Far Cry 3 was the first game I ever bought day-one, full-price, and I played it a lot on the family computer (I did not have my own PC at the time). I remember it fondly, as it was a pretty good game. Revisting it now, five years after its release, I still had a great time replaying through the story missions. Seeing as Far Cry 4 was sold for 15€ at my local game store, I decided to give it a go right after I finished 3 and found it a mixed back. While the gameplay and graphics are definetly better than 3 (and I will make another article on my stance on graphics in games later) and I find basting through firefights more enjoyable than in 3, the story-telling and complexity lack a lot of what made 3 so good.
As for the gameplay, it is improved by a number of things. The variety added by the new weapons, while there are not many new arrivals in the arsenal, gives a breath of fresh air to the Far Cry roster. Some of them are great fun to use, like the double-barrelled hunting rifle that fires sniper rounds, or the immensely powerful MG42. Another tool that adds complexity to the game is the grappling hook, which allows for more vertical level design. My favorite addition to the arsenal however is the set of throwing knives, a weapon that I always fond lacking in 3.
That is not to say that the gameplay in FC4 is perfect. It is solid, and fun, but some elements of it strike me as detrimental to the overall experience. The skills, for example, have been streamlined quite a lot and lack complexity (some executions are missing, for example, and I therefore found myself not using the kukhuri that much). The main problem I have is that the skills have been tied to story missions or sidequests too much : while in 3, this was only a problem with the last skills in the tree, in 4 this is mostly noticable with the additional health bars : in 4, you are capped at 4 health bars right at the start of the game, and you only unlock the 5th and 6th ones at the last third, which leaves you extremely vulnerable to incoming damage. You will also notice that you are locked right away if you refuse to do sidequests, some of them are boring and repetitive (more on that later). This will often leave you with a full skill tree and plenty of points, but no way to spend them. I think this illustrates the point I wish to make : FC4 is much more gameplay focused than its predecessor.
This is most apparent when comparing the stories. FC3’s story makes at least some sense, if you ignore the classic action-game trope of an everyman becoming a killing machine in a matter of minutes (and even that is servicable in the context of the meta-narrative. Believe me, FC3 is much more complex and interesting than people give it credit for). It looks like a simple revenge story filled with bloody murder, but it actually delves into the depth of meta gaming every once in a while, and asks a decent moral question at the end (no matter what you choose, Jason loses) and therefore provides opportunity for reflexion as well as murdering hordes of pirates and privateers. It is not the best story-building I’ve ever seen (that honor would go to Dark Souls I) but at least the writers tried to make it an art piece and they mostly succeeded.
FC4 on the other end is more like a theme park and I think the sidequests occupy more than half of the time you’ll spend playing. The story is more skin-level, and lacks all depth and reflexion. From a decent try at a complex and artsy story to a classic action movie plot. I also firmly believe that Ajay is more of a blank slate than even Jason Brody. Why the hell would he join the Golden Path ? What are his motivations for fighting Pagan Mihn ? Could I not play the game on the side of the Royal Army ? (heck, now that’s a good idea, Ubisoft, get on that. I’m serious. I’d pay for that.)
It does not help that it is too short, and time should have been spent developping characters such as Noore of De Pleur, which look like they were built for a moral testing of the player. Their inclusion now feels like wasted potential. Instead of what could have been a talentful, morally challenging story, we have a load of boring and repetitive sidequests.
This is perhaps the main point I want to emphasize. There is nothing wrong with FC4 per se. It is a solid game. But playing FC3 makes you feel that it could have been so much more interesting than a simple theme park. And that is not how you make a sequel. This is, perhaps, the main essence of cazualization and contempt for customers : but this is an article for another time.