In the midst of some (sporadic) writing, running a Brancalonia/D&D game, and preparing to open back up for another foster placement, I’ve been playing Far Cry 6. I have completed the main story and done most, but not all, of the side missions.
I’m a fan of the series, having played them since 2. But it’s a guilty pleasure, really–I don’t particularly see the setting or story of the games as particularly enthralling (despite Giancarlo Esposito playing his signature bad-guy role in 6, I think the story of 5 was more compelling–probably because it played upon personal interests (the morbid fascination with cults) and fears (the increasingly dangerous idea of what constitutes “patriotism” in the U.S.). For Far Cry 6, I’ve mostly been enjoying the mindless fun of the gameplay, the beauty of the environments, and the exploration element.
As I’ve done so, a realization has started to sink in–Ubisoft’s really only been making one game for a while. Far Cry 6 is most similar (I’d argue) to Ghost Recon: Wildlands (which I loved), but the latest Ghost Recon entries, Far Cry games, and Assassin’s Creed games are basically the same thing with some minor gameplay differences and some reskins for setting.
I understand that that’s a good business move–all of these franchises perform well financially, consumers pretty much know exactly what they’re going to get with a new version in any of those franchises, and going back to the same well of systems and mechanics certainly lowers production costs (or at least so I’d assume).
Being a person who loves RPGs (which there is some of in these games), tactical shooters (in the non-Assassin’s Creed lines), and game-world exploration (at the core of all of them), I do look forward to new entries in each genre. But I think that the narrative efforts in each new game come out much like any copy of a copy of a copy: always a little less clear, always a little less useful, always just “less” than the one before. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, while a really interesting idea for a setting, was simply less compelling than Wildlands, Far Cry 6’s narrative certainly pulls less emotional weight than 5’s.
Something else both Breakpoint and Far Cry 6 have in common is their use of famous actors for the main villains (Jon Bernthal and the aforementioned Giancarlo Esposito, respectively, both actors I really like). The problem has nothing to do with the actors themselves–it’s that the use of the actors seems to have been an excuse for not creating more interesting and vibrant villains in the first place.
This has me on two tangent thoughts. First, what would an Ubisoft game that drew on the best elements of each of these related games look like? From Ghost Recon, I’d take the realistic weapons (in designs and performance), the plausible tech (drones, NVGs, thermals). From Far Cry, capturing bases and strategic points, side missions about fleshing out characters and narrative rather than mechanics, treasure hunts, takedown systems (for both people and vehicles). I think I’d rather keep a skill-based character development over a gear-based one like Far Cry 6. If I remember correctly, Far Cry 2 had weapon jams–I’d bring that back. Suppressor overheating is a cool idea for a game, but the way it’s treated by Far Cry 6 is really only as realistic as the “Hollywood quiet” suppressors in just about any video game.
On this note, there was some very interesting commentary (way back) on video game weapon design from on of the developers of Rainbow 6: Vegas (also an Ubisoft game). The designer giving the commentary explained that they first developed the weapons to be as realistic as possible, but then modified them from that starting place to conform more with popular conceptions of weapons–the knockdown of a shotgun blast, the quiet of a suppressor, etc.
But the second, more important thought, is about what the next evolution of these types of games should be. The gameplay is fun; I’m partial to shooters and to open worlds. While there could be some additional improvements to gameplay (as described above), the place we need some real improvement on this games to feel like they’re not just reskinned rehashes of the same old, same old, is the narrative.
Here, I have two subpoints. The first is that we need more interesting narratives. Far Cry 6, like the other games, has its moments of emotional pull. It is a revolution after all, and the true cost of a revolution, so far as I can tell (never having been part of one) is in the lives it takes or otherwise changes irrevocably. We need more personal stories. I’ve grown bored with the weird and quirky, but ultimately shallow, characters. Mr. Esposito does a fine job with his role until the very end, but the writers could have given him so much more to work with. And, while some may care for the crazy companions in Far Cry 6, I do not. As is my want in just about all of my fiction, I want more nuance, more complexity. And along with that complexity, I want some agency.
What the UbiWorld games really need is to be removed from a “playground” experience where you merely ride the rides and placed into a participatory narrative. You should have to make choices that have tough consequences, should have multiple opportunities to change the story in a major way (what if Dani joined with Castillo?), and the way that missions are approached should have a consequence as well. Getting extra resources for taking over a base without setting off an alarm just doesn’t cut it anymore.
While we’re at it, let’s through in some random events in each playthrough and some systems that combine to make for emergent gameplay. I am convinced that a great part of the success of Sea of Thieves is the emergent nature of its gameplay. My friends with whom I play that game don’t talk about the Tall Tale missions, they talk about that time where something incredible and unexpected happened through a combination of interactions with other human beings and the (random) procedural generation of the game.
I’m not saying that UbiWorld games should be massively multiplayer (though it’s a thought worth experimenting with, I suppose), but the ability of a game to generate unique (or at least particularlized) experiences for different players should become a regular aspect of electronic games.
My overall experience with Far Cry 6 is that, if you like Far Cry games specifically, or UbiWorld games in general, you’re probably going to enjoy the time you spend with it. But for me, what it left me with was a desire for something more, for true evolution in the style of games that are coming out that builds upon this strong foundation and makes it into something truly amazing.