Far Cry 4: Valley of the Yetis – Final Review

Being mere DLC, it follows that Far Cry 4: Valley of the Yetis is defined by restrained ambitions, though these lesser aspirations do not result in a dearth of enjoyability – far from it. The gameplay systems underpinning the base game were foundationally sound, excellent, so it follows that the systems here are sound and excellent. But alongside this excellence comes a certain safeness, and Ubisoft could be faulted somewhat for suppressing a more innovative, daring impulse. Still, this is DLC, and Valley of the Yetis is bound by designation, shaped by it. Even if the core gameplay systems are characterized by complete replication, they still need brief mention here, to ground discussion of the DLC. This gameplay is chiefly divided into three distinct pillars: open combat, stealth, and exploration, each having a prominent presence at varying moments. Regarding that first listed pillar, the player is provided with a massive arsenal of weaponry, which sees gradual expansion as the narrative progresses ever onward; the number of accessible weaponry being slight at the beginning, it follows that the player is initially never overwhelmed, never flooded with options. The arsenal is all steeply grounded in reality; creative and imaginative weapons are mostly lacking here, save for a few oddities like an elephant gun of debilitating power or an equally devastating harpoon launcher, which sends the projectile forward with great haste, often piercing the target through entirely, its strengths compensated for by a pitifully low fire-rate. Given that the player cannot know beforehand what any given engagement will entail, it follows that the player will inevitably rely upon more well-rounded weapons, like an assault rifle or submachinegun, useful at many ranges and in many scenarios. But whatever the weapon employed, each weapon boasts immensely detailed modelling, while weapons possess sufficient recoil as to result in a more skill-based dimension to the combat. It is equally important to recognize personal limitations. Reflecting this, whenever presented with a particularly trying scenario, it is oftentimes preferable to flee rather than advance, and this fleeing is enabled by the DLC’s stealth systems, rather flawed yet functional and satisfying. Any given player will likely rely upon stealth for a protracted span of time, then will necessarily alter course upon detection, wherein open gunfire will erupt. A generally organic nature thus defines the twin pillars of combat and stealth, as was the case in the base game; the approaches will be welded together naturally, seamlessly, and this adaptability is a major strength. All the gameplay successes and failures defining Far Cry 4 are present, albeit unaltered, in Valley of the Yetis.

While these two gameplay pillars – combat and stealth – may be defined by iteration and replication, the third pillar is defined by innovation – exploration, world-building, are magnificent triumphs within Valley of the Yetis. The DLC features an entirely new environment – the titular valley – which features notable, instantly discernible departures from the base game’s open world environment of Kyrat. That game world was largely unfocused, featuring environmental inconsistency; the vision was divided, as snowy regions and more vegetatively abundant regions existed in turn; with this exaggerated environmental diversity came unbelievability. The valley, though, is one neat, cohesive whole, featuring one distinct biome throughout: frigid snowscapes, abounding in snow, both that left to accumulate on the ground and trees, and that which blows about gracefully and violently by the wind. In Kyrat, similar aspirations were present: the north-westernmost region of the map featured spindly trees stripped of their foliage owing to the lessened temperature and more hostile conditions, but the valley takes those aesthetics and drastically alters them, increasing their inherently beautiful, dazzling attributes. A general sense of blueness pervades throughout, whether speaking of the sky, the moon, or the mountains which constantly assert their presence, looming overhead always, imposing structures communicating player smallness. Technical excellency enhances these sensations, with an expansive draw distance, though, surprisingly, some technical regressions are in place, the texture work for those selfsame mountains being of a traditionally sorry sort, lacking in detail, being a muddy mess. Aesthetically, some creative experimentation is undertaken, too, as visibility is manipulated. At the highest of elevations, or when the dynamic weather is at its fiercest and most hostile, visibility can be lessened dramatically, resulting in almost distressing, wearying sensations – they result in atmospheric sensations, and the valley broadly is characterized by atmosphere, mood, featuring excellent world-building. Terrific sound design, meanwhile, heightens immersion, compensating for the destruction of immersion brought on by the mountains’ poor texturing; hearing the blustery wind blowing all around frenetically, hearing wolves howl, yaks make bizarre grunting – here are successes. Verticality is of great emphasis, too, this verticality facilitated by a grappling hook’s inclusion, directly transplanted from the base game and, crucially, obtained from the narrative’s very opening, empowering and liberating the player rather than constraining the player, such empowerment and liberation bolstered by a wingsuit’s inclusion, which permits rapid traversal, and the objects pair neatly with the world design to consistently evoke exhilarating sensations. Considering these things together – technical and creative excellency, dogged aspirations for immersion, and world design directly connected to gameplay – exploration broadly marks the DLC’s greatest achievement; simple map navigation brings with it manifold, intense joys – though of a weaker sort than the base game’s pleasures, in that here there is relative environmental lifelessness, while there the environment was brimming with life. This reversion into a mostly static gameworld is the DLC’s worst, severest regression. In the base game, moving from point A to point B often meant dynamic encounters – captive hostages might be stumbled upon, while the Golden Path resistance group might be seen exchanging gunfire with Pagan Min’s soldiers, or shooting on at aggressive, predatory animals; “every second is a story,” as the game case communicates. But here, with Valley of the Yetis, that statement is mostly unapplicable. The valley is impossibly beautiful, atmospheric and immersive, abounding with secrets, though damningly hollow. But hollowness does not destroy exploration’s more compelling, profound aspects; here is no fatal flaw.    

