Far Cry 4 is a world that is alive. Take a stroll through the mountains of Kyrat and in a short period of time you’ll likely run into some native Kyratis that need rescued, or Golden Path members that need help fixing a vehicle. Maybe you’ll be attacked by an eagle or a honey badger. No matter where you go, something is always happening; and you get to be a part of it.
That is the strength of Far Cry 4 and what sets it apart from its predecessor. The world of Kyrat is not just another open-world playground where snow-capped peaks and rocky terrain were substituted for sandy beaches and tropical foliage. You’re still free to run, jump, climb, and shoot your way throughout the hillsides, but there’s more going on around you if you stop for a moment and take notice. Those gunshots you hear echoing in the distance could be Golden Path members fighting Pagan’s forces, or maybe someone shooting at a wild animal. That village down the path that looked like a good place to stop is the sight of a gruesome murder; the work of a serial killer. So many games have strived to make the setting of their world match with the events going on around you, but most only achieve it in when you’re in one of the game’s main area. For Far Cry 4, Ubisoft has somehow been able to craft a world that feels exactly like it should: a beautiful place that is being wrecked by internal strife.
That strife is due to the battle between a native freedom fighter group, called the “Golden Path,” and the forces of the country’s dictator, Pagan Min. Pagan has turned the country into his own little drug-production facility and there are those that take exception to such things. This fighting has been going on for sometime but it doesn’t deter Ajay Ghale, the title’s protagonist, from journeying back to his homeland in order to scatter his mother’s ashes. Once he gets there, he’s tossed right into the middle of the conflict. Everyone and their dog seems to know who you are and many feel like you’re the guy that’s going to help them finally overthrow Pagan. But why? What makes Ajay so special? Much of the game’s plot revolves as much around the plans and operations to take Pagan down as it does around who Ajay’s parents were. That’s Ajay’s journey and you, as his controller, get to be there with him when he finds those answers. Your journey, as a player, is through the world of Kyrat.
There is never a moment where you don’t have something to do in Far Cry 4. Bringing up the map screen assaults you with various collectibles, bell towers, outposts, side missions, and other points of interest. After clearing the first few campaign missions, all of these are at your beck and call. Just as in Far Cry 3, areas of the map are obscured from view until you climb up a bell tower - which has been repurposed to spread pro-Pagan propaganda - and change the station. Once you can see what’s out there, you can start planning your assaults on outposts in order to unlock Fast Travel points, more guns, and help the Golden Path. Some of these objectives may be more difficult to access until you gain more experience (which is earned by completing missions, freeing towers and outposts, and killing enemies) and unlock more skills, but you’re never penned into a small area with the larger sandbox just out of reach.
In some ways, attempting to access these areas earlier in the game is more fun than doing so later on. Having limited resources and skills at your disposal means you have to think up more creative ways of assaulting an outpost. You may take the stealthy approach, marking each guard with your camera and watching their patrols to plan your attack; or you may opt for a more direct method and drive a car into the middle of their base, run away, and then throw a grenade to blow it (and any nearby enemies) to smithereens. You’re eventually given all of the tools you need to play the game how you want, with the occasional caveat that you’re not invincible and have to be a bit cautious from time-to-time. Bring a friend along, and throw caution to the winds.
If playing the game solo is a journey of discovery, then playing the game cooperatively is tearing through the countryside in a truck playing “Back in Black” on full volume while your friend is in the back hollering and firing wildly into the air. Provided, that is, your friend is game for it.