The best part of Far Cry 4’s new story DLC, Valley of the Yetis, is that it is more Far Cry 4. Everything that made Ubisoft’s 2013 entry to the long running series a success is carried over into this expansion. But with that also comes some of the game’s flaws. Valley of the Yetis has excellent missions that thrive on tension and increasing difficulty, but sometimes falls short with its constant reminders of the world’s dangers and occasional linear levels that can seem claustrophobic by comparison to other set pieces.
After getting word of a valuable relic high in the Himalayas, Far Cry 4 protagonist Ajay Ghale sets off with the aid of a pilot to locate the precious artifact. It isn’t long before the two’s plane is shot out of the air and they come face-to-face with the mysterious Cult of Yalung, who have harnessed the power of an elixir found deep within the caves of the mountains that has strange effects on the human body and are now using it against those who dare tread on the cult’s territory. It is up to Ajay to save those kidnapped by the Yalung and to fend off a much more sinister foe that stalks the ridge.
Featured only as set pieces in Far Cry 4, the Himalayan mountains are the sole location for Valley of the Yetis. The valley is its own open-world apart from Kyrat and is roughly one-fourth of the size. Gone are the game’s expansive forests and vegetation and in their places are frozen mountains and dangerous ridges. Vast sheets of ice cover everything the eye can see and snow clings to both man and nature. The game creates a feeling of isolation in this DLC package, as there are few NPCs roaming the streets. It feels as though Ajay is alone on his journey and this creates a completely different mood for the game from its predecessor.
Similar to its climate, the world of Valley of the Yeti’s is cold and harsh, creating a sense of desperation and making the player feel as though he or she should do everything in their power to escape, rather than seeing the sights. It’s an interesting change of pace over Far Cry 4, where warm colors and vibrant environments felt more inviting for exploration. Here in the valley, you feel alone, driven towards your objective and hungry for escape rather than prolonging the inevitable missions to explore.
Taking place over the course of five days and five nights, Valley of the Yeti’s missions are broken up into two different styles. The first being story missions that have you traveling the map in order to complete objectives and the second that sees you fending off assaults upon your camp at the end of each night.
Story missions in Valley of the Yetis maintain an exhilarating pace, having you blast through waves of enemies that cross your path or sneak your way through from point A to B, but after awhile they start to feel uneven. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the overall fun of each mission, but the locations for missions start to feel very similar. Missions will begin with a large set-piece allowing for multiple entrances and opportunities for stealth or assault type playstyles, but then will jump underground into more linear caves. The caves aren’t necessarily bad environments, more they are too stark of a contrast from the open environments and ultimately feel claustrophobic. I felt more freedom out in the open and I could truly play how I wanted. This freedom allowed me to revisit my fondness for Far Cry 4’s “play your own way” mantra. But when I was forced below ground, I often felt that running and gunning was my best bet as the caves weren’t always large enough to make stealth an easy approach.
Valley’s second missions have you defending your relay station, which serves as Ajay’s safehouse in the Himalayas. For five nights, the Cult of Yalung attacks the grounds of the relay station, leaving it up to the player to defend it and make clever use of upgradable traps to stop the onslaught. Each night becomes increasingly harder and upgrades become absolutely necessary to slow down advancing enemies. As enemies announce where they are inbound from, traps such as Mounted Guns or explosive barrel traps will be Ajay’s only hope in gaining the upper hand.
This upscaled tower defense game is one of the main highlights of Valley of the Yetis. All five nights, I found myself at the edge of my seat feeling I was dodging bullets and landing shots by the skin of my teeth, and by pure luck at that. As mentioned above, as waves become increasingly more difficult, sending multiple enemy classes at the player from multiple directions at once, not only does it become necessary to purchase upgraded traps for the Relay station, but it also requires the player to make clever and effective use of each one. These high-octane missions are thrilling and terrifying all at once and getting through them really feels like a challenge. Each night becomes noticeably more difficult and it doesn’t ever set into tedium, because just when you think you have the hang of things, Valley of the Yetis sends an entirely different challenge into your world.
