t necessarily a surprise. However the manner Ubisoft reached an agreement with Epic and will release games on the Epic Games Store alongside its own gaming client; UPlay certainly was a shock. It now means that some of the biggest western Publishers; Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda Games Studios no longer release games on Steam.

It’s probably only a matter of time for 2K and Take 2 Interactive (Rockstar) to follow. Indeed what are the odds now for Borderlands 3, an Unreal Engine game to follow suite. Probably a very likely outcome.

So why does this matter? One of the strengths of Steam was arguably having all your PC games in one place. Along with automatic updates, friends, voice chat etc. However if the games you want aren’t on the platform, then it doesn’t matter how good or feature rich the store is.

Certainly I’ve not been completely bought in to everything Valve has implemented on Steam. I hate the microtransactions they have implemented within the store itself (cards for badges). And crucially I also feel they missed a trick with in-game comms and streaming that has seen the rise of the new standards; Discord and Twitch.

Therefore for the first time ever I suddenly feel like I’m faced with the question of where should I be buying my next PC game from and hence my opening paragraph. Like my decision with movies for the first time ever I question if Steam is the best place to buy games. For example would Humble or GOG be better. With large western publishers and even some of the (bigger) indies rushing to a new PC Storefront there is now uncertainty around the Steam ecosystem. And certainly the fact developers receive 88% of revenue from the Epic Game Store is something that I am happy to support. But it is so disappointing that the dream of all games in one place is now most definitely over (arguably it was anyway) and it’s a case of installing multiply different PC gaming clients just to play a PC game.

I won’t be rushing overnight to rebuy all my games on any new PC Storefront but all of this does make me slightly lose faith in PC gaming. Along with the increase in certain hardware prices this is making me not inclined to buy new PC games. And indeed thankful that on my consoles all my games are in one place. With only one store to buy from.

Assassin’s Grind Odyssey?

A number of prominent Youtubers such as Worth A Buy, SkillUp, Jim Sterling, along with websites like Polygon have all noted that the recently released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is much more ‘grindy’ than previous entries in the series. Indeed a few have mentioned that it isn’t possible to play the main story questline without having to complete a large amounts of side content beforehand. Indeed Jim Sterling went even further suggesting that the game’s progression is much more enjoyable once the permanent XP booster has been purchased (about £10).

Predictably this has stirred quite a debate on forums such as ResetEra and Reddit. With a usual range of reactions, from the ‘it doesn’t impact the game’, to those who are angry with Ubisoft for even implementing microtransactions. Many have claimed that Assassin’s Creed Origins had the same progression and microtransaction model. Although I can’t find any similar criticisms from that game’s launch a year ago.

To be clear I haven’t played the latest Assassin’s Creed game. So I don’t want to fully wade in to the debate. However where microtransactions are concerned there seems to be lots of misunderstanding circulating. I thought it might be worth delving into some of the key points being raised about this game.

1. It doesn’t impact the gameplay and you can ignore them

Not really true. All business models will have some impact on a game’s design. Usually a buy-once model will have the least impact because the developer or publisher isn’t pressured to monetise the game’s design. Just because you might enjoy the grind or not be inclined to spent any extra money probably means you weren’t the target audience for the microtransactions. Indeed Ubisoft is probably looking at those more casual players that only play a bit of games and don’t frequent videogames forums.

2. Just play more side quests

Misses the point entirelySkillUp mentioned in his review that even after 45 hours he hadn’t been able to ‘beeline’ the main campaign. Side quests should arguably be stuff that extends the game or grant additional rewards. With Odyssey it seems to be that the side content has become mandatory in order just to complete the main story questline.

Just being able to earn something in the game is irrelevant if it takes hundreds of hours to do so. That is where the example of ‘it takes 40 hours to unlock Darth Vader’ was so illuminating. It provided an undebatable fact to illustrate clearly the scale of the problem.

3. Just don’t buy the game or don’t buy microtransactions

Won’t make a difference. Neither of these options will likely register as a complaint against microtransactions. If you buy the game but never buy from the in-game store, Ubisoft can measure this and simply increase or change their business model to be more successful next time. And if you don’t buy the game, then it’s a lost sale that Ubisoft can’t measure in any meaningful way. But at worst may simply result in no sequels if the game sales are that bad.

Creating bad PR and being a noisy consumer is the best strategy to registering complaints with publishers. As we have seen with Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Lootbox fiasco or Sony’s stance on PS4 Fortnite cross-play, bad PR can force companies to change.

4. Microtransactions shouldn’t exist in premium £50-£90+ games

Maybe. Personally I think you have to judge each game on an individual basis. Arguably f2p games have a better argument for in-game transactions, but many publishers now use multiple business models to extract the maximum profit from their games. For example; preorder bonuses, multiple tiered editions, promotional tie ups, platform exclusive content, microtransactions and season pass models (sometimes yearly season passes). Assassin’s Creed Odyssey uses all of the these tactics.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a premium single-player game. It is not an online, multiplayer experience having to support thousands of connected players. Major upcoming content is being paid for by the season pass. So why are there in-game microtransactions? Wouldn’t it be better if all of that stuff was in the game and rewards for completing side quests and collectables. It is hard to argue against this viewpoint.

