The landscape is painted a pure, deep red, and the sky whispers with a faint yellow glow. I find myself staggering across a series of floating islands, and I occasionally catch a glimpse of the land’s sacred white animals, including the tiger currently prowling by my side. Armed only with a bow and a blade, I face off against mystical foes in order to liberate a Bell of Enlightenment. I’m a long way from Kyrat, and yet I’m still deep inside the world of Far Cry 4. This is Shangri-La.
In stark contrast to the arctic whites of the Himalayas and the lush greens of Kyrati valleys, the surreal visage of Shangri-La is soaked in vibrant colors. I enter this mythical land via one of the thangkas (traditional weavings depicting the history of Kyrat) found throughout the country – and I find myself in a place that the Kyrati people speak of in reverent tones. Indeed, the story of Shangri-La is woven into the history of Kyrat. Even Pagan Min’s own people search endlessly for this mystical place and the power they believe they will find there.
In Far Cry 4, legend and reality are separated by a thin line and, lucky for us, that line is easily blurred.
Spread across Kyrat, players will discover five of these thangkas, which Ajay can meditate on and enter Shangri-La in order to experience the story of the legendary warrior Kalinag. As the story goes, Kalinag was sent by his king to find Shangri-La, and upon finding it he quickly realizes he was not the first to do so. Shangri-La is under attack, and with the help of its protector – an armored white tiger – Kalinag will cleanse the land of the mysterious (and demonic) forces of the Rakshasa.
Here in Shangri-La, I have shed the high-tech tools of Ajay Ghale and picked up the more primitive and mystical weaponry of Kalinag. I am now armed with a simple knife and a bow capable of slowing time – an ability that was especially handy as I moved deeper into Shangri-La and was quickly overwhelmed by the speed and number of enemies. I’m also aided by an otherworldly tiger who will defend me against attack as well as hunt down anyone I set him on. The tiger isn’t invincible, though; he can die, and players will have to wait for a brief cooldown period before he returns.
The tiger and I move through the area on our mission to free one of Shangri-La’s Bells of Enlightenment, which was imprisoned by the Rakshasa. Along the way, we encounter three types of enemies. The Lurker is the most basic; armed with a bow and the ability to summon dog-like creatures that explode when they get too close to us, the Lurkers are relatively easy to dispatch. The Butchers provide a much different challenge, as they can teleport themselves mid-attack and sneak up on us from a different direction.
Finally, there are the Scorchers, the most difficult enemy I faced in Shangri-La. Creative Director Alex Hutchinson pointed out that these enemies are “arrow sponges” and I wouldn’t be able to take them down in my normal fashion. This is where the tiger is particularly handy. Once I sent him after the Scorcher, I was able to creep around my target and preform a takedown from behind. As I completed my task and freed the Bell of Enlightenment, a giant black bird descended upon the tiger and me, and my demo came to a close.
Sacred Under Attack
Everything in Shangri-La is beautiful, including my deadly foes. But the invaders aren’t in Shangri-La “to make it look pretty,” says Maxime Béland, Creative Studio Advisor for Ubisoft Toronto, which is developing this portion of the game. Even in the short time I spent in the world, I could see the destruction they had wrought upon it. The majestic temples are stained with the blood of the beautiful white animals that live there. The disemboweled creatures strewn across the ground could either be a sick offering or simply vicious bloodshed for its own gory sake. This chaos is what the developers are referring to as Sacred Under Attack.
“I think it was important for us to create this story and this backstory with the Rakshasa,” says Béland. “We didn’t want to have enemies that were just lurking around, waiting for you to kill them. So we really put emphasis on the Sacred Under Attack. As you play I think you’re going to see a lot of those horrible, brutal little things that make you go, Okay, I really need to take care of this situation quickly.”
The teams at Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto believe that in order to craft a strong setting, it must include a strong history – myths, religions and beliefs that remain present in the culture for thousands of years. This is where the idea of Shangri-La came from.
“Shangri-La is one of the founding myths of Kyrat,” Hutchinson explains. “While we were developing the game, we thought: We’re going to invent this country. A country isn’t just the land. It’s also the history of the place and what its inhabitants believe in.”
Béland adds, “I think we’ve been getting better and better in the last few years at not just creating games, but creating worlds. We’re creating true worlds that not only have a present, they have a past. There’s a history there.”
Shangri-La is its own entity, but its effects carry over to Kyrat. As you complete missions in Shangri-La, you’ll unlock new skills in the main game. But beyond the gameplay, the Shangri-La levels will also give you more insight into the main story of the game, as interesting parallels are drawn between Ajay and Kalinag. By the time you complete the legend, you will know more of the backstory of the game and be more aware of what people in the main game are referring to when they mention these stories. Though Shangri-La itself is surreal and fantastic, the desire behind it was to make Kyrat a more concrete place, one steeped in its own past and beliefs.
For more on Far Cry 4, take a look at these stories: