Far Cry 5 makes for an incredible journey. I don’t think I’m pushing it too far when I say this may be Ubisoft’s best release in years. While sometimes the icon hunt in Far Cry can get a little ridiculous, and while there’s still the odd quest that feels like a chore to do, for the most part this is a tightly made open world with sharp graphics, fun gameplay, a great sense of aesthetic and some of the trippiest, scariest sequences in a video game this side of Silent Hill. However where Far Cry 5 is mostly a well crafted and engaging experience, the game manages to drop the ball big time when it comes to the ending. The saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination” fully applies here. So much so the destination cheapens the journey, by a great deal.
As I will be breaking down the three endings of this game, you can bet your ass this article will contain spoilers.
At the start of Far Cry 5, the sheriff’s department of Hope County, Montana is off to arrest a cult leader named Joseph Seed on God (and probably only God) knows how many charges. Including kidnapping, theft, drug trafficking, child abuse and homicide, just to name a choice few. You’re not told much going in outside of the fact that Joseph is one bad hombre who has brought Hope County under the iron and lead rule of his Eden’s Gate cult. A kind of amalgamtion of the Branch Davidians, Mormons, Scientology, Heaven’s Gate and perhaps a sprinkling of the Rajneesh movement. The idea is that if you cut off the head of the snake, the head being Joseph, the cult will quickly die and some semblance of sanity and order will hopefully (get it?) return to Hope County.
Naturally that doesn’t happen. Otherwise there would be no game to play. While Joseph let’s you arrest him, his zealous followers go as far as using their fleshy bodies to gum up the works of your escape helicopter, ensuring you, Joseph and all your law enforcement buddies are trapped in dem thar Montanan hills. Each of your friends is captured and gifted to one of Joseph Seed’s family members who serve as the cult’s lieutenants. The bipolar John Seed, the manipulative Faith Seed and the militant Jacob Seed. From there the game sees you antagonizing the ever loving hell out of each of the Seed siblings, with plenty of trippy drug sequences and torture sessions to be had.
Far Cry 5 often plays out like a psychological thriller, the cult uses mind altering substances and conditioning to make people extra susceptible to their manipulations, and the Deputy isn’t immune to their very effective mind games. Inevitably, for all their attempts to break you and tame you, the Deputy kills each of Joseph’s lieutenants, saves his or her cop buddies (for the most part) and earns the admiration of the Hope County citizens. Each and every one of them lifted from the cult’s bondage and given a chance to celebrate the life and liberty they were born with as Americans, popping off fireworks and clinking beer with each victory, free to get back to the American way of agricultural and industrial life.
Right here Far Cry 5 has built up two major elements that feel like they ought to have a strong resonance in the final hours of the game. First is the fact that each of Joseph’s siblings utterly rips away your self control as they attempt to turn you into a puppet. Sure you may break free of Faith’s euphoric Bliss and Jacob’s monstrous conditioning, but there are none too subtle hints they still have their claws in you, even long after they’re dead. Each time you recover from a mission in which you confront one of the Seed assholes, you can hear someone say “Don’t trust the Deputy, they’ve been with that Seed sibling too long.” I felt as though I could very much be the Manchurian Candidate.
The second most prominent theme is that very American ideal of life and liberty. The Deputy is an agent of freedom. You’re not just some soldier of fortune or random tourist caught up in a crappy turn of events like in prior Far Cry games, you’re a peacekeeper, and this is your home. You may be new to the force but people know you. You’re fighting for them, for your friends and neighbors, and when all the fighting is through they have a nice cold beer and a grilled pair of BBQ bull testicles (seriously) waiting for you. The game hammers home themes of friendship and family. Your allies banter when they’re with you in your party. Everyone is grateful you’ve got their back and they promise they have yours. Montana isn’t a “Far Cry” for anyone. This is home. This is where your loved ones are, and you’re damn right we’re going to celebrate freeing them from the cult’s oppression.
