Actually, Far Cry 5's ending is good
This article will spoil all the endings of Far Cry 5, as well as the "secret" ending of Far Cry 4.
If you’ve played through the entirety of Far Cry 5, you’re probably familiar with both the “good” and “bad” endings. If you pick the “bad” ending, them game will drop you off right before the final confrontation so that you then have a chance to make the choice that results in the “good” ending.
You’ll note the heavy use of quotations, and that’s because neither outcome is really uplifting or even a net positive.
What happens in Far Cry 5's endings
The "do nothing" ending
The third, secret ending goes as such: you land at the compound of of Joseph Seed, leader of the Project at Eden’s Gate cult. You march through the compound with the county sheriff, some fellow sheriff’s deputies, and a U.S. marshal with a warrant for Joseph’s arrest. After a minute or so, you find Joseph in the compound’s chapel. After listening to Joseph preach his particular brand of fire-and-brimstone, the game offers you a subtle choice.
The marshal directs you to take Joseph into custody. Though the game doesn’t make it obvious (simply directing you to press a button to make the arrest), you can instead elect to do nothing. You’ll have a stare-down with Joseph for about 90 seconds, after which the Sheriff will decide that this is all a terrible idea, and you make for the chapel’s exit while arguing with the marshal. Roll credits.
Of course, the alternative is to arrest Joseph, setting in motion the events of the game, as well as the accompanying body count.
Keep this ending in mind, because it's important. The fact that Far Cry 5 gives you the option to avoid kicking off the violent action of the game is a crucial part of the story it's trying to tell.
The "walk away" ending
At the climax of the story, after eliminating all three of Joseph Seed’s Heralds, (his two brothers and one sister) you are directed to head over to his compound for the final showdown. You meet him at the doors to the chapel where earlier you tried to arrest him, except this time, it seems like he’s got the upper hand. He’s got nine of your friends from Hope County under his command by way of an aerosolized drug that Eden’s Gate uses to mind-control people, and they’re holding three of your fellow law enforcement officers at gunpoint. You are again offered a choice. You can walk away and take the sheriff and the two other deputies with you, or resist.
If you walk away, your little band of cops gets in a truck, supposedly to drive off into the sunset. The sheriff plans to head for the state capital, to ask for reinforcements from the state’s National Guard. Except before any of that can happen, your MK-Ultra-style kill-switch gets activated, by way of Only You coming on over the radio (earlier in the game, the cult brainwashed you into becoming their perfected killing machine and sleeper agent, triggered by that song...Just go with it, okay?).
It’s heavily implied that this causes you to kill the other officers. Fade to black, roll credits.
The apocalypse ending
In the “good” ending, you resist Joseph. You too get hopped up on the Bliss drug and then you and your allies fight Joseph in the middle of a a literal tornado. After you fill Joseph with the suitable critical mass of lead and explosives, the fight sequence ends. He has a bloodied lip and some scuff marks, and absolutely no sign of the RPG wounds you might expect. This time Sheriff Whitehorse himself slaps the cuffs on, which is immediately followed by total nuclear devastation.
A mushroom cloud rises over the mountains, and cue ranting from Joseph about “something something the seventh seal.” As debris from the shockwave starts buffeting the group, you all hop in a truck with Joseph in tow. The game gives you two minutes to make it to Dutch’s Bunker, where Dutch himself (a kindly old prepper who gives you advice throughout the game) is prepared to offer you shelter from the fallout. Driving to the bunker is utterly hectic: Birds fall from the sky, one of the other deputies does the prayer of last rites, there are flaming deer galloping across the road, car crashes everywhere, and more nuclear detonations are going off in the distance.
Eventually you wind up yards from Dutch’s bunker, at which point you crash into a tree. When you come to, all the other deputies are dead. Joseph pulls you from the wreckage. Your vision fades in and out, but he’s clearly carrying you somewhere. Another blackout. Then you're chained to a bed and staring at the corpse of your friend Dutch. Seed sits in front of you and launches into the final monologue of the game: This is all your fault. You’re at his mercy and he should kill you for your deeds. You should have believed him. He was right all along.
