The recent announcement of Far Cry 4, combined with the little information we know about it, makes this the perfect time to talk about what I would want to see in this open world sequel.
Like many people, I really liked Far Cry 3. So for now, let’s focus on what it did well and what I would like to carry over into its sequel. First of all, the gameplay loop was excellent. I like games with interlinking mechanics, where one thing leads to the next and separate activities all contribute to the whole. The loop in Far Cry 3 of discovery and destruction was really compelling. Climbing radio towers to uncover the map incentivised exploration, due to the fact that this process was fun and that it was necessary to take advantage of the other content. The game managed to implement side activities meaningfully into the overall experience, hunting enabled progression and better equipment, and taking over enemy bases was really fun and made your life easier. These things all fed back to each other really well, making you take advantage of a lot of what the game had to offer.
Another big plus point was the sandbox-esque gameplay. The island setting allowed a lot of opportunities for emergent gameplay, one off moments where things happen and you are forced to react. It also opened up a lot of possibilities. Your arsenal was diverse and interesting, explosions were somewhat meaningful due to how fire spread and different parts of the game mixed together in impressive ways. You could take advantage of the local wildlife to get fights done for you, sometimes in ways that seemed orchestrated for you and sometimes by delightful accident. Far Cry 3 was at its best when you took advantage of your surroundings or they took advantage of you. This provided excellent empowerment or a compelling need to improvise.
All of this needs to carry over into Far Cry 4. The game world has to be set up intelligently, in order for mechanics to impinge on each other, and things like exploration need to be incentivised with tangible rewards once again. Pulling this off requires another cleverly built location and some meaningful side content. This also gives them the opportunity to expand - throw in more things to do or find interesting spins on known ideas.
I would like Far Cry 4 to evade some of my problems with its predecessor though. First of all, on a gameplay level I would like it to be more immersive. Though I love how its mechanics interlink, the nature of the game does get overtly mechanical. Exploration is somewhat incentivised, but only in one regard. The game only pushes you to interact with its mission sets, rather than going out and doing your own thing. This focus on mechanics is really fun, and kept it consistent, but it does detract from immersion. What I would like are more ambient challenges, things separate from the side mission loop that incentivise you to just spend time in the world. The problem with Far Cry 3 was that after a while it became box ticking; you just rinse and repeat the same tasks. The end result was an empty world with nothing to do. What I want from 4 is a step up from this; I want the world to feel more alive. There was a lot going on in 3, but it was pretty much a playground for you rather than a world that seemed lived in or independent of your character. I want the quality content to carry over, but they also need to work on their world building, and on encouraging gameplay experiences outside of a core set of activities.
Another positive change would be a greater focus on improvisational gameplay. Far Cry 3 was a lot of fun, but it didn’t encourage diverse play. It was at its most enjoyable when you had to adapt to your environment, play anarchically and spontaneously. However you were greatly rewarded for precision and stealth. Stealth was well handled but it didn’t take advantage of the setting. It also made those activities feel closed of rather than a natural part of the world. The game was overtly focused on madness and excess, yet its gameplay structure encouraged you to be conservative. It gave you so many great tools for destruction, and you could use them whenever, but using them felt frowned upon. You got the most experience (and achievements) for staying quiet and playing carefully. The temptation was always there to let loose, but you felt you were doing it wrong if you did so. In Far Cry 4, I want them to step up the destruction, encourage off the wall action and have content that constantly takes advantage of explosive power. With it being on PS4 and Xbox One I want to see a step up and this step up could be proper destruction. Allow me to have an impact on my surroundings above just setting grass on fire. Let me blow the hell out of everything and this opens interesting tactical opportunities, as well as allowing the madness to be unleashed.
The big change I want though is in regard to story. On a narrative level Far Cry 3 was hugely disappointing. It opened incredibly strongly, appearing to go down a clever self-aware road, until it turned out it was just generic power fantasy. It seemed to be knowingly mocking convention and ready to turn things on their head, then it just embraced cliché and ran with it. Far Cry 3 was just nowhere near as clever as it thought it was, in fact it ended up being really dumb. With the sequel, I either want it to follow through on a promise of intelligence, or just not lie to me. So many games have narratives akin to Far Cry 3 that I didn’t react as badly to. Far Cry 3 hurt itself by creating expectation, 4 needs to capitalise on this, or just not create it in the first place. If it’s going to be as dumb as Far Cry 3, I pray it just accepts this rather than hinting at something much greater.
The final point I want to make relate to Far Cry 2. While Far Cry 3 is a superior game, 2 is far more interesting. The third gave players a lot of fun, but it didn’t aspire to much and wasn’t pushing boundaries. It placed some boundaries a tiny bit further out - in a polite way - by doing known things better, but that’s the best you can say. Far Cry 2 was trying to do something really different. It wanted to place you in a world ambivalent of you and your presence, a place where you carved out your own story. It wanted to deal with heavy themes also and focused on you being but one part of a larger story. There were so many interesting things going on in 2 that broke away from conventional structure or just tried to do something different. Ultimately these failed, but the promise was amazing. If Far Cry 4 can build upon the solid foundation of 3, while cleverly working in some of the ambition of 2, it could be outstanding. They took a step back and did the safe sequel, this time I want to see them push the boat out again.
There are a lot of reasons to be very excited about the possibility of Far Cry 4. However, I’m hoping it’s not a mere follow up, but an ambitious step forwards for the series. I want it to rectify past mistakes and capitalise on some of the promise of Far Cry 2. With new tech, and a lot of learning under their belt, they are in a great place to really make something interesting. I fear though, that Far Cry 4 will just be another solid follow up. This is fine, but it’s not remarkable. Three took us by surprise by being so well put together, but that’s been done now. Repeated solidity isn’t enough, I want something ambitious, different and interesting.