Okay, okay, it’s time to talk about how Far Cry 5 ends.
Before we get started, here’s a quick run through of each of the game’s three possible endings.
The Joke Ending
First there’s the “joke” one you can get just a few minutes into playing where you decide not to arrest Joseph Seed in the game’s opening. It’s a call back to one of Far Cry 4’s endings although much easier to get.
The Bad Ending
The second ending involves doing something similar at the end of the game. When you confront Seed at the end you can choose to simply take your friends and leave. If you do, the following scene plays out.
The “Real” Ending
Then there’s the third and final ending in which Seed’s prophesying about the end times actually comes to pass in the form of nuclear war.
Ethan Gach: Hey Kirk. Are you feeling cleansed of sin now that you’ve gotten Far Cry 5's “good” (though not really) ending? To be honest the climax of the game did not go at all as I expected. After such deliberate missions with each of his siblings, I expected the confrontation with Joseph Seed to be a much more interesting and complex version of a standard Peggie outpost. After all, you’re returning to the compound you failed to make it safely out of at the beginning of the game. I was expecting a very cathartic gun fight and instead—kaboom!
Kirk Hamilton: I’m not sure if I’m feeling cleansed of sin, but I’m definitely feeling SOMEthing. I finished the game last night, and my immediate reaction was basically “lol.” I, too, wasn’t expecting the game to end like it did. Like a lot of things about Far Cry 5's story, ending with an unexpected apocalypse is actually pretty interesting in theory, but wound up feeling like a bunch of jumbled nonsense in practice.
Before we get too in-depth, we both agree that the “bombs go off” ending is the true ending, right?
Ethan: Yes, without a doubt. The game also seems to agree. If you choose to turn the other cheek and leave with the Sheriff, none of what happens next gets logged in your save. After the credits roll and you start playing again, it just takes you right back to before the confrontation. The game’s attempts to open up other possible outcomes is about as convincing as Seed trying to logic bomb at the end about how really _you’re_ the wrathful one.
Kirk: What’s funny is, after it ended, my game got bugged so I was stuck in a loop watching the credits over and over again. (It took me back to that bug with Mary May and her long jog.) But yeah, I think the other ending, where you leave in the car and Jacob’s brain-conditioning appears to make you lose consciousness and presumably kill your friends, is just a joke. Especially because even if you did kill all your friends, it wouldn’t really matter, because the apocalypse is gonna happen a few minutes after that. Just by its nature, the true ending trumps all the other possible endings.
When that first nuke went off, my immediate thought was “Huh, I guess the cult had a nuke buried in the mountains?” But then, during that driving sequence, it became clearer that no, we were just seeing a small part of the global nuclear apocalypse the Eden’s Gate folks had been predicting all along. Ubisoft confirmed as much in a correction they sent to a Polygon article about the ending, so I guess that makes it canon. Was that your read on what was happening as you played?
Ethan: I don’t know what it says about me that my first instinct was: “Oh, global nuclear holocaust, that scans.” I think in that regard the game’s curve-ball ending was somewhat successful. Does the threat of mutually assured destruction keep you up at night much Kirk?
Kirk: No more than most people, which these days means, “only semi-regularly.” Though there IS always that bit of cheap excitement I get every time a game (or movie, or whatever) luridly imagines what it would look like if the whole world exploded. So I liked your review and know you were pretty mixed on the game overall—what did you think of the ending, as an ending?
Ethan: The second where you look past Seed’s face to the mushroom cloud blossoming above the mountains in the distance was one of the most intensely interesting for me. It felt like it took the dread you have walking Seed out of the compound at the very beginning and inverted it. I felt like I’d spent all of the game waiting for something to happen, an event or conflict I could emotionally invest in beyond the ambient storytelling and fun gunplay. And then for about the minute spent driving down the road as fireballs rain from above I felt like I’d found it: the game I’d been waiting to play. I don’t think that makes it a good ending necessarily, but it certainly got me invested in things. I get the feeling you found it much more crass. (edited)
Kirk: Not crass, really. I actually thought it was a killer idea for an ending, even though it wasn’t pulled off properly. So the whole game is about these rah-rah down home American folks taking up arms to save their homes, right? There’s all this lip-service to protecting your family, and the second amendment, and returning this community to what it once was. Every time you liberate a region it’s like, slow-mo glory shots of people holding American flags while fireworks go off.
