Since Far Cry 3, every mainline Far Cry title has been defined by a choice. Sometimes there are choices given in the middle of the game, like determining the whether you lean on Amita or Sabal's strategies overall in Far Cry 4, but more often than not, the major choices come at the end of the game. These choices are meant to pay off the game's themes in some fashion.
This is going to spoil the endings for Far Cry 3, 4, and 5 in order to discuss the franchise's handling of its themes. Be prepared for that.
Far Cry 3: You Are The Gun
In Far Cry 3, white bro tourist Jason Brody has the final choice to either save his friends and leave the Rook Islands, or remain with Rakyat warrior goddess Citra. Coming down from a drug-induced high, Brody finds himself about to kill one of his friends. If you choose to save your friends, Jason cuts them free with the ceremonial knife and as he leaves the island, he condemns the violence he had to become to save his friends.
If stay with Citra, you kill your friends and join Citra in ritual mating. Once that's done, she stabs you with the ceremonial knife, letting you know that your child will become the Rakyat's mythical perfect warrior, which Jason and the player were led to believe was him. Citra even tells Jason (and by extension) the player "you won". Some thought the game was overtly leaning on the White Savior trope, but according to lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem, this ending was the point. Brody was in fact a tool of the Rakyat, a weapon pointed at their enemies and nothing more.
"The end of this game is all about what you as a player are. It’s your turn to be whoever you want to be," Yohalem told Rock, Paper, Shotgun in an interview. "The game’s argument is that Jason is basically used by everyone on the island – Jason is basically a gun, that is upgraded by the natives on the island. Because if you choose to become a part of that tribe and become their leader, it’s completely manufactured in your head! It doesn’t come from them at all!"
Far Cry 4: You Did This To Our Hero
In Far Cry 4, the focus is different, with protagonist Ajay Ghale being of Kyrati descent. His parents were founders of the Golden Path rebellion, but his mother fled to the United States when he was born. Ultimately, you find out the political situation in Kyrat is underpinned by a love triangle between Ajay's mother Ishwari Ghale, his father Mohan Ghale, and the antagonist of the game, the dictator Pagan Min. Ishwari was sent to spy on Pagan and instead had an affair with him. Mohan raged out, killed Ajay's half-sister Lakshmana, and then Ajay's mother killed him. Pagan, despite being a tyrant, legitimately loved Ajay's mother.
Your choice here is twofold. One, you can complete your mission and kill Pagan Min. Two, you can spare Pagan and spread your mother's ashes next to those of your sister. In turn, Pagan leaves control of Kyrat to you, as he's tired of controlling it and sees Ajay as sort of a son.
The second decision point pays off the earlier choices between the two leaders of the Golden Path rebellion: Sabal and Amita. Choose Sabal and Amita's supporters are ritually killed in front of the new spiritual leader. Choose Amita and the youth of the Golden Path are conscripted in child soldiers or slaves to fuel the Path's growth. Pagan, despite being a dictator, is actually the lesser of all evils in Kyrat.
"If you look at Far Cry, it definitely has some identity challenges if you look at the whole franchise, but the one thing that is consistent is that it operates from a very morally gray area," Far Cry 4 narrative director Mark Thompson told UnboundWorlds. "Humans really are the most savage animals and they’ll always be worse than anything else we could possibly find."
"We put our effort into making it a coherent universe that all of the factions and everything fell into, and in terms of the player’s character—the traditional hero who would normally be the protagonist—we made a conscious decision to make him completely empty, to the point that he almost has no voice," said Thompson. "People wonder why he would murder a thousand people to try and reach the top of the mountain on this noble quest, but AJ doesn’t kill anyone unless [the player] pulls the trigger."
According to Thompson, the game's real ending is the one you can get within the first 10 minutes of playing. Early on in the game, Ajay is left alone at a dinner table as Pagan heads off to torture a Golden Path leader. Most players escape at this time, but if you wait 10 minutes, Pagan comes back, takes Ajay to his sister's shrine, where he places his mother's ashes at rest, and both men leave together. As Thompson states, "That’s the story that any normal, sane human would do."
"The theme is right there from the start: AJ doesn’t make decisions, you make decisions, and what you do is ruin his life. You’re a player in a game and not a normal person," he explained.
Far Cry 5: Resistance is Futile
Which brings us to Far Cry 5. Like its predecessor, you're given the option early on to end things. The line between you and the protagonist is even thinner than it was in Far Cry 4; you create a character, male or female, and you're a nameless Sheriff's Deputy, known by most as Rookie or "Rook". This is shades of Far Cry 3, where the setting, the Rook Islands, was intended to highlight that the entire place was a fraud.
