Every once in a while, I get an overwhelming urge to play a big open-world game. There is a sense of freedom that these games encourage: you can go anywhere and do anything. I saw Far Cry 4 sitting in my Steam library from some sale long ago, and I remembered playing Far Cry 3 back in high school and loving it. I decided to give Far Cry 4 a go, and I was promptly reminded why I am not a huge fan of Ubisoft’s brand of open-world games. They lack soul.
In Far Cry 4 you play as Ajay, an American on a journey to spread his mother’s ashes in her home country of Kyrat. This fictional country resides in the Himalayas, and is wrought with corruption, civil war, and strife. Ajay lands himself in the middle of a struggle between the Golden Path, a rebel group looking to overthrow the government, and Pagan Min, a ruthless dictator who uses his Royal Army to crush all opposition.
What stands out about any of Ubisoft’s games are their enormous open-worlds. Kyrat is vast, beautiful, and dense. As you travel through Kyrat, there are literally hundreds of activities to partake in. Some are quests, some are random encounters, some are collectibles, and some are tasks to gain control of Kyrat. As a first-person shooter intending to allow the player for a myriad of combat options, Far Cry 4 does a few things correctly. The game does not take itself too seriously, and it allows the player to feel like a powerful super-soldier. While this is at a disconnect from the story of being an average American with no combat experience, it does allow for quite a bit of fun as wreak havoc through the luscious countryside of Kyrat.
One of my favorite aspects of Far Cry 4 was that it has a knack for organically creating memorable moments in combat. Many first-person shooters fall into the pattern of hiding behind cover and taking out a couple of enemies when you pop your head up. Far Cry 4 is filled with bombastic and over-the-top scenes, and they don’t rely on pre-determined set pieces. Raining grenades on an enemy convoy from your gyrocopter, watching as single rhino annihilates an encampment, or riding on the back of an elephant to crash the gates of a general’s fortress, this game can spontaneously create some outrageous moments.
Despite the flashes of fun, I found Far Cry 4 got dull and repetitive quick. One of the causes of this is that the world is too dense, but many of the tasks are just repeats. There are hundreds of collectibles, but they are never interesting to find. There are tons of side-quests, but really there are only a few different types that end up being replicated over and over again. Wild animals and random encounters with enemies are frequent as you travel across Kyrat, constantly impeding you as you try to just go from point A to point B. You can make the argument that the player can simply ignore the side content if they aren’t interested in it, but that’s the whole purpose of an open-world game. When I play an open-world game, I want to experience the world and complete interesting quests, not do the same racing mini-game or free-the-hostages side quest over and over again. Outside of the main story, there are no characters or stories to be told. Just repetitive content to fill a giant world.
Moreover, you cannot simply ignore the side-content. You begin the game with a pitiful inventory size, so you need to hunt animals for their pelts. The game constantly bombards the player with random enemy encounters, so you need defeat outposts and fortresses to be able to safely across the map. The map itself is completely shrouded until you climb each radio tower to unveil a small portion. These activities can all be reasonably fun, but doing them twenty times each just kills enjoyment that could have been had. Sure, you could ignore it all, but it’s such a large chunk of the game’s content and feels almost necessary by design.
Despite being such a large world with opportunities for biodiversity, each area in the game feels identical to the last. It’s a hilly region with a lot of trees, and sometimes a river. That’s it. That is every area in the game. Even the landmarks and marked areas on the map are completely uninteresting. There may be caves, small buildings, or farms that are marked by the game to be explored, but there is genuinely nothing of substance here. Maybe there are some treasure chests with money, but I was swimming with cash despite never looking for it.
The world has no life to it. There are no interesting characters or storylines to be discovered. Everything in the game seems to be designed as a task to be checked off on big list. Go here, do this monotonous side quest, hunt 2 rhino, take down 100 propaganda posters. It’s content for the sake of being content. No soul, care, or interesting ideas found their way into this game. The only unique and intriguing areas in the game were reserved for the main story missions. But the actual explorable open world is just barren.
Possibly the biggest sin that Far Cry 4 commits is how derivative it is. It has been eight years since I played Far Cry 3, yet I was hit with a wave of déjà vu as I played Far Cry 4. It’s the exact same structure. An inexperienced American gets dropped into a conflict in a lush country. There is some psychopathic villain who seems somewhat empathetic towards you. You climb radio towers to unveil the map, you hunt the local fauna, you take over enemy settlements, you do some mundane sidequests, and you help a rebel group with questionable leadership take over the country. It every way, Far Cry 4 just feels like Far Cry 3 in a slightly different country. If you’ve played Far Cry 3, or almost any Ubisoft game for that matter, you’ve already experienced what Far Cry 4 has to offer.
Overall, I grew bored of Far Cry 4 remarkably quickly. After a couple of hours, you could legitimately experience almost everything the game has to offer. It’s forgettable, unoriginal, and dull. There are some fun moments to be had, but they are fleeting and buried under layers of monotony. Blowing stuff up with a grenade launcher can only take the game so far. Far Cry 4 is the video game equivalent of Wonder Bread; while it is not outright bad or offensive, there is nothing remarkable about it, it’s just boring.