Far Cry 3 was brilliant. It’s one of my favourite games of the past ten years. But when Far Cry 4 came out two years after it, I didn’t feel the same way. Like many people, I felt it to be pretty much Far Cry 3 but set in the Himalayas, and not done nearly as well.
It’s been five years since the release of Far Cry 4, so let’s trek back to 2014, and into the small Himalayan nation of Kyrat to see what this game is all about. Is it better than I originally gave it credit for?
And as a word of warning – there will be spoilers.
Last time out, in Far Cry 3, you were total frat-bro Jason Brody. This time around though you’re Ajay Ghale, a Kyrati native, who has returned to his homeland for the first time since fleeing the civil war as a small child. He’s there to scatter his mother’s ashes. However, he ends up being dragged into the rebellion against the Kyrati king, Pagan Min. He joins the Golden Path, a guerrilla group his father founded and one that is splintering between two leaders – Amita and Sabal.
The central theme to Far Cry 4’s story is that no-one is truly right. From the outset, you’re led to believe that the fight against Pagan Min is just, and that you’re working for a better Kyrat. But it’s not that simple. In fact, Amita and Sabal end up being just as morally bankrupt as Pagan Min. And you have to choose which one will lead the nation. The former wants to turn the nation into a totalitarian drug state. The latter is a religious zealot, who massacres heretics, endorses child marriage and wants to keep Kyrat firmly rooted in the old ways.
The only thing they share in common is that they have both manipulated you for their own ends. But then you aren’t absolved either. After all, you’re the one who murdered hundreds of people. And for what? All you really achieved was putting another dictator in charge. It’s a strong message and a remarkably realistic one. The idea that people who replace dictators are usually no better themselves is one that has played out time and time again throughout history.
In fact, the only real ‘good’ ending comes at the very start of the game. If you sit around and wait for Pagan Min to return from his phone call, he will take you to scatter your mother’s ashes. No bloodshed, no violence and you get to achieve what you set out to do.
Ultimately though, the story is just okay, and could have been much better than it was. For example, your reasons for joining the Golden Path are never really explained. You just do. And then you become fully committed to it, even going out of your way to murder your way through the entire Royal Army like you’re the reincarnation of John Rambo. This wasn’t your fight. You’re only in Kyrat because you want to carry out your mother’s last wish.
With Far Cry 4’s story, Pagan Min is very much confined to the background, with the war for control over the Golden Path taking precedence. It’s a shame because he is the best character in the game. He’s much more compelling than Amita or Sabal. Wearing a pink suit and a haircut you’d usually find on an edgy teenager, you wouldn’t expect him to be a complete psycho. But he is. And there is just something so likeable about the guy. One moment he’s stabbing a soldier in the neck, the next he is giving you rides in his helicopter and announcing that it’s time to tear shit up. Forget the Golden Path, I want a game where we just get to hang out with Pagan Min and shoot AK-47’s all day.
It would have been much more interesting had you been allowed the option of working with him. He’s a murderous despot, but he has brought relative stability to Kyrat. He’s indirectly related to you, having had a relationship and a daughter with your mother. He even wants you to be the next king. And Amita and Sabal are total dicks anyway.
The shortcomings of the story are wholly redeemed by the gorgeous locale and gripping gameplay. While I always preferred the tropical Rook Islands from Far Cry 3, you can’t deny that Kyrat is a beautiful place in its own right. It’s full of stunning and visually diverse locations and the backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas never fails to amaze. It’s a place filled with rich history and it’s a place that feels alive, packed full of deadly people and even deadlier animals. And the best part is that it still holds up. Taking a trip to Kyrat today is just as visually rewarding as it was in 2014.
There’s a ton of stuff to do here too. Kyrat is littered with loot, collectibles and secrets that are just waiting to be uncovered. You can hunt animals for equipment upgrades or pick flowers to craft syringes. There are outposts to liberate, towers to climb and propaganda posters to tear up. You might stumble across someone who needs your help on your travels. And there’s even an arena where you can battle endless waves of enemies and apex predators to the death. Ever wanted to go head to head with an angry elephant? Now you can.
You could spend hours killing, hunting and looting your way across Kyrat and still have things to do.
And Far Cry 4 gives you so many tools to carry out your goals. There are more guns than ever, a ton of equipment, two skill trees, and fun stuff like the wingsuit, grapple hook and gyrocopter to play around with. Having all this stuff really shakes up the gameplay in new and exciting ways. Why climb a bell tower, when you could wingsuit onto it?
But nowhere does this breadth of choice shine more than with the outposts. With Far Cry 4, no two liberations have to be the same. You could go in stealthy, with a bow, some arrows and a steady supply of throwing knives. You could throw some bait and watch from afar as a Bengal tiger comes to wreak havoc on unsuspecting guards. You could use the gyrocopter to rain death from above. You could even ride an elephant and use it as some kind of four-legged tank.
And the game includes variables that might take a spanner to your plans. There might be a caged animal already at the outpost you could use to your advantage. Or elite army units, like the hunters, who are just as stealthy and capable as you. The possibilities are really endless, and it’s an example of what makes Far Cry 4’s gameplay so rewarding.
So is Far Cry 4 just Far Cry 3 but set in the Himalayas? In a lot of ways it is. The outposts and towers were all over the Rook Islands too, and are a staple of Ubisoft’s open-world games. Both games come with an unstable but compelling villain. The process of crafting equipment upgrades and syringes – skinning animals and picking flowers – is exactly the same between games. Even a lot of Far Cry 3’s animations creept into 4.
But after playing it again recently, I’ve gained a new found appreciation for this game. Far Cry 4 is a brilliant game in its own right. The story fails to make a real impact but it’s wholly redeemed by the fun and entertaining gameplay loop. Far Cry 4 gives you more guns to use, more stuff to do and more choice than ever, and it keeps the game fresh even 20 hours in. It also helps that Kyrat is a beautiful country and one you can’t help becoming immersed in.
One thing is clear: with so much to do and so much to see, Far Cry 4 never gets boring.
If you haven’t yet played Far Cry 4, then you need to change that. It’s available right this minute as a digital download on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Failing that, you’ll be able to grab a physical copy from the likes of Amazon. Give it a play and let us know your thoughts and memories surrounding Ubisoft’s huge open playground. We’d love to hear from you.