The Shangri-La demo, however, is where I think Far Cry 4 is going to make real ins among a more diverse playerbase. People familiar with Far Cry 3 already understand the vast array of gameplay opportunities waiting for you, but the story, the world, and the history in Far Cry 4 are so expertly fleshed out that it begets a fascination with an entirely fictional culture that is quite impressive. When I inquired about how the world played into the story, Mark Thompson, Far Cry 4's Narrative Director, looked almost puzzled, saying quite matter-of-fact, "the world is the main character." Thompson talked at length about how the team was "trying to get away from the idea that story is only told through cut scenes" focusing instead on the idea that "the story is what you do in every moment of the game." This notion that the story isn't just what the NPCs tell you it is, but rather is nothing more or less than what you make of it isn't novel in video games, but has the potential to draw whole new demographics of players.
There are upwards of five Shangri-La levels scattered around the open world of Far Cry 4. The purpose of these sections isn't just to offer some backstory to the myths and legends of Kyrat, but rather to allow the player to create the myth themselves, however they imagine it could have happened. You'll be transported to a mystical location - seemingly a temple of sorts, complete with the requisite religious relics - where you're required to liberate one of several Bells of Enlightenment. To do so, you must fight your way through the native protectors (or perhaps they're attacking the temple. That wasn't made clear exactly) navigate the temple, and find your way to the top.
You'll be facing down Lurkers, short bow-wielding creatures that summon dog-like beasts that rush you and explode instead of mauling you. Butchers are melee versions of Lurkers with a twist; they'll sporadically disappear in the midst of charging you, strafe, and resume their charge from a different direction. These enemies offer one of the more interesting combat challenges in the Shangri-La levels. Finally, there's the Scorcher, a brutish flesh tank that can absorb potentially infinite amounts of damage. The only way to kill him seems to be a knife takedown from behind.
You're not on your own, though. In addition to your knife and bow, you'll be commanding an otherworldly tiger as you explore Shangri-La. The tiger will protect you from attackers if you don't give it specific instructions, but you'll likely be calling out targets left and right and watching your man eater rush in and clean house. It's refreshing to be able to hide from the enemies long enough to heal, knowing well that there's still an aggressor putting pressure on them and keeping them from rushing you.
The levels themselves are heavily influenced by historical sites from the region, including locations in Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. It's an impressive recreation of the holy temples of the area, and anybody with even a passing interest in these cultures will thoroughly enjoy being able to explore the sites in a wholly different context than you ever could in life. With prayer flags hanging everywhere, and prayer bells and wheels being prevalent décor throughout, the influences are hard to miss, and you may well learn something as you venture through Kyrat and its places of legend.
Far Cry 4 is almost evenly split between open world activities and story-driven missions, and Hutchinson outlined some 50 points of interest - ie. "islands of challenge" - in the open world, suggesting a huge number of story missions to look forward to. The action in Far Cry 4 is exciting, the vistas are stunning, and the history the team has created for its world is rich and vibrant. While the demos I saw were near-perfectly executed by the design team, they were only a very small glimpse of the overall experience. But you also get to play with weaponized elephants, so there's that.
Far Cry 4 is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft, with plans to launch November 18, 2014.