Every subsequent game in the franchise since Far Cry 3 has felt like a small series of revisions and iterations rather than true revolutions. With Far Cry New Dawn revealed as the series’ first direct sequel with something of a different setting for these games, hopes were high that they’d overhaul the mechanics and story beats that we’ve come to expect so far.

So what’s on offer here? Well, there’s slight spoilers for the ending of Far Cry 5 here, as it’s the premise for New Dawn.

Despite having multiple endings, the canonical conclusion for that game sees nuclear bombs decimating Hope County. New Dawn kicks off 17 years later after the world has done some rebuilding and a gang of raiders called the Highwaymen has moved in to claim everything for themselves.

The player needs to stop the Highwaymen, their leaders (the twins seen in the header image above) and collect resources to advance their home base.

With that all sounding rather promising we got a chance to give it a try an event here in Johannesburg earlier today. We sat down at a PS4 Pro to put around three hours into the game. Our impressions come from the very beginning of the game, so keep that in mind.

While the setting may be what draws most people in, the environment here is quite at odds with itself.

Instead of the dry, desolate wasteland you’d see any many post-apocalyptic tales, Ubisoft wanted to do something a bit more hopeful with New Dawn. The flora and fauna have sprung back rather quickly and the world is lush and full of life. The use of the colour green and especially pink in much of Far Cry New Dawn’s marketing appears to mirror how the world has gotten by quite well while humans have been either killed by the bombs, or have been cowering in bunkers.

Because of this the world feels simultaneously alive, but rather dead at the same time because of how empty much of it is. It feels less like a post nuclear holocaust world, and more like a small back country that has been abandoned – like a US mining town or similar.

Those looking for a Mad Max adventure won’t find that here, at least not in the early parts of the game. All of this means that this setting feels like window dressing. While some could argue that the setting of any game falls into this category, it should have done more to influence the game here.

Combat feels much the same. While your weapons and the enemies you use them in come across as cobbled together rather than paramilitary, the theme and aesthetic don’t go far enough. The most exotic weapon is probably the saw blade launcher you can see above which is unlocked early on.

The gunplay is probably the best from the series so far, thankfully. The guns pack a hell of a punch and the early starting weapons actually feel rightfully underpowered. Shooting enemies and wildlife still feels great and we found ourselves pushing to unlock new weaponry just to go out and shoot more.

How do you do that? Well, by playing to the light RPG elements here, and we do mean light. Throughout the world you collect token resources to unlock just about everything in the game. The main resource – ethanol – gets you the most important upgrades, but you will be collecting duct tape and springs galore if you want new weapons and vehicles.

The strange thing here is that you already did a hell of a lot of collecting in the other Far Cry games to get ahead regardless. This doesn’t feel like an overhaul of the game economy, as it’s more of a reshuffle. There’s one or two fun tweaks like the ability to voluntarily give up captured strongholds to fight them again against tougher enemies for more reward.

The story and mission structure are similarly familiar and predictable, up to a point where the first story mission we played has a turret section in it.

That being said the setting is used to influence this and you’re given a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing what to tackle. We could have gone the full three hours and not touched the story during our time with the game.

We’re going to spoil one side mission and maybe make a few people upset too. In this mission you need to rescue a dog that defended some people from the Highwaymen and was subsequently taken away by them. While you’d expect the dog to just be kept at a base in a normal game, it’s instead kept at a butchery here.

Why? Because people still want to eat meat after the nukes and finding and eating wild dogs makes much more sense than trying to cultivate cattle. It’s gory but makes sense in the world and you get to rescue a few dogs, which is nice.

While we do have major gripes with the lack of innovation here, we do have hopes for New Dawn if the later parts of the game lean more heavily into its themes and we get more of those smarter missions that don’t devolve into sitting on a machine gun and mowing bad guys down.

Far Cry New Dawn launches on 15th February, so we’ll have to see then.