Then you get to the two endings. Both of which utterly squander every single thing Far Cry 5 has spent the last 20 to 30 hours building. The game’s beginning and end are ultimately circular. It starts with the arrest of Joseph Seed at his cult compound. It ends with the arrest of Joseph Seed at his cult compound. After several hours of real world time, with an implied several weeks, possibly months of in-game time, Joseph is within your grasp. When you finally think you’re going to give Joseph his comeuppance he has one final surprise for you. All of your friends are now in his thrall, fully under the effects of the cult’s mind altering Bliss drug. Your friends also have also recaptured the fellow sheriffs you worked so hard to rescue, a cold barrel pressed to the backs of each of their skulls. Joseph gives you an ultimatum. It’s the exact same set of binary choices you had when you first met him. You can arrest Joseph, or you can simply choose to “walk away.”
Now it may seem a bit asinine to walk away from Joseph. You worked this long just to arrest him all over again. However nearly every confrontation with the Seed siblings gives you very similar options. To either resist them, or submit to their bunk. Usually resisting them results in hardcore punishment. John Seed delights in his torture, ripping away the flesh of both you and your comrades each time you refuse to say yes to him. Faith can anyone to her will by whispering poison in their ears, and as you continue to meddle in her affairs she makes an example of your friends by convincing them to commit suicide. Jacob Seed wants to harden you into a warrior, and you can either participate in his war games or remain his prisoner for eternity.
It makes for quite an engaging push and pull between the Deputy and the Seed lieutenants. While the narrative is conditioning the Deputy, the game is conditioning you, the player. You’re also ultimately rewarded by doing as each of the Seeds says, as you find a more effective means of resistance by pretending to play along with their mind games. So yes, there is a case for seeing how things play out if you decide to submit to Joseph.
In the “Bad” Ending you decide sure you’ll just turn a blind eye to all this. Let bygones be bygones. What’s a little torture and homicide between two folks who agree to disagree? Joseph tells you all is forgiven. Deputy Hudson protests, but the other sheriffs decide it might be a good idea to mosey on. During the car ride Sheriff Whitehorse informs you that the second he gets all of you beyond Hope County, he’s going to call in the damn National Guard. Yes! That sounds smart! And like something someone should have done a long time ago. At first, it seems submitting is going to play out well against Joseph just like it did his brothers and sister.
That is until the sheriff turns on the radio. “Only You” by the Platters floats across the airwaves. Only You. No, Sheriff Whitehorse isn’t just a sappy old dude with a taste for golden oldie pop radio stations. Only You is the song that Jacob Seed conditioned you to murder to. And murder you have, slaughtering entire groups of close compatriots. Your world starts to go blood red as the Deputy enters their rage state. Sheriff Whitehorse looks to you and asks what’s wrong. Then the game goes to black, as Only You continues to play.
This is perhaps the more obvious of the two endings. It’s also quite disappointing because, well, it’s really not all that damn different from the optional “hidden” ending you get at the start of the game. One where you can choose not to arrest Joseph, walk out those doors, and presumably return to your average life of writing speeding tickets for squirrels, or whatever it is Hope County sheriffs do. The ending feels under cooked, like it’s an after thought, and it carries the tone of “well it’s like you did nothing at all.” After all your buddies are still all slaves of the cult, nothing is really any different aside form a few licks the other deputies have received. Further it betrays the setup of the rest of the game, where previously submitting to lieutenants worked out in the long run. Here nothing works out, but worse, nothing much happens.
This is compounded by the fact that the cult strongly hints the conditioning is working on you. You’re not just a ball of wrath (and John does name you wrath) out to exterminate the cult. You may actually embody all their ideals. Faith and Jacob hint that perhaps the cult’s actions were all for the sake of people like you. Joseph tells you something chilling moments before both miserable endings take place. He says you are the Collapse. Joseph predicted a great force of destruction washing away the sins of Hope County, and that may have been you.
But we’ll never know, because the game fades to black before you become the cult’s agent. You may not even be the cult’s agent. It’s left up in the air, one of those open to interpretation type things, but really it just feels like someone forgot to write the rest of the ending.