There is no ultimate vengeance, no warm fuzzy feeling, no satisfaction of a job well done, no happy ending. You lost. It took nuclear hellfire, but you lost, and everything you did along the way ending up being futile.
And this is the ending that has driven a lot of people, including a lot of folks in games journalism, crazy.
Why some people don't like the ending
Writers over at Polygon, Kotaku, and RockPaperShotgun (among other outlets) have expressed less than favorable opinions of Far Cry 5’s ending. Let's take a look at some of the objections raised before I offer my take on why Ubisoft deserves more credit than they are getting for the way Far Cry 5 wraps up its story.
Polygon's Russ Frushtick says that he was “able to tune out the game’s story almost entirely” and that he “knew how to have fun in this world, and step one was tuning out every human ever.” Yet at the end he felt unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The end of Far Cry 5 makes it feel "like all my efforts were for naught," he says, "and it even tarnishes a lot of the fun I had, since it all got blown up anyway.” He also complains about what he calls "emo art-school nihilism".
It's worth noting that Frushtick initially got some details wrong about what actually happens in Far Cry 5's nuclear ending, until he was corrected by a Ubisoft rep. There seems to be a fair amount of confusion about the cause of the detonations, and Frushtick made the same misinterpretation as many other Far Cry players by thinking Joseph Seed himself was somehow behind them. Between his admitted "tuning out" of the story leading up to the ending and his confusion about exactly why the nuclear apocalypse was happening at all, it's probably not surprising the intended meaning of the game's climax passed him by.
On Kotaku, Ethan Gach and Kirk Hamilton have an interesting dialogue piece wherein they discuss Far Cry 5’s ending. They have some very valid criticisms of the final battle with Joseph, but also land just short of picking up on what I think Ubisoft has been laying down since before this iteration of the series hit shelves. They seemed to understand that the explosions at the end were global thermonuclear war, instead of one hillbilly with a single dirty bomb. But they too miss the core theme that the game is trying to express with its ending.
While the Polygon piece comes off as mere discontentment over not being able to play the role of the victorious hero, the Kotaku article raises some good points about the pacing of the story and has some insights into how it could have been told more effectively. Still, though, Gach and Hamilton express a sense of dissatisfaction over the lack of a more fulfilling outcome. They also remark that ”...the ending winds up feeling abrupt and kind of random.”
Why do I feel like I’m the only one seeing another layer here?
Why I like Far Cry 5's ending
I’ve got two major points in rebuttal to the biggest gripes people seem to have with Far Cry 5’s final act.
Firstly, yes, the ultimate message of the game is one of total nihilism, but that isn't actually a failing of the story. It's a feature, not a bug.
Yes, every life you save, psychopath you slay, and landmark you liberate is for nothing. None of your perks matter. None of your weapons or upgrades or even your heroism have any consequence in the long run. You aren’t even really a hero, because the game only ever gives you a couple of choices, and going by the canonical ones, you chose wrong. Those bombs would have fallen no matter what you did in this game, and despite your best intentions, you saved no one. Your actions were futile, and that makes for a damned good shakeup in the world of AAA gaming.
In the world of indie games we've come to expect sadness, hopelessness, dark endings, and challenges to our preconceived notions, but clearly many gamers aren't prepared for that kind of storytelling in a game like Far Cry 5. We’ve come to believe we’re entitled to that warm, fuzzy feeling of "winning" when we beat a mainstream AAA game, but we’re not.
We should be applauding Ubisoft for bucking the trend and probably ignoring whatever market research data says people want to live happily ever after. They’ve gone and published something avant-garde and managed to get it in front of thousands upon thousands of people.