Valley of the Yetis’ narrative, meanwhile, is quite unintrusive, barebones; while never communicating strong emotional or cerebral resonance, it is at least inoffensive. The framework for the narrative revolves around a helicopter crash, seeing the protagonist, Ajay Ghale, stranded in the valley, his vessel being incapacitated by some mysterious, unknown force. In destroying the helicopter, meanwhile, this shady entity simultaneously destroyed the helicopter’s pilot, dead on impact – Ajay is stranded, and much of the unambitious narrative simply revolves removal, extraction from the valley and a return to comparatively tame, more civilized and heavily populated Kyrat. Still, as the narrative progresses some intrigue emerges, much centered around a mythical object said to dwell within the valley – the relic. So coveted is this object, manifold expeditions into the valley have been conducted, all in efforts to acquire, possess, and seemingly exploit the object’s powers, whatever is their nature. This narrative thread is perhaps more compelling, and the existence of two narrative threads developed simultaneously might point towards narrative depth and ambition, though, again, this perception is upset; rare is player engagement, much of this unengagement attributable to the narrowness of the entire affair – no secondary characters are present; it is only Ajay who exists, though he periodically communicates with a supposed ally by way of radio. But even this figure is a simple unnamed, disembodied voice – he is far from compelling, and yet his voice is the only outside voice ever heard. This makes logical narrative sense, of course – the valley, hostile and frigid, is isolated and menacing, and naturally few would desire to visit the place – but an inclusion of some secondary characters, no matter how poor and repelling might be their characterizations, would better the narrative dramatically. Instead, it is all Ajay, Ajay tasked with fleeing the place and seizing upon the relic. Still, some questions are raised, the valley being an enigmatic location, steeped in history and lore. Amongst the largest of questions is the precise nature of the titular yetis, present in fair abundance, frequently encountered in the process of normal exploration, hulking, menacing, and threatening. How did these yetis come to be? Is their existence attached to the supernatural? What is their relationship to the valley? Why are they instantly hostile, rushing upon the player even when unprovoked? Questions such as this – questions which remain unanswered even at the narrative’s conclusion – are entertaining to consider, though lacking in profoundness or anything of the sort; asking of the yetis’ motivations is less substantial and complex than asking of Pagan Min’s motivations. A bizarre conclusion, a bizarre, forced boss fight, only tarnishes further whatever narrative depth might be present. Ubisoft did seek to bolster the narrative by inclusion of discoverable documents which do flesh out the game world, but this form of storytelling is largely a lazy form of storytelling. Still: what transpired when these expeditions failed? Were the explorers slaughtered by the ferocious yetis? Were they in sight of the relic before death? None of these questions can salvage the forgettable narrative, one devoid of any larger antagonist, this absence resulting in directionlessness.         

