In Far Cry New Dawn, home is where the health upgrades are.
All the other upgrades, too. Within the confines of Prosperity—the base camp for the group of survivors you join up with at the start of the game—everything can be improved, and improved and improved again.
Navigating the camp is as simple as scrolling through a menu. Each station (Weapons, Expeditions, Herb Garden, etc.) is marked with an easy-to-read banner posted over it. As you collect crafting materials out in the open world, you’ll bring them back to camp and make a beeline to the station you need to upgrade. (Editor’s Note: You can also upgrade the camp from the in-game menu anywhere in the game world.)
Want to make a boss battle easier? Level the workshop up all the way and amass an arsenal of shiny golden elite weapons. Want to fast travel to and from more locations? Bring your duct tape and scrap to the Expedition station. Existing in Prosperity is as straightforward as navigating a 3D skill menu. There are even some helpful in-world posters to remind you how progression works.
While Prosperity is the nexus of Far Cry New Dawn’s RPG elements, it does little to encourage actual role-playing. As I steadily upgraded my base, I was satisfied as a player, but never felt like the post-apocalyptic survivor the game cast me as. As I walked around the camp, I interacted with my fellow survivors only as a way to access missions. I never got lost on my way to a station; the helpful in-world banners guided my way.
Playing Far Cry New Dawn while Red Dead Redemption 2 is still fresh in my mind highlights the things that Rockstar’s latest open-world game does so well. Far Cry New Dawn offers a clean, colorful, functional video game camp, but Red Dead Redemption 2 offered something more.
At times during my 110 hours with Red Dead Redemption 2, I wished the Wild West-sim was easier to navigate—like when I was spending hours on horseback to rank every show in the game—but the lack of overtly video game-y features in camp helped sell me on the feeling that I was inhabiting a world. While Far Cry New Dawn’s posters and banners make it easy to find everything you’re looking for in camp, their inclusion breaks the fourth wall. In Red Dead Redemption 2, I could spend hours in camp, playing poker, shooting the shit with Hosea or just drinking coffee and reading Arthur’s journal. But, in Far Cry New Dawn, I’m continually reminded that I’m playing a video game; that there are tasks that must be accomplished.
Maybe more significantly, with its camp design, Red Dead Redemption 2 rejects the easy power curve that Far Cry New Dawn embraces.
Spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2 follow from here on out.
Red Dead Redemption 2, to many player’s chagrin and to its story’s benefit, is not a game that cares about how satisfying it can be to upgrade your camp. The game pump fakes in this direction early on, tasking players with making (read: stealing) money to pour into camp upgrades. You can chip in for larger ammunition and food stores, a more spacious tent and a more robust dinner menu, among other quality-of-life improvements. So far, so game-y.
But, Red Dead Redemption 2 tells a story about entropy; about things breaking down and falling apart; about the ways that westward expansion and industrialization spell the end of an era for the thieving, murdering van der Linde gang. So, instead of offering the satisfaction of RPG-style progression, Red Dead Redemption 2 embraces a power curve that follows the arc of its narrative. That camp you spent the opening hours upgrading isn’t worth anything when the gang—in reduced numbers and on the run—hole up in the mountains. Fast travel doesn’t work anymore. Essentially, you’re back to where you started. Things fall apart, after all.
When Dutch gives his final speech to his diminished gang, it works because it feels desperate and pathetic. It doesn’t even get a cut scene. You’re free to ignore your leader and go about your business, talking to your remaining gang members. They don’t have much to say.
A Big Tent
Of course, not every game should be Red Dead Redemption 2. I love it. It was far and away the best game I played in 2018. But, I’m busy and most of the time I like fast travel. I like functional hub areas that make it easy to access everything I need. The video game space needs big, bold games like Red Dead Redemption 2 that push the medium forward, that attempt things that no one has seen before. But, Far Cry New Dawn gave me everything I needed to have fun and asked very little in return. That’s admirable in its own right.