Far Cry 6 wants you to return your handgun to its holster. Ubisoft Toronto is enacting a sweeping revolution, all within the confines of a series that has long struggled with reinvention. That begins with the holster, an innocuous new addition to your arsenal that has the capacity to change Far Cry's rules of engagement entirely. Far Cry 6 is set in a world worth saving and, for once, you'll have the agency to appreciate its beauty before you pepper it with bullets.
"We are trying to embrace this feeling that you are a modern guerrilla fighter. One of the things that guerrillas do in the real world is blend in with civilians; you don't know who they are or where they are, and that's exactly what we wanted to emulate. Now you can put your gun away," says David Grivel, lead gameplay designer. "It means that, as long as you don't do anything crazy, no one will bother you. If you just want to go fishing or play dominos then you can do that, and you will be fine. What this gives you is the agency to start combat when you want to, not when the game wants to."
That freedom is a key distinction, particularly in the aftermath of Far Cry 5 – a game that actively refused to leave players alone, the series' once impressive sandbox systems now running on overdrive. The 2018 release was a true artistic and technical achievement, although that became difficult to appreciate through its obsession with keeping you moving and shooting. Should you try to quietly admire the architecture of Hope County, you'd soon find cultists crawling all over you. Try to sit by a lake, staring out at the horizon of a truly wondrous virtual world, and the game would take cruel delight in shattering the serenity with packs of marauding animals.
If Far Cry 5 was a hyperactive assault on the senses, Ubisoft Toronto wants its sequel to strike a better balance between catharsis and carnage. Narrative director Navid Khavari says that you'll see that reflected all throughout Far Cry 6's playable space. "We are going to throw you into our most ambitious open world yet. Yara is an island deep in the heart of the Caribbean, filled with rich tropical ecosystems alongside decaying urban landscapes; Yara is an island of contrasts."
World designer Ben Hall explains that Ubisoft Toronto "set out to make the player truly feel like the player is exploring an entire country, and not just a single region." Yara is a patchwork of "luscious biomes and urban environments in decay", designed to let you to transition seamlessly between marshy swamps, dense jungles, lush beaches, quaint villages, bustling towns, large cities, and everything in-between. "We have created a strong contrast between the beauty of the nation and these urban environments that are new to Far Cry, in terms of the density that we have pushed for."
As Ubisoft Toronto set out to create its guerrilla fighter fantasy, the studio quickly realized that it would need to let you roam freely to truly appreciate that contrast. "You can tackle missions in almost any order that you want," says Grivel. "The narrative was built in such a way that you can start anywhere in the world, you can talk to anyone, and do missions in whatever way you want to. We are trying to be as open as we can with players," he says. "Player agency is absolutely key."
We ask Grivel whether you'll be able to take a run at the big bad right from the jump, as Link was able to against Calamity Ganon in Breath of the Wild. He's keen to steer clear of spoilers for "the end of the game", a statement which suggests that there will be progression states that need to be met before you can free Yara of the tyranny of Antón Castillo. However, you can go and immediately create a little carnage in his backyard. "You can go absolutely anywhere from the beginning, but some areas will be more difficult than others. If you want to start by going to Esperanza, yeah, you can, but it's going to be very challenging."
Hall tells us that he can't wait for players to see the capital city, as it's an urban space offering opportunity, detail, and scale unlike anything we've seen in Far Cry before. "It's something new and fresh, and it was a huge challenge; it's taken a lot of people a lot of effort to bring it to life. The city is under lockdown, so it's a space that contrasts so heavily to the rest of the island," he says. "It's completely controlled by the military, it has elite troops patrolling the streets, and anyone seen in the city is pretty much shot on site. Anton is protecting his 'lion's den'; it really creates a different sensation."
When Hall talks about Yara, he talks about it in terms of "sensations" – the way that you'll feel as you begin to move around the world and push against the interlocking systems that bring it to life. A big shift in sensation is found in the contrast between the natural landscape, which a "wide range of animals" hold dominion over, and the developed environments, of which Yara's militaristic forces rule the streets, airspace, and oceans. That contrast creates a sensation all of its own, particularly as you begin to get a sense of the dangers that lurk all throughout the world. "The military is taking over parts of the country, reutilizing elements of the infrastructure of the world to set down their oppression".
