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Image: Ubisoft

Mega-publisher Ubisoft is in need of a hit with the launch of today’s “Far Cry 6,” an already-divisive sequel that has the best shot of giving Ubisoft a 2021 blockbuster.

Why it matters: Ubisoft’s workplace issues — its failures and the internal and external efforts to address them — have rightfully gotten a lot of attention in the past year. They exist alongside deep creative problems that raise questions about Ubisoft’s future as a hitmaker.

  • The company is two years removed from a game that was so poorly received that Ubisoft delayed three major releases to improve them.
  • Last year’s big fall Ubisoft games included one surefire hit, “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,” but also a flop in “Watch Dogs Legion.”
  • Ubisoft has spent much of 2021 announcing radical online multiplayer-focused shifts for some of its best-known franchises, which haven’t launched yet.

The details: For now, there’s “Far Cry 6,” which puts players in the shoes of Dani Rojas, a guerilla fighter in a fictionalized Caribbean nation that resembles Cuba (and has mixed results depicting its Spanish-speaking citizenry).

  • It is not a franchise deviation. In keeping with the five other major “Far Cry” games of the past decade, it focuses on open-ended, chaotic first-person conflict, letting players gather an arsenal of weapons and vehicles to use to attack enemy bases and slowly move through another gorgeous virtual locale.
  • The series has done the same with games set in a fictional Himalayan country, somewhere in the Stone Age, and, most recently in a Montana county overrun with religious extremists.
  • “Far Cry” games nod at serious themes — here, the difficulty of revolution — but spend much of their time being goofy — here too, the opportunity to use a rooster based on a “Street Fighter” character in the game’s virtual cockfighting.
Image: Ubisoft

Reviewers have been all over the place, with this one praising it, another calling it “fun but the most inessential game I played this year” and one just bailing on it because it is so much more of the same.

  • This reporter's take from several hours of playing: Fun but, yeah, very familiar, feeling a bit like an annual phone upgrade that I could have skipped.

The big picture: Not all change is needed or good, of course. The sequel is getting knocked for playing it too safe in the same week that the company’s announcement of a big change for its “Ghost Recon” series drew daggers.

  • Ubisoft has reinvented one of its big franchises in a way that was commercially successful. Its 2017 edition of “Assassin’s Creed” shifted the series from focused, stealthy adventures to sprawling, action-first epics.
  • It has yet to figure out a successful reinvention for its other big series.

What’s next: “Far Cry 6” may well be a hit, as “Far Cry 5” was before it, but Ubisoft appears to know a shake-up is needed.

  • During a podcast in June, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier noted that the next “Far Cry” could go in a “radically different direction.” That tracks with a source of my own who said the company was exploring a more online-oriented approach for a sequel.

Go deeper

"Squid Game" meets video games

Image courtesy of Netflix

"Squid Game" is Netflix's biggest series launch ever with more than 111 million views, but the show has taken root beyond the streaming platform in spaces like TikTok and the gaming industry.

Why it matters: The battle royale-style show's influence in video games seems to spread more every week.

Ohio sues Biden admin over reversal of Trump-era abortion referral ban

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Photo: Justin Merriman/Getty Images

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration Monday over a Trump-era ban on abortion referrals that President Biden overturned earlier this month.

The big picture: The lawsuit aims to reinstate two measures included in the 2019 legislation that required federally funded family planning clinics to be "financially independent of abortion clinics," and refrain from referring patients for abortions.

Oklahoma Supreme Court temporarily blocks abortion restrictions

A pro-choice activist demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked three abortion restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 1.

Why it matters: The laws would place new limits on medication-induced abortions and require doctors who perform abortions to attain board certification in obstetrics and gynecology.