In a very frustrating admission, meanwhile, despite its brief length the DLC suffers from rampant repetition, which stifles somewhat enjoyability; diversity of objectives is lacking. In developing this DLC, Ubisoft’s greatest attempt at gameplay innovation is connected to a home base of sorts, a relay station featuring a weapon cabinet wherein armaments can be purchased or exchanged, wherein consumables and other objects can be purchased; symbolically situated almost in the center of the valley, it is also central to the overall experience. And yet, even here is repetition. The relay base is upgradeable, many upgrades directly connected to a secondary objective, some of which are lazily recycled. There are only eight or nine such instances of these quests, and owing to this lesser number each individual quest ought to have been unique, never repeated. Instead, one objective type is repeated three of four times – seize upon a cargo truck and promptly drive that truck to the relay station. Enjoyable on the first instance, by the third it is tiresome, tedious. Some slight permutations to this objective type are present – one truck may be guarded by ravenous wolves, another guarded by the valley’s hostile defenders – though these permutations are not significant enough, remarkable enough. Other upgrade quests fare somewhat better, though, like a pair which require careful platforming, deft usage of the grappling hook, sometimes even the wingsuit. Ascending some towering mountain or other; relying upon paths not yet crossed or crossed only long ago, is quite exhilarating, enjoyable, and these sequences – quite relaxed rather than the bombasticness defining the cargo trucks’ seizure – are easily the standouts of the upgrade missions. These missions are incentivized, of course, by nature of another gameplay system – base defense. With these missions, the relay base is assaulted by waves of enemy NPCs, of all models, tactics, and weaponry. These sequences are compelling and entertaining in theory, though reflecting the DLC’s repetitious nature, the base defense sequences are present a full five times. True, some subtle alterations are in place, particularly aesthetically – in some missions, lightning periodically flashes brightly and violently, while in another the sky is alight with fire, dazzling in its redness – but the dearth of differentiation here is frustrating. True, it can be immensely satisfying to see the base grow and expand as the upgrade quests are undertaken and completed, while the later nights of base defense can be quite challenging. But this repetition has many negative consequences, consequences which must not be glossed over, for they tarnish somewhat gameplay greatness.

Far Cry 4: Valley of the Yetis defies easy categorization, owing to its length, longer than much traditional DLC, though simultaneously far smaller than an expansion pack. Perhaps the best comparison which might be made is Ubisoft’s earlier Freedom Cry, DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV. Indeed, in many ways these two experiences are linked, being wonderful distillations of the base games’ mechanics, distilling them though not necessarily simplifying them. An overall compact and enjoyable experience is thus in place here, and beyond its excellent world-building and exploration-heavy emphasis, Valley of the Yetis must also be lauded for its briskness, the narrative progressing onwards at breakneck speeds, whereas the base game was defined somewhat by a more plodding pacing, the massiveness of Kyrat being a drawback rather than an asset; the titular valley is miniscule by comparison, though this smallness heightens focus just as it quickens pacing. Hunting and crafting are of course preserved – wallet capacity can be expanded, as can be ammunition capacity, and so on – though a clever alteration was implemented here: animal skins are discoverable in loot chests. This one simple change reduces the tedium attached to hunting, and ensures that resources are always in ample abundance, and that accordingly the player is almost always upgrading their equipment. There is absolutely no need to carry five million of the currency at any given moment, but being enabled to carry five million currency is satisfying, fulfilling; this highly focused crafting brings with it ample joys. Even the progression systems are similarly situated, experience points distributed upon completion of almost all actions, while the distribution rate is very generous, meaning new skills are almost always purchaseable. Some skills are lacking in usefulness, some being useful only in select scenarios, though the preservation of these systems, the hastiness with which skills can be acquired, is commendable. The DLC’s narrative may be lacking, painfully basic, while the central gameplay is defined by iteration rather than innovation, though Valley of the Yetis transcends these failings, the overall experience, wonderfully and highly focused, being a rewarding one. Crucially, meanwhile, the DLC even has some advantages over the base game, namely in terms of world-building and presentation – the frigid, snowy valley is arresting, beautiful, cleverly and deliberately designed, rather than being a crude amalgamation of various disparate biomes, as was Kyrat. Beyond simple aesthetics, the concision of the experience also explains its larger resonances, this concision countering the overambitious nature of Far Cry 4, allowing the DLC to forge its own distinct, compelling identity – here, then, originality fiercely grapples with imitation.  

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