Far Cry 5 has a bad story in the same way that the bubonic plague has a bad bacterium. It is, by a considerable stretch, the most abysmally written narrative in AAA gaming. Not just in how it so idiotically interrupts you in the middle of other scripted missions to force you to play through hideously badly written enforced semi-playable cutscenes, but in every word uttered by every character from start to finish. And wow, does it reach its subterranean nadir when it comes to the finish. It is time to drape yourself in spoiler warnings and embrace the volcano of awful that is Far Cry 5's ending.
Just in case, let me reiterate, this is an article that contains spoilers to the very end of the game. Although believe me, if you've not finished it and read this anyway, you'll only feel more compelled to play it to see if I'm exaggerating.
I didn't expect Far Cry 5's story to be good. Because I've played Far Cries 3 and 4. I'd assumed, before the game came out, that they'd serve up a god-awful confusion of half-baked ideas about cults and American militias, and prevaricate and ultimately chicken out of trying to make any form of statement of any nature. And I'm not claiming that with hindsight - I wrote it all down last May. I got it all right. But what I didn't - couldn't - predict, was that it would be so actively nonsensical, so far from meaningful as to rip holes in the known universe.
Let's nutshell. A family of loonies - the Seeds - have taken over a large stretch of rural Montana, a sort of county-wide cult. They've somehow established some sort of invisible borders to the whole area, despite being replete with aeroplanes and helicopters, and you are tasked with helping a team of about five from the county sheriff's department and US Marshals with trying to bring about an end to this heavily armed militia of hundreds, if not thousands. So, absolutely not a single tiny speck of even the broadest overview of its concept makes a lick of sense. The madness is palpable no matter how far out you zoom.
Zoom in on any aspect and it only gets more woefully ludicrous. For instance, how have they convinced this entire army of men (it's alllll men) to take up arms and fight absolutely anyone who doesn't adhere to the Seeds' religious proclivities? Is it an exploration of the terrifying power of charismatic cult leaders? Have they looked at how major religious texts can be used to convince the vulnerable of twisted notions? Do they explore the politics of poverty, picking up on the issues of the ignored poor white rural Americans raised by the election of Trump? Good grief, no. It's a magic drug!
The further you get in the game, the more heavily and awkwardly it leans on this lunatic crutch, where people are literally zombified by Bliss, a flower-based drug that causes, er, whatever the game fancies its causing in the moment. It's a hallucinogenic, but also causes euphoria, but also causes brainwashing, but also causes zombification. And best of all, just to make sure it's as awful as possible, when someone's under its control this is shown to the player by their head being surrounded by a perpetual green fog, like in a cartoon.
Along the way through this nonsensical trudge, one of the main bads is, apparently, brainwashing you. You are, by the end, programmed to turn into a Bliss-faced zombie cult-worshipping brainwashed acolyte by hearing the song Only You, by the popular beat combo The Platters. How? By enforced cutscenes and a complete abandoning of logic.
We've already discussed at length how atrocious is Far Cry 5's petulant way of literally forcing the player to play its core story beats, and it's within these non-optional poorly timed interruptions to the game that all this supposed brainwashing occurs. Except, it just doesn't. It's just not justified at any point. Instead the game opts to just declare that it's happened, and then once more force you to play through sections where you're shooting at imagined colleagues who disappear in puffs of green Bliss smoke. And apparently this is the conditioning required to justify one of the game's two endings. (There are technically three, but the third is the game's easter egg false ending at the very start.) So let's finally discuss them.
This Is The End
The game culminates with your pursuing the mission to take down Jacob Seed, the pivotal member of the Seed family, and the only one left by this point as you've taken out his siblings. You arrive at his church, just as you did at the beginning of the game, to find that he has somehow once more re-captured absolutely every main NPC in the game and has them under his power, their fog-faces making a laughing stock of the very notion of cults and their hideous cruelty. How he's re-captured them, when you've just spent the last twenty hours meticulously freeing each of them and ensuring their bases are safely under the control of goodies, is apparently not in the least bit important. They just are.
Seed gives you a choice. You can walk away, or you can attempt to arrest him. This is the moment that decides the two endings, rather than anything that's happened previously. Now, normally I'd be one to jump in here and launch a volley of "actually"s, because I've passionately argued before that seemingly binary choices at the end of games are no such thing - they're influenced by all that's come before them. All the story, all the experiences, all the characters - they've had an influence on you, the person playing, and these all influence the rationale behind the choice you make. Except here, nope, that argument doesn't even get a look. Because all that's come before has been such a contradictory mess of gibberish that the choice at this point makes absolutely no sense. Walk away from the lunatic serial killer for no given reason at the point of his complete defeat, or carry on doing the only thing you've been tasked with doing the entire time. That's the choice.
Ending 1 - The Nothing Ending
This is where you choose, for absolutely no narratively justified reason whatsoever, to walk away from the utterly defeated Seed. He says he'll set you free, if you'll only leave him to enjoy Hope County and his cruel, maniac cult that has tortured and murdered hundreds of people, stringing them up around the small towns, grotesquely arranging their mutilated corpses into genuinely distressing mangled forms... A cult that has, by now, been pretty much wiped out anyway. It makes sense on no given level. But hey, why not?!
So you do. And your companions express horror that you are, because, well, it makes no sense to do so. So into a car you get with the original tiny team of three, and you start driving away. Except, says the Sheriff, he has no plans to give up, and he's going to get the National Guard and come back and wipe out Seed for good. Just like you already had, but sure. Except he then puts on the radio, and wouldn't you know, Only You comes on! And through your first-person view, a red mist begins to creep in, and then it cuts to credits.