"Do you know what the name of the island is?! It’s Rook Island! Which means to fraud people! Look up the definition – the definition of 'rook' is someone that steals your money, or it’s a piece in chess. So this is an island that is a fraud. The point is, look under the surface. Not because the game is a fraud, the game is not a fraud, but the island is," said Far Cry 3 writer Jeffrey Yohalem in the earlier RPS interview.
In beginning, you're part of a joint task force sent to arrest Joseph Seed, the Father of the Project at Eden's Gate cult. The U.S. Marshalls ask for the help of the local police, so Sheriff Whitehorse and his deputies are along for the ride. When Joseph is served papers for charges of kidnapping with intent to harm, the player is given the choice to put the cuffs on him. If you do so, the game proper begins, with the cult taking over Hope County. If you don't, Whitehorse ultimately decides that his people aren't going to be the ones caught in the line of fire and you all leave under protestations from the U.S. Marshall.
Given Far Cry 4's composition, I'd guess this is supposed to be the "real ending". There's the acknowledgement that Joseph Seed is bad, but the local Sheriff isn't equipped to handle the situation, given how armed the People at Eden's Gate are. You walk away because this is not a problem for you specifically.
If you arrest Joseph though, the helicopter you take him away in is shot down. The rest of your people are taken by the cult, while you're saved by local doomsday prepper Richard "Dutch" Roosevelt. From there, you venture outwards, helping the local elements of Hope County resist the cult.
This choice is repeated at the end of the game, in what will likely be one of the controversial parts of Far Cry 5. In the final confrontation with Joseph, he uses his Bliss drug to turn your entire supporting cast against you, including your Guns for Hire companions. He gives you a choice. Continue to resist him, or take your friends and walk away.
If you resist Joseph, you finally arrest him and take him into custody. As you do so, the first of three nukes goes off. The Sheriff's group piles into an SUV (with Joseph in handcuffs) and takes off for Dutch's prepper bunker. Another two nukes go off as you race to the bunker. You're almost there when the SUV rolls over. You wake up in a mirror image of the first time Dutch saved you, tied to a bed in his prepper bunker. Except this time, Dutch is dead and Joseph is standing there over you, letting you know that you two are going to be together for a very long time. He'll start the cult anew, and you're the first convert.
This is a confusing ending. First, on face value, the implication is that Joseph Seed's prophecies of the Great Collapse are correct. Earlier in the game, Joseph refers to Sheriff Whitehorse as one of the signs of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." That's a reference to the Fourth Seal, and Joseph explicitly mentions the Seven Seals. Some have surmised that the other Seed sibling represent the remaining Four Horsemen: Pestilence, War, and Famine as Faith, Jacob, and John respectively.
The Resist ending is set up through radio chatter, which notes that Moscow has been bombed, warning that New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco could be targets as well. This hints at supernatural knowledge and excellent timing on Joseph's part. Assuming Joseph was correct, then the forced conversion of Hope County's populace was somewhat correct, saving some of their lives at the cost of their individuality (and uhh… lives). I'm a bit suspect on this part as Far Cry 5 acknowledges early on that the cult controls the airwaves, and in fact, it's one of the primary missions of the Whitetail Mountains to wrest control from them in that region.
Personally, I feel the timing of the ending is suspect. You arrest Joseph and the nukes go off immediately. What stands out to me is that the Walk Away ending does not stick to the same timeline, making me believe something is up with the Resist ending.
My first guess is that the three nukes that blow up correspond to the three bunkers the Project at Eden's Gate had around Hope County; each bunker contained a nuke that detonated, bringing about the Great Collapse. In Destroying the World to Save It, a book about the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, this is referred to by author Robert Jay Lifton as an "Action prophecy". A cult leader prophesizes something and then actively works to make that prophecy come true.
The second guess is that the entire Collapse is actually one huge drug trip. The fight happens around huge quantities of the drug Bliss. The Rookie and their entire supporting cast are shown to be susceptible to the drug; the Rookie is brainwashed into an assassination, while you actively fight your Bliss-addled comrades in the last fight. It's possible that the entire thing is a trick, based on the trigger word "Armageddon" stated by Joseph. One hint at this idea is the Eden's Gate flag in Dutch's bunker at the end, replacing the U.S. flag that was there before. Joseph was in the SUV in handcuffs, so there'd be no time for him to grab a new flag to put up in the bunker.
Far Cry 5: Can You Just Walk Away?
Then there's the Walk Away ending. Sheriff Whitehorse reiterates that this is way too much for the local police and a single U.S. Marshall to handle; it's time to get out of dodge and call in the National Guard. Everyone piles into the SUV and you drive away. As background to this ending, the Rookie was previously brainwashed with Bliss in the game and sent to commit assassination. The trigger for this was a song, "Only You" by The Platters. In the end, that song plays over the SUV's radio—again, still partially controlled by the cult—your vision begins to redden and you pass out. The implication is that you kill all your friends in your brainwashed state.
