So far, so good.
Cultural estrangement is a topic I am familiar with being a second-generation Chinese-American, and even though Far Cry 4's protagonist Ajay Ghale is a first-generation Nepalese immigrant, I find his journey back to his homeland of Kyrat relatable. Having escaped to America with his mother as a very young boy, Ajay has returned to Kyrat in his late twenties after spending the majority of his life wondering about his father and his heritage, two aspects about his past which his mother refused to discuss. It's not until her death and her dying wish for her ashes to be spread from a mountain in Kyrat that she intentionally stirs Ajay to save his homeland by leading the Golden Path and ending the dictatorial regime of Pagan Min. Talk about a call to action.
Apart from this much improved backstory, Far Cry 4 works more or less the same way as Far Cry 3, based on the preview build I played at a recent Ubisoft event. You pick an outpost or tower on the map, run or drive to the location, tag enemies with the camera, leave lots of dead bodies using stealth, bullets, and knife takedowns, and finally liberate the open world one foggy area at a time. Along the way, you'll hunt the local wildlife for upgrades, find plenty of collectibles and loot chests, pick herbs for syringes, and purchase high-powered sniper rifles from traders. Sound familiar yet?
But let's delve a bit further than this bird's eye view of the game. As the main arm for the Golden Path resistance, you have been given the main objective of toppling Pagan Min by securing outposts, fortresses, and bell towers and taking out his three commanders Noore, De Pleur, and Yuma. Reaching the top of a bell tower reveals the surrounding area, while conquering outposts unlocks a point for fast travel and trading. Slowly but steadily, you'll inch your way from the southwest corner of the map to the final fortress in the northeast where Pagan Min smirks on his royal throne.
Liberating outposts means eviscerating every last soldier in the encampment, and Far Cry 4 gives you the freedom to blast the enemy with grenades and waves of assault-rifle and machine-gun rounds, or creep in more stealthily with a knife or silenced pistol, or pick each minion off with a well-placed sniper shot. The choice is yours, though you will earn additional experience points for not alerting a single enemy and for disabling all of the alarms before they call reinforcements. Either way, one of the most satisfying strategies is releasing tigers from their cages and watching them maul their captors, or mounting an elephant and charging (trunk-first?) into the outpost and steering the elephant into kicking range of a poor guy with a high-pitched death scream.
Despite not knowing about the ways of warfare at first, Ajay Ghale is a quick study... by virtue of your FPS prowess of course. As he earns experience points for claiming outposts, defeating foes, and finding collectibles like masks and journals, you can upgrade his skills in melee combat and gun handling (indicated by the tiger side of the skill tree) or defense and health (indicated by the elephant). By completing specific missions, side objectives, and in-game achievements, you'll unlock signature weapons and skills. And then by hunting and skinning various animals, like sambars, wild boars, and Malayan tapirs, you can increase the capacity of Ajay's loot bags (a clear necessity), weapon holsters, syringes, and seven other pieces of equipment.
While you claim more territory for the Golden Path, you'll need to steer the strategic direction of the group's actions by deciding with either Amita or Sabal, both of whom lead the resistance but bicker incessantly. Amita values gathering intel and higher-level strategies, while Sabal cares more about the immediacy of battle and saving lives. Whom you side with will determine the objective of the next mission and may lead to different endings or at least varying paths toward the same ending.
As you hike, climb, and grapple across the precipitous landscape, random karma events will occur that reveal the skirmishes between the resistance and Pagan Min's army. Assisting the Golden Path will earn you karma which gives you better interactions with NPCs and larger discounts on weapons, whereas needlessly hurting innocents and accidentally driving into your allies (whoops...) will lower their opinion of you. More importantly, you can summon guns for hire to assault and distract the enemy while you overtake outposts. With enough cash on hand, you can even upgrade their overall strength at trading outposts.
Better yet, in lieu of mercenaries, you can call a friend over for assistance in co-operative play, and you'll be able to invite friends even if they don't own the game. Specifically, you'll receive ten invites that you can send out to your friends who can then download a version of the game where they can enter your game on a trial basis. With the help of industry veteran and freelancer Miguel Concepcion, I was able to take down one of the main fortresses within fifteen minutes with Miguel pulling enemies and me sniping them in the back. The more substantial benefit for co-operative play is that you can respawn next your friend within a few seconds instead of having to reload the mission all over again. On that point, playing with a friend is clearly the best choice.
Far Cry 4 already looks to be a solid entry in the Far Cry franchise and releases on PS4 (which this preview is based on), Xbox One, PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on November 18, 2014.