And that’s probably the better of the two.
You can resist Joseph instead. That’s all this game has been about, resistance. Sure John, Faith and Jacob may have been capable of forcing you to participate in some of their shenanigans some of the time, but there always came that breaking point where you rebelled against them and ultimately killed them. Nothing marries this more beautifully than the final confrontation with John Seed. John enjoys torturing his victims and making them submit verbally to his teachings by simply saying “Yes” to him. When you do say Yes, you manage to get your hands on a magnum and try to blow John’s brains out. You miss. But it’s a false acceptance of his teachings followed by an immediate, and violent rejection. If nothing else Far Cry 5 has taught us to resist these tormentors, no matter how great their leg up is.
Then of course resisting Joseph leads to the final boss fight. This last conflict has proven to be pretty divisive, but I personally enjoyed it. You fight Joseph in the middle of a violent tornado, which perhaps this localized meteorological event is another drug induced hallucination. As the storm rages on you’ll find yourself shooting down multiple copies of Joseph. Each of these copies is, in reality, one of your allies, whose actions and even appearance have been altered by the Bliss. Yes the Bliss is a hell of a drug. After you’ve knocked a crazed compañero on their ass with a few bullets, you get the chance to revive them. I suppose being shot brings them back to their senses, as they immediately take up arms to aid you against Joseph and his clone army. It’s very much Far Cry 5’s take on Undertale’s Hopes and Dreams, rescuing your allies from the final boss before securing their help in a strangely inspiring moment.
When it’s finally just down to Joseph the coward goes down in a few shots. It’s over. Your friends are safe. The sheriffs finally get to make their arrest of Joseph Seed. Or so you’re lead to believe. Within moments you see a mushroom cloud go off over the mountains of Montana. Your group lets out panicked screams, repeating the generally reassuring mantra of “we’re all fucked.” However that was only the first nuke. Another quickly follows. Then another. Nuclear fire and fury erupts all over Montana.
The presence of nukes in Far Cry, and their altogether sudden appearance in the narrative, feels silly as all get out. However there isn’t much to do but try and outrace the nukes. You read correctly. You jump into a car along with the other deputies and Joseph Seed and you race for an underground bunker while Hope County is baptized in fire. Once you make it close to the finish line you crash your truck (another mirror of the opening). This crash seems to kill your fellow officers. Since you never saw your other compatriots leave in their own cars, it’s safe to assume they’re all smoking skeletons. But you still survive. The game instructs you to keep moving towards the bunker. You try. Fail. But then some deus ex machina drags your ass underground before the end of the world can reach its conclusion.
Inside the bunker you are confronted by Joseph Seed. The only other survivor. To make sure it stays that way he’s also killed the bunker’s owner, and with him goes the last of your allies. First Joseph boasts about how right he was over the collapse. This is a good thing! The government is gone. Corporate America is gone… How Joseph knows these things as he was just in the dark as you are is anyone’s guess… But now it’s just the two of you, with Joseph playing the role of the Father and you as his child.
This ending is absolutely exhausting, frustrating, nonsensical and utterly drains absolutely everything that made the game so engaging. Forget for a moment how angry and bitter and nihilistic it is. What this ending does is far more grave than any of those things. It absolutely robs player agency. This is painful in most games, but one in which the title is 90% gameplay and even certain cutscenes are interactive, this hurts all the more. It takes your entire journey as a player and renders it absolutely pointless. Nothing you did mattered. None of the locations you freed are important because now they’re burnt toast. All the friends you rescued are now playing at being props on the set of a Terminator movie. And you are a prisoner. Which is exactly what you were when you began playing this game. Nothing you do matters.