5. Games are more expensive to make and need microtransactions

Are they? First of all without real budget and sales figures from the publishers it is very difficult to validate this statement. Marketing spend is increasing but large western studios are tending to make less games which are profitable for far, far longer. This means there is less unpredictability about revenue, compared to say 5 or 10 years ago. And none of this accounts for the cheaper costs of digital distribution. There is evidence to suggest in real terms the costs of making games are actually decreasing.

It is very likely true that a game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would be profitable even if it just sold for a fixed price without any other monetisation.

The large western publishers are currently making record profits. They have become very good at monetising their games to increase revenue. They have more big data and experts than ever to help improve how they monetise their games. They don’t NEED to do it.


Information is good

Still whatever your view on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey it’s good to see the criticisms being raised are in the public domain. More information can mean being able to make a more informed purchasing decision. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve thought ‘but why didn’t the reviews pick up on this‘ when the latest post-launch problem comes to light.

As Jim Sterling himself admitted for a long time in traditional games media there was a genuine reluctance about raising any criticism of a game’s business model for fear of being blacklisted by a publisher. Now with increased social media and review channels there is genuine critique which publishers and developers can’t escape. And that is a good thing.

The Division Review

Start spreading the news, I want to be a part of it. A flawed but great game.

When I think of a game that captures a location almost perfectly, it’s hard not to think of Ubisoft’s 2016 third-person shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s recreation of a New York city torn apart after a release of a deadly virus is stunning in almost every way.

Given the sequel is coming out early next year and how I am all but done with this game, I thought it might be worth compiling how I felt about this first entry in the series. It’s made more interesting by the fact that it does some things really well, but then in other areas almost falls flat on itself. That said I really enjoyed The Division and my hundreds of hours with the game are something I’ll look back fondly on.

In short Ubisoft created one of the best third-person shooters of this generation. Whilst it’s more of an RPG in places there is no doubt that the core gameplay loop is on point. Weapons and movement feel right, audio is great, graphically it is one of the most stunning games I have ever played. And the loot game, the ‘just one more go’ compelling gameplay loop, is largely there and done well.

It is also a game that respects the solo player in ways that its competitors such as Destiny don’t. You can play the whole of this game solo, never needing to matchmake or group up. And whilst there will be group or multiplayer activities you will miss out on, there is no exclusion from the endgame. Almost every activity will improve your character in some way although exotics are limited to a few missions or weekly activities. In effect grouping up just gives you a faster route to find the same endgame gear.

However it’s no secret that the game has problems. And I think none more so than how Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment handled the support of the game. You will often here how The Division was supported more than Destiny or how Ubisoft has done a good job with support. However that’s not entirely accurate. In reality The Division morphed into getting events and piecemeal recursive modes, but really missed out on substantial story, locations and new PVE content. And ironically The Division may have some of the same challenges as the Destiny series has been through when the sequel comes out.

The second year ‘no-show’ of content isn’t often talked about but in a Ubisoft shareholders call in February 2017, it was announced it had ‘another triple-A game lined up for the coming financial year but that this will now be replaced by continued support for an existing, well-performing live game’. And it does appear this was definitely referring to The Division, as shortly afterwards it was confirmed that there was no paid for content for year 2 of the game. What this meant was that The Division got Lootboxes, events and a new game mode. But what it never got was new missions, areas, story, factions or anything major. For many, including myself this simply reaffirmed that the game was in maintenance mode whilst Massive worked on the sequel and basically cemented my burnout with the game. Every time I’ve gone back to the game for events I’ve very quickly burnt out as I’m got sick and tired of playing the same content over, and over, and over, and over.

And even the Year one content felt like it was outsourced although it did add greatly to the game. Three big content drops that were managed over the first twelve months whilst the majority of the studio were likely working on the sequel. Indeed it feels like the much talked about 1.4 patch that dramatically improved the game was as much about increasing the playerbase than anything. And of course as players didn’t substantively return in droves, then it may have beena reason why Ubisoft abandoned major content for the first game to focus on the sequel.

And that is one of my chief concerns with the sequel. That it received true support rather than being a Games as a Product with support in disguise as a live service. It’s getting old very quickly how publishers talk about GaaS but then continue to do major £80-£90 releases very regularly.

The game had lots of other problems. A less than stellar launch, lots of cheaters on PC, a small map with a lack of variety and a very short story campaign with a small number of missions, along with lots of issues with PVP. But all of that aside, this is a game that still shone through it’s problems. And particularly now if you were to have come to the game late. What you’ll find now is a very well balanced, interesting and with loads of modes to enjoy and explore. Indeed the ‘player power’ fantasy is almost perfect with the way you are able to breeze through more challenging content now.

This is a game I could probably write much, much more about, but in short, I do think this was a great first entry that has hopefully setup what will be a more interesting and polished sequel. Hopefully without too aggressive monetisation. But for now, goodbye New York. I am leaving today.

Played PC / UPlay version