Oh no, Far Cry 5 doesn't have leveling
I like to fill up bars in video games, especially bigger ones.
I know that it's Skinner Box design at its purest. XP grinding, leveling up, "character improvement"...they're all just dressed-up buttons with food attached to them.
But this sort of psychological hook is at the basis of most successful game design concepts, and there's something refreshingly honest about the brazenly naked depiction of this as a bar filling up that then makes a musical fanfare play.
XP grinding often keeps me going in a game when the main story gets a little bit pacey.
If designers tie earning XP into the various mechanics of a game, that's an easy way to gently push the player to engage with these systems while also feeling some sense of ownership or mastery over them.
Far Cry 3 and 4 did this very well. You earned XP for fighting enemies, completing missions, finding treasure, and taking over fortresses. Although there are sometimes bonuses for doing these things in a stealthy manner...progression is largely up to the player. You can earn enough points to unlock the abilities you want with whatever playstyle you'd like, gently encouraging freedom.
Far Cry 5 has totally broken this.
In Far Cry 5, the leveling system is streamlined down to the point of near non-existence. It makes a similar mistake to Just Cause 3. There are still perks to earn...but they're all tied to specific challenges, which are themselves tied to certain styles of play.
Gone is the freedom to explore the different gameplay systems, replaced by a checklist to fill if you want to get certain perks. This makes the task before you more concrete, sure...but also robs this aspect of the game of any of its freedom. What if a perk I want is attached to a weapon I don't like to use? Too bad, I have to use that weapon now.
This is a huge and baffling design misstep, in my opinion. It's change for the sake of change. It's time spent iterating on a system from previous games that wasn't broken and didn't need fixing.
I'll have more to say about Far Cry 5 in the coming days, but man. The lack of the old leveling system, or a new, truly improved take on it, has already severely damped my enthusiasm.