Far Cry 4 Preview – What Will You Find in Shangri-La?

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Since its announcement earlier this year, Far Cry 4 has received some criticism for its apparent portrayal of subjugation of a dark-skinned person on the cover art, as well as a ton of fan-fare for its depiction of companion elephants wreaking havoc among your in-game foes. The former seems to have died out for the most part, as people eventually came to realize that the game’s ultimate villain may, in fact, not be the nicest guy. People seem to largely focus on the latter now, which is perfect, because weaponized elephants are amazing, and that’s where we really should be focusing our attention.

I got to visit Ubisoft in Montreal and check out some of the other aspects of Far Cry 4, and I was notably impressed. From the broad scope of the environments to the finest detail, the team has poured a lot of attention into bringing this world – as well as its history – into sharp focus for the player.

Far Cry 4 puts you in the shoes of Ajay, a Nepali native from a fictional region called Kyrat. Although he’s only in Kyrat for a personal mission completely unrelated to the goings on in the area, he gets pulled into the ongoing civil war, where his people are struggling to overthrow the tyrannical Pagan Min. I thought it was particularly bold of Ubisoft to use an internal war in Nepal – Nepal was, as recently as 2006, embroiled in an actual revolution of the common people against an authoritarian power – as the backdrop for the player experience.

The first of the two hands-on demos showed off the options a player will have in approaching any given objective. “[Far Cry 4] is all about tools and toys,” said Creative Director Alex Hutchinson. The team was eager to remind me at any opportunity that Far Cry was trying to give players options, choices, and decisions to make. Hutchinson described the “axis” of Far Cry 4 as “islands of challenge surrounded by opportunity. Here’s the challenge, here are the tools, do what you want.”

You’ll have an assortment of weapons to choose from, and many of the encounters – the aforementioned “islands of challenge” within the open world – will be approachable from any number of different angles. “Players should be able to do as much of what they want as they want,” said Hutchinson. “What we’re sort of doing is providing opportunities.”

The first demo took you to an abandoned temple that was seemingly under excavation by Min’s forces. After a short wingsuit flight from a nearby ridge, you’ll find yourself at the entrance, where it is immediately apparent that the ruined temple is moderately fortified, with 10 or so soldiers patrolling the grounds and digging in the ruins. You’re required to identify the captain, murder him with a knife (apparently shooting him isn’t sufficient for your purposes), snap a picture of his mangled corpse, and then escape using your Wing Suit. Of course, going in the front entrance with your assault rifle at the ready might be appealing to shooter aficionados, but stealth-focused players are given options to take a sneakier approach with the near-silent crossbow, isolating targets and taking them down one by one.

I’m not terribly sneaky in games, however, so I took a hybrid approach, where I took down as many as I could before the others noticed and took up defensive positions, at which point I just took cover, equipped my assault rifle, and went full Leeroy. After a couple of attempts, I managed to take out the supporting soldiers, shiv the captain and snap a picture of his corpse.

Then, I was instructed to escape. The wingsuit flight down the mountain was harrowing to say the least. This is one of those scenes in the game where you’ll really develop an appreciation for the level of detail, as well as the general scope of the environments. Navigating your way through valleys, around peaks and outcrops, and eventually down to safer territory is invigorating, and does an amazing job of conveying the breadth of the world that you’re exploring.

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The Shangri-La demo, however, is where I think Far Cry 4 is going to make real ins among a more diverse playerbase. People familiar with Far Cry 3 already understand the vast array of gameplay opportunities waiting for you, but the story, the world, and the history in Far Cry 4 are so expertly fleshed out that it begets a fascination with an entirely fictional culture that is quite impressive. When I inquired about how the world played into the story, Mark Thompson, Far Cry 4‘s Narrative Director, looked almost puzzled, saying quite matter-of-fact, “the world is the main character.” Thompson talked at length about how the team was “trying to get away from the idea that story is only told through cut scenes” focusing instead on the idea that “the story is what you do in every moment of the game.” This notion that the story isn’t just what the NPCs tell you it is, but rather is nothing more or less than what you make of it isn’t novel in video games, but has the potential to draw whole new demographics of players.

There are upwards of five Shangri-La levels scattered around the open world of Far Cry 4. The purpose of these sections isn’t just to offer some backstory to the myths and legends of Kyrat, but rather to allow the player to create the myth themselves, however they imagine it could have happened. You’ll be transported to a mystical location – seemingly a temple of sorts, complete with the requisite religious relics – where you’re required to liberate one of several Bells of Enlightenment. To do so, you must fight your way through the native protectors (or perhaps they’re attacking the temple. That wasn’t made clear exactly) navigate the temple, and find your way to the top.

You’ll be facing down Lurkers, short bow-wielding creatures that summon dog-like beasts that rush you and explode instead of mauling you. Butchers are melee versions of Lurkers with a twist; they’ll sporadically disappear in the midst of charging you, strafe, and resume their charge from a different direction. These enemies offer one of the more interesting combat challenges in the Shangri-La levels. Finally, there’s the Scorcher, a brutish flesh tank that can absorb potentially infinite amounts of damage. The only way to kill him seems to be a knife takedown from behind.

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You’re not on your own, though. In addition to your knife and bow, you’ll be commanding an otherworldly tiger as you explore Shangri-La. The tiger will protect you from attackers if you don’t give it specific instructions, but you’ll likely be calling out targets left and right and watching your man eater rush in and clean house. It’s refreshing to be able to hide from the enemies long enough to heal, knowing well that there’s still an aggressor putting pressure on them and keeping them from rushing you.

The levels themselves are heavily influenced by historical sites from the region, including locations in Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. It’s an impressive recreation of the holy temples of the area, and anybody with even a passing interest in these cultures will thoroughly enjoy being able to explore the sites in a wholly different context than you ever could in life. With prayer flags hanging everywhere, and prayer bells and wheels being prevalent décor throughout, the influences are hard to miss, and you may well learn something as you venture through Kyrat and its places of legend.

Far Cry 4 is almost evenly split between open world activities and story-driven missions, and Hutchinson outlined some 50 points of interest – ie. “islands of challenge” – in the open world, suggesting a huge number of story missions to look forward to. The action in Far Cry 4 is exciting, the vistas are stunning, and the history the team has created for its world is rich and vibrant. While the demos I saw were near-perfectly executed by the design team, they were only a very small glimpse of the overall experience. But you also get to play with weaponized elephants, so there’s that.

Far Cry 4 is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft, with plans to launch November 18, 2014.

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