If you really pay attention to the game, the ending doesn’t "come out of nowhere". In my 27 hours with the title, I mused several times on the possibility of Eden’s Gate being correct in thinking the world was on the brink of collapse, before I was anywhere near the ending. I didn’t need any radio broadcasts warning of impending doom (because admittedly, I never heard one of those either) because the game browbeats you with the possibility of the apocalypse in what felt like a majority of the interactions I had with major cult characters.
Joseph Seed’s philosophy is centered on the idea that we are in the end times. As he says it, the collapse is nearing. He repeats this idea in almost every cutscene in which he’s featured, and his very rise to power is based on this idea having come from the divine. In his eyes, the Project at Eden’s Gate will save lives. That’s why each of his heralds is based in an underground, blast-resistant bunker. That’s why he wants strong workers in Faith’s Angels, and strong warriors in Jacob’s Chosen. It’s why he’s tasked John with “recruiting” as many people as he can: so that Eden’s Gate can stuff every person and resource that they can into bunkers so as to survive the end of the world, then reemerge to claim a new world once safe to do so.
Their methods are abhorrent, and their morals are reprehensible. And while I feel that Joseph is a true believer, he and is siblings are all the worst kind of psychopath. In a vacuum they’d deserve to be put down like the rabid dogs they are. But with the knowledge that they are actually right about the coming apocalypse, just in terms of actual human lives saved, the player is the greater evil.
If the Project had had its way, a sustainable human population would be squirreled away in underground bunkers during the devastation, ready to repopulate and reshape the world in their really, really messed-up image.
Signs of the times
If Joseph Seed’s rantings and ravings aren’t enough, take a listen to the game's official soundtrack. That link is to the “Far Cry 5 Presents: Into the Flames” album, which is a collection of only the original, folksy songs that Dan Romer composed for the game. These play over the radios in the game world, and the album doesn’t include the purely instrumental background music.
By my count, roughly half the songs have lyrics that deal with themes like war, judgement, safety, protection, or conquest. Mind you, in-game, all this music is sponsored by the cult and performed by its followers. It’s all pervasive in the game world, and it definitely reinforces the conviction these people hold that the end of the world is imminent.
There’s also the whole third of the game that deals with taking down Joseph’s sister, Faith Seed. Over and over again the game plays with the double meaning of her name, and many cutscenes during this section are carefully written so that Faith (the character) could interpreted interchangeably with faith (the concept.) If you need a refresher, here’s all of her cutscenes and dialogue, and here’s Joseph’s reaction to her death The foreshadowing is pretty insane.
Referring to the album link earlier, check out the fourth song, “Help Me Faith”. This whole segment of the game beats you over the head with the idea that you have to have Faith/faith, because Joseph is right. It says this plainly, but of course, we don’t believe.
But why would we believe? We're used to dismissing these kinds of apocalyptic claims, and that is what let Ubisoft pull of its twist ending. Religious fundamentalists and cult groups have predicted the end of the world over and over. They’ve always been wrong, so why would the player give any credence to yet another cult with yet another Bible-thumping leader who is predicting Armageddon? Obviously we wouldn’t, and back in the real world, we’d be right not to do so. But this is the attitude the Ubisoft leverages to take the game in a completely uncharted direction, and it apparently caught many players and journalists by surprise. Well done.
Importantly, Far Cry 5 isn’t the first time in the series that Ubisoft has experimented with the idea of the player's actions being "wrong," from a certain moral perspective. Far Cry 4’s secret ending, which was very similar to the "do nothing" ending hidden at the beginning of Far Cry 5, touches on the same idea. Maybe doing nothing, and not reacting with force and violence, is actually the right move.
If you leave that dinner table in Far Cry 4 or you attempt to arrest Joseph in Far Cry 5 you set in motion events that come with massive body counts. Maybe you did it for the right reasons, but Ubisoft wants to make you think about your actions. In the end, do you really feel like a hero?