Far Cry games do usually end on a bit of a downer note. However Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 have something that Far Cry 5 doesn’t. Story arcs. Plot relevance. Yes you end up being a bad person in Far Cry 3 and you place bad people in charge in Far Cry 4, but it’s all directly related to your actions as a player. It’s not pulled utterly out the aether, it doesn’t feel unplanned, and it certainly doesn’t render everything you did in those games worthless. It’s quite the opposite. I may not have felt good about my choice in leaving Far Cry 4’s Kyrat in the hands of a militant drug lord, but I did take an active role in propping her up as dictator. In Far Cry 5 the nukes just kind of happen. In Far Cry 5 no matter which ending I choose, I end up in basically the same place I started with. It’s poor writing that fails to capitalize on everything the narrative built. I fully expected to either be the All American Hero or a Traitorous Cult Zealot. Instead by the end I’m not much of anything.
There’s a point to be made in making the player utterly insignificant. I feel some titles do this well. Bioshock Infinite is a game that toys with the concept of player agency, and places you in a no win situation, a circular loop where you were going to die no matter what happened. However the entire theme of BioShock Inifnite was how the illusion of choice impacts player agency. Persona 5 starts with an inevitability. You are going to be arrested and punished for your actions. Then it subverts the entire idea in a stunning plot twist.
Red Dead Redemption gives the player regular warnings that the lead, John Marston, has hopped an express train to his own grave. By the end of the title this prophecy fulfills itself. All three of those games play with the idea that the player is working towards their own destruction, so the inevitable outcome feels satisfactory. Far Cry 5 doesn’t once play with those ideas, no one hints what you’re doing is essentially useless outside a single lieutenant, and even then it sounds like the kind of mocking every B-movie villain does in their death throes. The game just trots along with its horror movie inspired plot without once and pausing to ask the question “what is Player Agency?” So when it finally snatches away everything you worked on, it feels like a sucker punch. Like someone just wrote it because it was the radicool ending.
There’s another major problem with the ending. It’s the positioning of Joseph Seed as being right and justified in his actions, vindicating him in all his heinous acts of kidnapping, brainwashing and torturing people in order to prepare them for the end of the world. It’s not so much a problem that the game pleads forgiveness or, at the very least, an understanding of Joseph. In fact nearly all the Far Cry games do this. The Jackal and Vaas are justified in their cruel, exploitative actions simply because the environment around them is one of social and political madness. Pagan Min constantly warns the protagonist that he’s the lesser of three evils waiting for Kyrat, and in the long run the country will end up worse without him. However these prior games refrained from any hard endorsement of the villains and their actions. Instead the player was left to draw their own conclusions.
Far Cry 5 in contrast is incredibly on the nose when it comes down to vindicating Joseph Seed. So on the nose in fact, all your allies scream “Joseph Seed was right!” as the apocalypse comes for Hope County. That leaves exactly no room for interpretation or debate. You’re not left to ponder on the wider implications of your actions in Hope County or the actions of the core villain. You’re given a hard answer.
Introducing nuclear devices set off by outside powers further squanders one of the core themes of the Far Cry franchise, that it’s people, not weapons, that cause the most harm towards their fellow humans. The folks that push the button in Far Cry 5 are faceless. It’s an event well beyond the control of both the Deputy and Joseph Seed. It’s a lazy narrative tool that robs both the player and the antagonist. The Deputy and Joseph are merely hapless bystanders. Which is really weak for a series with an established legacy of strong downfall arcs for their protagonists and the even stronger, world shaking actions of their villains.
By the end of Far Cry 5 I fully expected to either be an All American Hero or a Cultist Faithful. Those are the conditions it setup for its endgame. Telling me nothing mattered has as much weight in Far Cry 5 as telling me the entire game was a dream, or an elaborate stage production written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I know those last two ideas sound silly and irrelevant. However so is the idea of a sudden and final nuclear war that was, at best, weakly hinted at. Far Cry 5’s ending is silly and irrelevant. It completely squanders the narrative in a heinous way, and leaves a taste in my mouth so bad it sours the other several hours of gameplay. Because what does it matter that I rounded up all my buddies in a bar, popped open a few bottles and got plastered with them? Or right. It doesn’t. It’s all no different than if I were to simply have walked away.