[contains minor spoilers]
Far Cry 5 is my least favorite Far Cry experience to date. And as someone that loooooved the third and fourth entries in the series, this was a challenging conclusion to reach. For a while, I just didn't believe it. I wondered if I was overanalyzing the game, or unfairly comparing it to its predecessors, or perhaps I was always sitting down to play it while in a foul mood. But after finishing the campaign twice, all roads loop back to this dour epiphany: Far Cry 5 has exhausted what made the series exciting for me.
A major part of that is honestly due to fatigue—Far Cry really hasn't changed the much since the third game. Sure, the newest installment gives you allies and lets you progress through its narrative in any order you want, but beyond that? Everything else is vividly familiar. There are outposts to infiltrate, side-missions that prioritize action over caution, cutscenes where villains drill their worldview into you, perk trees to navigate, and a plethora of collectibles to gather. There's barely a noticeable change in the weaponry or enemies either; every aspect remains proudly Far Cry, right down to the game's narrative rebuking you with "what if YOU'RE the bad guy?!"
In a way, it's very comforting. There are still hundreds of delightful moments that will sneak up on you, like say, a boat ramming into you while you're fishing, or a panicking pedestrian slipping into a vehicle you've rigged to explode. Those unscripted bits never failed to put a smile on my face, but Far Cry 5 tries to up the ante by flooding the world map with patrolling goons. Whenever you snipe an enemy driver with your bow, you'll barely have time to savor that unlikely headshot, as more enemies are always close behind. And antagonizing the regional leaders just makes the game worse, as limitless aircraft get called in to deal with you—and I have no damn clue how someone could enjoy fighting over a dozen planes with a measly assault rifle.
Due to the bolstered number of enemy vehicles, I had to keep a rocket launcher with me for a majority of the game, which only left me with two primary weapons to switch between—a significant step down from Far Cry 3's four weapon slots. While dealing with the increased enemy forces was a huge source of sourness, what also dampened my enthusiasm was the lack of intrigue into the world. Part of this may be due to the fact that Hope County is a less exotic locale to pick, but I also didn't feel any particular attachment to the companions or NPCs (besides the animals). And don't get me wrong, the visuals are downright breathtaking at times (especially when the sunlight drips through the trees), but the "wow" factor that carried the other games just wasn't here.
Which finally brings me to the narrative. On its surface, Far Cry 5 looks primed to sink its fangs into the rural American culture, ready to offer a scathing critique on the influence of religion in the region. Except that it doesn't really do that. And nor does it offer any kind of in-depth critique on the lifestyles of a Northwestern American. If anything, the game is strangely patriotic, content to paint Hope County as a land filled with hardworking, meat-loving Americans that merely want to see the red-white-and-blue fluttering high in the sky. Sure, you encounter some crass personalities (like Hurk Drubman Sr.), but almost everyone acts as a kind of caricature of an American persona, rather than an incisive target of satire. And seeing as the series has always been eager to paint your allies as both incompetent and monstrous, its bizarre that Far Cry 5 completely shies away from this approach.
Even the game's central antagonists did little to mesmerize me. Joseph Seed is an admittedly fresh take on the "madman that speaks the truth" trope that the series is known for, but his stoic, calm demeanor belies the shallowness of his words. I mean sure, Far Cry 5 does build up to a nice twist at its close, but the game barely says anything about the central force in the land: Project at Eden's Gate. The PEGgies are not that creepy, nor are they sympathetic, and their propensity for brainwashing makes them less interesting than mere mercenaries. The performances for each of the major villains is excellent, but the material itself leaves you with very little to ponder—like with the Americana aspect of the game, the use of a Christian cult felt superficial and absentminded. It's almost as though Ubisoft sought not to step on any sensitive toes, so they opted to use a cartoonishly evil cult in an exaggerated, toothless depiction of rural America.
There's a dramatic irony in the fact that what led me to the Far Cry series was its innovative and multiplicitous approach to combat. I thought it was so cool how you could go in with guns blazing, or sneak through a facility planting bombs, or snipe your opposition from a far-off mountain ledge. But after liberating what must be over 100 bases by now, the Far Cry series has begun to feel formulaic. I know to take out the snipers first, then silently take down the heavies, and to throw remote explosives onto any enemy reinforcements that show up. The action is still fun, but each stronghold offensive felt more and more like I was checking items off a list, instead of proving my guerrilla mastery. And compounded by the lack of a strong central plot, I don't know if this fault lies squarely on Far Cry 5's shoulders, or if I'm simply yearning for something new.