And that’s 90% of the game—you play as an agent of this mighty American steamroller, just blasting your way through these asshole cultists who are so convinced the world is ending. And I really love the idea that actually, while you thought you were re-imposing The American Way on this backwater chaos county, the world was busy careening into an apocalypse. The thing you’ve been fighting to reinstate no longer exists.
That could be a hell of a twist ending, if the game had set it up properly. The problem is, it basically comes out of nowhere. Apparently there are some radio broadcasts that hint at some global conflict happening if you ever listen to the radio, which I didn’t. But think about how much cooler it could’ve been if you had been given consistent hints that there was something else going on in the world outside; nothing major or obvious, even just a steady stream of reminders that the world exists and you’re trying to get in touch with someone.
There’s a kernel of a good idea in there, and one that could’ve tied together the rest of this messy game in a funny, if extremely cynical, way. But like a lot of things in Far Cry 5, the ending winds up feeling abrupt and kind of random. I think when it comes down to it, this game just isn’t bold or sure-footed enough to do something as subversive and exciting as a good version of that ending would’ve required. It’s not on that level. And I do kinda wish it had been.
Ethan: I agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s the key contrast the game is on the verge (although even that is probably putting it to generously) of dealing with explicitly in the way you actually play. After you beat the game the starting menu of main street in Holland Valley turns from the idealized version to something out of Fallout. But once you get back into the game itself every sign of the apocalypse has been removed and its back to liberating the remaining outposts and completely whatever sidequests are left.
Back when Far Cry 3 came out you wrote that you thought the story would have benefited if it turned out the main character was actually Vaas the whole time. I think Far Cry 5's version of that would be the bombs dropping half or two thirds of the way through, completely upending the rhythms you’ve become accustomed to and transforming the game into something completely different for its final act.
As it stands, it feels completely at odds with the sense of normalcy you’ve been tasked with restoring, which is probably why it struck so many as flat note.
Kirk: Yeah - there’s a disconnect there. Part of it is that after the first ten minutes, the game basically never addresses the notion of the world outside of Hope County. Over time, that tunnel-vision reinforces how artificial everything feels. At first I was like, wait, I have a plane… why can’t I just go for help? Ten or so hours in, I’d still occasionally wonder why no one ever suggested trekking over the mountains and alerting the national guard. By the end of the game, I’d just accepted that this was basically a theme park and no one was going to behave realistically, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a video game. Which, fair enough. But because of that artificial isolation, it felt unfair for the ending to say, “Remember the outside world? Oh, snap, you didn’t think of THAT, did you??” And I’m like, well, no, I didn’t think of the outside world because this game just spent the last 40 hours telling me the outside world didn’t matter.
Ethan: The game has loose aspirations of riffing on the Twilight Zone but in the end it feels more like Goosebumps fanfic. Why are there no cellphone towers? Why does everyone have boomboxes? Right after you confront John Seed and he’s bleeding out he says at one point during his death rant, “Look at the headlines!” But clearly Hope County hasn’t gotten a newspaper in ages. His next line is “Look who’s in charge,” and it’s about as close as the game comes to trying to hitch the Seed death cult to some larger failing in the world, and the closest it gets to foreshadowing the ending. When John says “you can feel it in your bones” I thought “Yes, I can!” And then the next thing I knew I was trying to skin 10 grizzlies to unlock a machine gun with a shark teeth decal on the magazine.
Far Cry’s always seemed to be of two minds about itself, part graceless geopolitical acid trip, part shooter amusement park, and that’s always made them both interesting to me but also hopelessly irreconcilable. On the one hand I want to look at the game’s depiction of a nuclear apocalypse tied to the decline of American empire as clear evidence the game has a serious bone in its body, but at the end of the day it just seems to add more fuel to the fire of the existing contradiction.
Kirk: I’m with you on this series in general - I always have a great time playing Far Cry games, am always let down by the stories (even my beloved Far Cry 2!), and always have a fine old time poking and prodding at them after I finish. I didn’t really buy Far Cry 5's ending, but I do appreciate that they went for something bold instead of just cruising along into the sunset like I expected them to.
Ethan: Yea, I was fully expecting something along the lines of the post-outpost liberation cutscenes, just for the whole county and with a smattering of the friends we made along the way, which would have been more deflating in the end I think. We’re not the only one with thoughts though, and I know our readers have been itching for a good spoiler thread to tear through in the comments. Let us know, everyone: what did you think of Far Cry 5's endings?