Oh no! Your brainwashing! You're going to kill them all probably! What a twist! A twist reliant on the Sheriff doing something as damned weird as thinking, "I know, let's listen to some nice local radio," in that least likely of moments. Presumably if he hadn't you'd have just gone, Seed would have been taken down, and then one day when you were in the shopping mall food court and the song came over the speakers you'd go insane and start bashing everyone around you with a plastic tray?
But there's been no good given reason why this should even work, previously. All the so-called brainwashing has taken place in cutscenes that contradicted whatever you were actually doing in the game when they forced you to sit through (or skip) them. But who cares?! Ubisoft didn't!
It's clearly meant to be this oooooooh! moment, but it's reliant on the player making an entirely irrational choice, followed by an extremely unlikely confluence of events, making it just look farcical and very, very stupid.
Ending 2 - The End Of The World Ending
Right, so, the other choice. Or as I like to think of it, just carrying on with what the entire game had been about. You arrest Seed. He starts blathering more of his miserably bland blather, quoting Revelation or whatever, which isn't interrupted by anyone for no reason, and then... some nuclear bombs go off.
Are they set off by Seed? No! Of course not, because it's obviously impossible that Seed has access to an arsenal of nuclear bombs. Are they related to anything that's happened in the game? No! They are just the biggest, dumbest, most irrelevant deus ex machina in all of terrible writing history!
(Edit: Some are saying in the comments that in-game radios talk of an escalating conflict with N Korea. I, at no point in the dozens of hours I've played, heard a word or this. Nor have many others. And if that's it, if the only justification is in some passing radio reports that most players don't even seem able to hear, then good grief. And that doesn't even begin to explain how, should it be the case, the other ending doesn't have any bombs go off!)
Now, someone might want to argue, "Ahhh but ahhhhhh! Didn't the Seeds predict such a cataclysmic event?" No. No they didn't. They just talked shite for interminable stretches, with no sense of insight or depth or complexity or intelligence. They just talked and talked and talked, with absolutely nothing to say. You could pick and choose some of the garbage they forced us to listen to and say, "Oh, maybe they psychically knew," but you'd be stretching to breaking point.
Others will contend that the game makes subtle hints at this wider issue, and that perhaps the Seeds are responding to an issue you've been too blind to see. Except, of course, none of their actions actually make a blind bit of sense in that context, and none of it even comes close to justifying why they're such disturbed serial killers.
No, instead, this version of the game's ending just randomly drops nuclear bombs on everything, because that's how stupendously astoundingly awful is Far Cry 5's story.
(And if you still want to argue that Seed pre-empts this at some point within the endless hours of his tedious dirge, then why doesn't it happen in the other ending?)
Oh, or maybe I'm being unfair! Maybe this is a statement! Maybe this is Ubisoft acknowledging that they've just created the worst written game in mainstream gaming history, and dropping nuclear bombs on it is the only appropriate response!
Except, again, no. Because it doesn't stop there. The attempt to flee the now on-fire county ends, inevitably, in a car crash. And you watch as, miraculously, Seed is fine. This is the SECOND TIME THEY DO THIS IN THE GAME. The first time, at the start, Seed has seemingly planned for his minions to shoot down a helicopter he's inside, with the apparent intention to magically be the one who's fine so he can capture you. This time it's harder to argue that it was his intention, but once again he's mysteriously impervious to crashes, and re-captures you and you alone, and takes you to a bunker. And then he talks and talks and talks at you until mercifully the credits start.
The End Of The End
There is certainly a strong argument to be made surrounding the central thesis of "Who cares?" Game endings are inevitably rubbish, and no one was expecting a Far Cry game to go out on a high. But I would like to present the antithesis here constructed around the idea of, "FOR FUCKS SAKE."
It almost hurts when you start to think about what you might have done with this high concept. The idea that the game could have - within all the entertaining nonsense that is a Far Cry island - intelligently explored the horror of cults, have attempted to be harrowing not for its revoltingly gross depictions of mutilated corpses, but rather by commenting on the possible innocence of those taken in. It could have remained as studiously non-partisan as it is (And good! Goodness me, Far Cry games have sadly proven they are no place for a commentary on Trump, or questions over the Second Amendment, or whatever), but still explored the realities of poverty, the suffering of the forgotten.
I can hear the counter arguments, the perhaps reasonable suggestions that such topics are still too weighty for such a trivial game. But my response is to point out that this IS a game about a lunatic cult taking over a portion of rural Montana, that it takes place in America, and to be non-partisan in those circumstances is to be extremely political. And to ignore topics on which your game's whole conceit is reliant is to make a strong statement.
Hell, forget the meatier notions and just think about a better light-hearted approach. Have the cult be right! Have the player realise they are working for a corrupt government, and end by joining the cult to fight back! That'd be stupid, but it'd at least be interesting.
Or if you really want to have a blow-shit-up ending, good grief, it was obvious: the Seeds have spent their time placing charges under everywhere and everything in Hope County, and in the moment of his arrest, he triggers it. Everything goes boom, all is lost, terrible damage is done - maybe it even causes Bliss to enter the wider water supplies of North America - and it at least makes a tiny drip of sense!
I'd love to know how a game ended up being this badly written. How every single NPC's pre-mission spiel is so astronomically dreadful, how the enemies were given not a glimmer of nuance, how every hint of subtlety or smarts was prevented from getting anywhere near. It's only fitting that the game's endings would up the ante on this cavalcade of cack, I suppose. But bloody hell, how.