I have major problems with the Walk Away ending. Not the final part of the ending, which makes sense given that you never actually broke that original conditioning, you just sort of moved on. No, my issue is deciding to walk away from Joseph Seed at all. At this point, it's you and your entire supporting cast versus Joseph. He's literally alone.
Early on in the game you can somewhat make the argument that you're unprepared for the situation. The United States federal government should be handling this situation, not some local Sheriffs. At that point in the story, the only charges are kidnapping as far as we know.
The problem is after that, everything goes to complete and total hell. It's not like the Project at Eden's Gate simply captures people and brings them to the bunker. Far Cry 5 is clear that it's a very, very violent cult. All around Hope County, you'll find bodies impaled and hung up as warnings. People are frequently found dead and in some cases, you can save them from impending executions.
Of the Seed family, Faith is the most benign, but her region is full of Angels, cultists who are so deep in the Bliss that they've lost their minds. John Seed has a damned torture room where he takes corpses and turns them in weird, Hannibal-style art. Jacob Seed believes in survival of the fittest and his region has one of the more horrific characters, The Cook. The Cook is tied to Jess Black, one of the Guns for Hire. She wants revenge against The Cook because he hung her parents up to die in front of her, cooked their bodies, and fed it to her. This is a key figure in Jacob's part of the cult and it's clear that this happened some time before the attempted arrest of Joseph.
There's little argument to be made in terms of walking away at the end of the game. It's not a logical decision. It rings hollow. You know the full scope of the Project at Eden's Gate's actions. By this point, you have literally killed every other cultist involved in this entire horror. There's little reason to not do the same to Joseph, but you're never given the option. Instead, it's arrest or walk away. (And if a nuke really is going off, I can guarantee that folks aren't going to let a seat on the first SUV out of town be taken up by the murderous cult leader.)
Far Cry 5 is weird in that it doesn't allow for any satisfaction in its ending. In Far Cry 3, Brody can renounce the Rakyat completely and leave the island with his friends. He is scarred by the actions he took to save them and his friends are scarred by all they suffered, but there is some measure of peace in that option. Far Cry 4's final endings with Sabal and Amita illustrate how neither side is particularly better than the other, but your choice with Pagan Min can lead to something resembling understanding.
I've already surmised that like Far Cry 4, the "real ending" of Far Cry 5 is the one you can take at the beginning. But that still leaves either of the two options at the end of the game. Joseph Seed could've been correct in his prophecy, but the actions he took to get there were entirely wrong. There is no real doubt that action was necessary, and given the circumstances, that action is only available through yourself and various resistance elements. It's not like Far Cry 4, where Min is revealed to be somewhat better for Kyrat than the Path. The Father isn't better for Hope County, and the number of prepper stashes available in the region make it feel like more people would've survived if left to their own means.
The Walk Away ending is a complete abdication of responsibility. The architect of all this pain and misery is in front of you and it's unlikely that what's left of the cult at this point will be able to amass a significant return to form. Joseph Seed is the last step in a long road and it simply doesn't make sense to walk away at this point.
All that is before we get to the potential illusory nature. Bliss is shown to create very real delusions, so it's entirely possible that the ending is just a dream. So you're left asking yourself, "What is the overall theme being put forward?" If Joseph Seed correct, that's a plot point, not a theme. Far Cry 5 is meant address the overall feeling of tension about the state of America and the potential of the world ending. It's about how the cult and the people of Hope County differ in addressing that tension, but I struggle to figure out what the game's endings are saying about that. Do the ends justify the means?
"But I think the point is that we're trying to build a world where we take a relatively normal America and bring in a cult that believes what it believes. And it's pushing the citizens and the people who live in our world to the brink. And when the player comes in, they have the ability to basically go in and take America back. They go out into the world, they meet real world, they enlist them, and they're able to effectively take America back," Far Cry 5 creative director Dan Hay told USgamer in an earlier interview.
Is the ultimate point… America isn't worth taking back? That even if the people fight to take their home back, those selfsame people will just destroy it? That's a very Far Cry thing to say, harkening back to Mark Thompson's earlier quote: "Humans really are the most savage animals." I just don't find that to be all that revelatory of a theme. Illustrating the savagery of humanity is the easy part: see Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, or The Walking Dead. The interesting part is what people do in the face of that reality.
And at the end of the day, Far Cry 5's only answer in either ending… is lose. There's no way to save humanity. Just different ways of watching it die.