As suggested in the name, Yetis stalk the hills and valleys of the Himalayan mountaintops. Extremely more powerful than human enemies, each run-in with a Yeti is challenging and intense. They can quickly chip away at Ajay’s health and normal bullets barely do the trick, making it necessary to always stay on your toes, all the while trying to accurately aim the more explosive weapons in your arsenal. The inclusion of Yetis, especially into the defense missions, add an interesting dynamic to the game. Just when it feels like the player may be falling into a routine of shooting human after human, these monstrosities appear to remind players that they are not in control of their situations. The arrival of a Yeti, especially more than one, can quickly change the outcome of a fight and they are a welcome challenge.
One of the best and worst parts of Far Cry 4, and ultimately Valley of the Yetis, is the game’s emphasis on never letting players be fully safe. This is at its best during missions, where no matter how careful the player is, alerting an enemy is mere milliseconds away. This creates a constant tension while trying to play the game stealthily, feeling that each movement is pivotal and the difference between a silent take-down and a full-on fire fight. This tension is expanded upon when player’s stealth is compromised and the game quickly turns on a dime to a high octane exchange of bullets where split second thinking is necessary to take down the insane amounts of enemies the game likes to throw at players whenever it can. Especially in the large, open set pieces mentioned above, I was never frustrated when an enemy was alerted to my position, because I always felt that it was my fault that my location was given away and I was thrilled at the opportunity to think on my feet and have to explore a different way of playing than I had initially tried.
Where this becomes an issue though is in the open world. The animals that inhabit the game are constantly stalking the player and quickly become a nuisance. At times, the threat of nearby predators adds to the overall atmosphere of the world, really making the environments feel unforgiving. During hunting, I want to feel as though if I miss a shot, I give the predator the upper hand. But, when the player is attacked from behind by a leopard or wolf while in the middle of a mission, it feels unfair and unnecessary. The game doesn’t always know the right time and/or place to throw these obstacles at players and giving away player position during a mission doesn’t so much add to the experience as it feels unfairly punishing.
Valley of the Yeti’s doesn’t allow players to carry over any abilities, crafted items, or any of their previous arsenal. At first this makes players feel vastly under-powered, especially during the first night where a lack of equipment can barely seem enough to take down the amount of enemies that are after you. This helps add to a the overall pace of the game in the beginning, making players feel that slowing down means death. But, the game quickly goes back on this and makes upgrading extremely quick and easy. After the first night, I was immediately able to fully upgrade my health (four different upgrades in total), and still have some experience points left over. Similarly, guns and animal skins can be found in abundance around the map and are even marked on player’s minimap. This completely ends the necessity for players to work for more powerful guns or hunt wildlife as the game would much rather just hand it to them.
Handing the players upgrades without requiring them to work for them both makes the game easier and also teaches player that they don’t have to work very hard for better skills and items. On one hand, this makes players more powerful, unlocking more powerful guns quicker and allowing for a much larger and dynamic arsenal for destruction. But on the other hand, this takes away a lot of the sense of satisfaction. I never had to work very hard in Valley of Yetis. Instead I felt everything was handed to me. Maybe this is done to work around the game’s shorter length, but I felt too much was thrown at the player too quickly and took away from a lot of the satisfaction of having to work for better things.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWk9tjnXc6Y]
Ubisoft’s latest entry to the Far Cry world is a solid addition. Clocking in at around eight hours of story, Valley of the Yetis is a hefty piece of game for a small price. Though it still falls short from some of the flaws of its brother game, Far Cry 4, and at times feels it’s giving too much at once to the player, the excellent defense missions, difficult Yeti encounters, and high tension make this DLC worth the money and time of anyone who wants to spend more time in Kyrat.
Score: 4 out of 5
- Excellent defense missions
- New location has its own unique feel
- Builds a lot of tension
- Yetis are a welcome challenge
- Occasionally linear
- Gives the player too much too quickly
- Doesn’t know proper time or place for wildlife danger