It’s not often that gamers can be genuinely surprised by the fourth entry in an established franchise, and while the core gameplay and mechanics of Far Cry 4will be familiar to existing fans, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal are clearly taking a few steps in an intriguing direction. It began with the team’s direct research into the people and culture of Nepal, and was only reinforced by the unexpected reveal of the game’s Shangri-La missions; a step from the real world into the stuff of legends.
As is to be expected, the decision to set a game focused on violence and armed conflicts in a game world informed by a real region led to some controversy. When we spoke with the game’s top talent about such concerns, they claimed that the fact of the matter was that seeing the people of Nepal in the flesh changed the story they ultimately chose to tell. But as realistic as Kyrat may be, the game’s journey into the legend of Shangri-La is another matter entirely.
When we asked narrative director Mark Thompson about the relationship between the world of Kyrat – inspired by the Nepalese people and culture he saw firsthand – and the separated Shangri-La sections, he reiterated that the open world of Kyrat remains the star of the show.
“The first character that we talked about was Kyrat. Before we talked about Pagan Min, or what the story would be about, or even who the protagonist is… So like any interesting character, it needs an interesting backstory so you understand why they make certain decisions, so they become logical and cohesive.
“It’s the same for a world. The world needs to be built as something tangible and believable.”
“We did a lot of research and reference, spoke to experts on Nepal to get enough material that we could pull from to build an interesting environment. So when a player leaves the missions, or ‘the story,’ I want them to feel like everything they see is cohesive. That everything informs everything else.
But Thompson then explained that for as mystic as Shangri-La may seem, it, too, came about from research into the people and beliefs of the region:
“So the people you meet, you understand how they are because they were brought up believing in this; they went to these temples as children and this is what they learned, so this informs them. In the present moment [of the game], why is the world like this? It’s built from those foundations.
“You do a few days of research into the Himalayas and mythology and you bump into Shangri-La almost immediately… So for us, it was about giving the player the opportunity to give Kyrat its own origin myths and legends, to give it its own historical figures.”
For players, that means a shared myth about an ancient Kyrat warrior sent by his king to uncover the secrets of the mountain paradise known as Shangri-La. But once arriving, players will find that the areas have been spoiled by dark forces, and it falls to them to liberate its many stages from the monstrous, supernatural enemies contained within.
We already offered our hands-on impressions of Shangri-La along with details from Matt West, level design director at Ubisoft Toronto (the team handling the mystical missions). West explained how – as in the real world – the mythology of Shangri-La, like the chance to relive the legendary warrior’s story, is present only for those who wish to look for it.
It may not be as integral to the ‘main story’ as Ajay Ghale’s personal journey, but Thompson agreed that creating a backstory for the world of Kyrat also meant telling a more directed narrative:
“Taking that to the next level for us was: in this instance, allow people to not just have someone tell them the story, but relive the story. So it’s one of the few moments in the game where you actually are more scripted, but it’s more scripted because you are reliving the story.
“But because its part of the open world, you might meet someone else who’s played the game who has never seen it… In another game you might go into a dungeon and open a book… in this, you open the book and instead of reading about it, you get to play that story.”
Although retracing the footsteps of Kyrat’s legendary warrior won’t be as open-ended as the wilds of Kyrat, the developers maintain that choice and unpredictability will still be present in moment-to-moment gameplay. We can attest that while the level design of Shangri-La may be more constrained, having a mystical tiger at your beckoned call essentially guarantees some unexpected gameplay. Whether players will seek out that experience remains to be seen.
“For me, the theme of the narrative is the same [as Far Cry 3]. I want to make sure that the idea of different systems interacting – moments where you can choose to interact, choose to input – will have different consequences. So when people play [open world] missions they can leave with that same level of authorship over the things that happened.”
Are you intrigued by the idea of playing your way through a – not the – version of the Shangri-La legend uncovered by the developers? Will you be looking for a compelling story, or new twists on gameplay? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.
Far Cry 4 will be available for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 on November 18, 2014.
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