Kyrat. Nestled in the Himalayas, this remote kingdom should be a pristine paradise – an enchanting nation steeped in traditions, a fecund land overflowing with natural beauty. But this mountainous region is also home to Pagan Min, the country’s self-appointed ruler whose narcissistic dictatorship has tumbled the nation into a bitter civil war. All of which makes Ajay Ghale’s homecoming more bitter than sweet, with bullets raining down and blood streaming through the streets as the game’s protagonist makes his way through The Golden Path rebellion, helping determine the fate of his troubled homeland.
Welcome to the world of Far Cry 4. With weaponizable animals, realistic enemies, fortified outposts and an astounding assortment of weapons and vehicles, Kyrat shares some key similarities with Far Cry 3’s Rook Islands. Indeed, much like its predecessor, the location itself is one of the biggest characters in the game. But the war-torn Himalayan nation is also vastly different from Far Cry 3’s tropical jungle setting.
“We thought about an island – and we thought about its opposite,” says Executive Producer Dan Hay. “When you look at it, Kyrat is literally the opposite of an island. It is a bowl nestled inside these mountains that gives you the opportunity to go through a whole bunch of biomes.”
The diversity of Kyrat is easily one of the biggest differences in Far Cry 4. As players ascend the mountainside, Hay promises they’ll practically feel the temperature drop in this virtual world. Far Cry 4 also introduces verticality – something that many players craved in Far Cry 3. This time around, gamers will climb, drive and fly their way through dense forests all the way up to snowy mountain peaks, with a wide variety of ecosystems in between.
And that verticality (along with the rest of Kyrat) is much more accessible early on. Fan-favorite items like the wingsuit are available much sooner in the game (as compared to Far Cry 3), and players have the opportunity to go where they want with far fewer limitations.
“The game is about exploration,” says Narrative Director Mark Thompson. “It’s about discovering new things around every corner. It’s about the dynamic interaction of all of these different systems. All of the different outputs that can help. The incredible things that happen when the ecosystem meets the humans in the different biomes and the crazy personal stories that people take away.”
With so much to see and do – and so many ways to play – it would be easy enough to prattle on for days listing out every feature available in Far Cry 4. But when talking about Kyrat itself, that would be missing the point. “Features are great,” says Creative Director Alex Hutchinson. “You can ride an elephant. You can ride a buzzard. There are new weapons. There are all-new tools around. But I don’t believe that’s what’s going to get someone new to pick up the game.”
So what’s the real draw of Kyrat? According to Hutchinson, players are looking for “new emotions and new fantasies.” That’s where the co-op comes in. Now players can bring a friend with them into Kyrat, and together they can explore the vast open-world. Or, as Hutchinson puts it: “All of the fun of Far Cry 3, now with your best friend. So you can bring that person into the open world and you can goof around with all the tools and all the toys.”
When you play co-op, the story turns off, so the solo experience is protected and remains sacred, but everything you do together in the open-world (liberating outposts, hunting, uncovering secrets and gaining experience) stays with you throughout your game. “Of course, we have weaponized elephants, honey badgers, helicopters, all that sort of stuff,” Hutchinson continues. “But the real fun is doing it with your buddy. The simultaneous use of everything that you had before and the new stuff.”
It’s all about being able to express yourself however you like. Sure, Far Cry 4 is an open-world game. It’s an action-adventure game. It’s a shooter. These are well-known – and well-tread – genres. But at the same time Far Cry 4 is different. “It’s a little bit eccentric. It’s a little bit outlandish,” Hutchinson says. “It’s about building your own story, creating your own adventure.”
When you return to the solo experience, Kyrat also offers a richer experience than previous games in the franchise. While Far Cry 3 had a grand story full of compelling (and utterly insane) characters, the game occasionally struggled with the disconnect between the open-world experience and the scripted narrative. Far Cry 4 is partly solving this problem with the development team itself: Mark Thompson has shifted his role from lead level designer in Far Cry 3 to narrative director in the upcoming game, in large part to help unify the gameplay and the story. “Now when you meet a character in the open world, you’ll have the context, the relevance of what they’re doing and how it ties to the moments that you’re having,” Hay promises.
Indeed, no longer should it feel like two loosely connected adventures joined together. Far Cry 4 aims to seamlessly integrate the open-world gameplay and the scripted narrative, while blurring the lines between the co-op and solo experiences. And even within the narrative itself, the world is more unified. “We’ve been working a lot on making the world cohesive,” Hutchinson says. “Why are the villains there? Where do they live? Where do they work? Making sure there are more NPCs, not just people waiting to die in army costumes. Making the world feel like a real place.”
The team’s commitment to making Kyrat real can be seen in their own trip to the Himalayas, documented in this three-part series from VICE Media. Upon returning from his own life-changing journey to Tibet, Thompson realized he was delivering what he called the “Disney version” of the world, and from there the team rethought – and rebuilt – significant portions of Kyrat. “We flipped that table and everything that went with it,” Thompson says.
Your Story, Your World
While the world is in some ways more real, the game is still about delivering a fantastical experience you’re not likely to have in your own life. “For Far Cry 4, we didn’t want to make it about you,” Thompson says. “We didn’t want the player fantasy to be: Hey, this is you in this faraway place. A game like Far Cry is about escapism and adventure and a promise of going somewhere exotic and having new experiences. And part of that escapism is living outside of your own experience.”
As Ajay Ghale, you’re once again a fish out of water (having been born in Kyrat but raised elsewhere). This time around you have roots in the game’s world, with a family name that has massive significance in the country – and to Pagan Min himself, who had a significant relationship with both of Ajay’s parents. This creates a feeling of real connection and utter confusion at the same time.
But most of all, Kyrat is about creating unforgettable interactions for the player. “When you think about what makes a location interesting, it’s got to have a great culture,” Hay says. “It’s got to be steeped in history, because it’s about discovery and exploration. It’s got to have interesting and unique profiles for the animals. It has to be a petri dish for unique and odd people so that when you run into them, they’re not what you expect.”
It’s all about giving players the opportunity to experience something new and unexpected, while encouraging them to make their own choices in Kyrat. “We want people to invest in our story by saying I chose to go here. I want to see it play out. I want to see the consequences of this,” Hutchinson says. “The story is your story.”
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