In Far Cry 4’s untamed wilds of Kyrat, you’ll overtake enemy-occupied fortresses while wielding a grenade launcher from atop a rampaging elephant. When not raising the bar on open-world, adrenaline-fueled action, however, you might find yourself peacefully meditating on a Himalayan mountainside.
More specifically: You may discover ancient tapestries that, when studied, transport you to a heavenly place marked by exotic wildlife, crimson-colored waterfalls, and fire-spewing demons that want to cook you extra-crispy. There are five of these tapestries – called thangkas – hidden throughout Far Cry 4’s sprawling sandbox. When protagonist Ajay Ghale meditates on them, players are put behind the magical bow of a legendary warrior named Kalinag. And it’s all kinds of awesome.
Our hands-on time with what Ubisoft Montreal calls “The Legend of Shangri-La” tasked us with “liberating a bell of enlightenment.” Before we could do that, though, we got to test out that sweet bow on some of this fantastical world’s demonic forces. Featuring a slow-mo mechanic, Kalinag’s weapon of choice nearly freezes time before unleashing its pointy payloads into the heads of rampaging uglies. The bow sports a handful of glowing crystals that slowly go dark the longer you control the passage of time; once they’re depleted, they begin to replenish, adding a bit of strategy to the weapon’s use.
As cool as it was watching bad guys’ heads explode in a blue mist (demon blood?), the ranged death-dealer paled in comparison to Kalinag’s other weapon, dubbed “The Protector of Shangri-La.” As badass as its name is, it does little justice to what is, in fact, a magical tiger that attacks on command. Unlike the hungry beasts in Far Cry 4’s real-world, this majestic wildcat has no desire to separate your skin from your bones. Proven by its penchant for ferociously tearing into the throats of your enemies, this fearsome kitty is your new best friend.
A press of the right trigger – accompanied by a Hindi-spoken command – sends the big cat toward a designated target. The animal is an effective killer, but it also works as a nice distraction; planting an arrow between an enemy’s eyes, while the tiger attempts to bring them down from behind, is especially rewarding. In fact, a similar strategy was necessary when we encountered the aptly named “Scorcher.” Arrows did little more than turn this towering fire-breather into a walking pincushion; but having our tiger attack him from the front – while we performed a stealthy takedown from the back – promptly extinguished the fiery foe.
When not practicing our archery skills or taming a tiger, we were tasked with completing some minor objectives to progress. We first spun a prayer wheel to open a portal and, later, freed that aforementioned bell from its restricting chains. Mostly, though, the mission involved combating otherworldly threats with weapons you won’t find in Ajay’s arsenal, and taking in the painting-come-to-life scenery. Marked by various, vivid shades of red, all of it – from wind-swept leaves and swaying trees to rushing streams and ancient temples – provides a dreamlike backdrop to the demon-slaying action.
As creative director Alex Hutchinson pointed out, “The Legend of Shangri-La” is a sort of evolution of the craziness that unfolded in Far Cry 3. Rather than having you inhale mushroom spores and hallucinate, however, Far Cry 4’s way-off-the-beaten-path content provides fresh gameplay and story-expanding elements. We’re not sure how Ajay’s path and Kalinag’s backstory relate… but at the very least, these trippy treks to the fabled paradise offer an absorbing, folklore-filled peek into Kyrat’s past.
According to Ubisoft, there is one thangka on the critical path, and four optional ones that will need to be sought out by more adventurous players. Without spoiling too much, they also hinted that meditating on all five will bring this side-story full-circle in a satisfactory manner.
Narrative payoff aside, playing as Kalinag brings a nice change of pace to the usual Far Cry mayhem-making. While we love running from rabid honey badgers, hurtling through cold-and-bitter skies in wing-suits, and chasing madmen through the world’s most perilous mountains, we look forward to more opportunities to unleash that magical tiger on Shangri-La’s evildoers.