Far Cry's infamous Outposts return, this time as FMD bases that have been set up in converted schools and TV stations which need to be toppled so that Libertad's resistance leaders to wrestle control of Yara away from Castillo's regime. Flak cannons have been placed at key points of militaristic value to help El Presidente retain control of the airspace, and those will need to be toppled to help thin the number of helicopters and airplanes flying overhead. On the ground, checkpoints have been set up along the complex web of roads that connect Yara's disparate locations – "hot spots that will need to be taken," Hall contends, "so that it's easier for you to traverse the world by road."
It's all well and good for Ubisoft to maintain that the entire map is open and traversable from the outset, but if you're unable or otherwise unequipped to make it to your intended destination without an army chasing you down, then it wouldn't matter all that much. That's why there are alternative ways to get around, namely via a network of paths that have been carved into the natural landscape by guerrilla fighters from a prior revolution. It's on these guerrilla pathways that you're going to meet other resistance fighters and leaders, find new equipment, and scout for vantage points to help you get the drop against your aggressors.
The guerrilla pathways will also help connect you with the ordinary citizens of Yara. As you move between the pockets of civilization, you'll also find fresh opportunities to push against the Castillo regime. Thanks to your ability to put away your weapon, you'll be able to sneak into areas undetected and engage in a little subterfuge, sabotaging and hacking military equipment, and bribe officials for access and intel. Of course, the viability of this system depends entirely on how well Ubisoft is able to adjust Far Cry's famously aggressive UI for more passive interactions, but we're yet to get a real sense of that just yet.
Yara is a beautiful, dangerous place, and holstering your weapon will only get you so far. Grivel gives us an example of how holstering your weapon can be used to your advantage in the world, and how the AI has been programmed to respond. "You might drive up to a military truck and really want to take it over. You could holster your weapon, pull up to the driver who's none the wiser, and at the last second pull out your gun, shoot them, and hijack the vehicle in one go. That kind of thing is exactly the dimension that's been added by this simple change of being able to holster and unholster your weapon."
"If you keep taking advantage of this system, shooting at a bunch of soldiers, that means you are pushing the world. If you push the world, the world will push back." New to Far Cry 6 is a Notoriety system, a metric that will help you track your rising infamy throughout the world. The more carnage that you create, the faster enemy NPCs will recognise you and become actively hostile. "At some point, you will cross a threshold where Antón Castillo will send reinforcements to look for you because you are creating so much chaos. But at least now you have control; you have the choice of creating that heat, if you want to," says Grivel.
"If you see enemies in the world, and you get close to them, then they will start recognizing you," he continues. "The good news is that this [Notoriety] goes up, yes, but it can also go down. There is absolutely a way for you to get back into full incognito mode, which was really important". Ultimately, this all factors back into this question of agency. While you can take a stealthier approach and really embrace the fantasy of becoming a guerrilla fighter, Grivel is quick to point out that "Far Cry is a shooter first and foremost". Gameplay director Alex Letendre reveals that this sequel "has the biggest roster of weapons in a Far Cry game yet, with more than 49 military-grade weapons" to utilize and customize, alongside a wide array of makeshift Resolver weapons and gear pieces. If you want to run riot, you absolutely can.
As a series, Far Cry has always been caught in this balancing act between presenting new ideas and preserving the identity of the brand. With Far Cry 6, it appears that Ubisoft Toronto is packing as much into the experience as it can manage before handing it off to players – what you do with it, and how you chose to liberate Yara, is in your hands. "Player agency is shown through the tools, the weapons, and the Amigos that we've created," says Grivel. "They all support a different playstyle, from stealth to full action, to sniping, to anything else that you can think of. It's up to players to mix and match to find the right spot."
Want to learn more about Ubisoft's latest? Then you'll want to check out our full Far Cry 6 preview, which has new details on the world, weapons, and characters you'll meet in Yara.