My obsession with Yetis, Bigfoot, Abominable Snowmen and the like is no secret. I’ve written plays about them, made clothing that depicts them, and one of my five favourite films is a shitty Bigfoot doc from the ‘70s. So naturally, last year’s announcement of Far Cry 4 got me excited. I was only moderately interested in a new Far Cry, but the (rather good, as it turns out) game was set in the Himalayas. And the Himalayas meant Yetis. Now, after leaving them out of the main game, Ubisoft have followed through on that promise, ostensibly producing DLC that showcases the mystical beasts in all their glory.
Sadly, Valley of the Yetis is not a Yeti game. It has Yetis in it, and the main storyline concerns them directly, but at its core, it’s an open-world shooter with base-defense elements - an acceptable expansion to Far Cry 4, but not the Yeti game I crave.
In the DLC’s opening moments, Far Cry 4 protagonist Ajay crash-lands in the titular Valley, a self-contained area adjacent to the fictitious Himalayan region of Kyrat. The Valley is a stark, beautiful, frozen environment, small only by Far Cry standards, and densely populated with wildlife for such a remote place. It’s also populated with Yeti-worshipping cultists, bent on finding an ancient Relic said to hold great power; and the Yetis (or Awakened Ones) themselves, seemingly defending the same relic. What follows is a week-long struggle between Ajay and the cultists, as Ajay takes over a relay station and attempts to unravel the mystery of the Yetis, the Relic, and the creepy whispers emanating from the Valley’s caves.
Despite its title, the bulk of Valley of the Yetis actually focuses on Ajay’s base and its defenses. The story missions, which take place during the day, alternate with wave-based nighttime attacks on the relay station by cultists. You can face down attacking cultists with weapons alone, or acquire additional defenses (mines, mounted machine guns, Ewok-style traps) through purchase or the completion of side quests. Despite a few outliers, these upgrade quests (which represent 100% of available side quests) mostly involve hijacking an enemy truck and driving it back to the relay station. With more variety, upgrade quests might feel meaningful, but as they stand, they’re repetitive filler whose only purpose is to feed into the nighttime attacks. That’s a noble purpose, as those attacks get progressively more and more challenging, but I like to feel like I’m working for my upgrades.
Speaking of unearned upgrades: as it’s separate from vanilla Far Cry 4 (for reasons that become obvious by the end), character progression from the main game does not transfer over. Instead, the DLC starts your skills and crafting from scratch, but heaps skill-points and materials on you liberally - by the time I’d finished the maybe six-hour storyline, I’d maxed out most of my character’s abilities. It surely would have made more sense, and been more satisfying to players, to create a separate collection of perks specific to the DLC.
But what of the Yetis, you ask? I occasionally asked myself the same question. At times, the beasts are almost secondary to gameplay, and when they do appear, they’re disappointingly ordinary. The game delays their entrance, and like all monsters, they’re much scarier as rumour and shadow than flesh and bone. Even their first in-game appearance is suitably terrifying, with inspiration from Alien: Isolation, as you try to escape from a sacrificial cave with no equipment. But after that, they’re just big ol’ monsters. There’s little sense of wonder when Yetis just wander around the map, tagged by the HUD as “wildlife” and treated as just another ingame creature. It’s hard to be impressed when you’re driving your snowmobile along and you pass a casual Yeti chilling next to a rock.
As enemies, Yetis made me feel terrible, for multiple reasons. For one thing, they’re horribly difficult to fight: they close the distance too quickly to safely use explosives, and otherwise require multiple headshots and a quick-time event takedown to kill. Fighting them is a serious challenge; defeating two at once is near-impossible. They also belong to that increasingly tired class of enemy that picks up slabs of material from the ground and hurls them at you, making escape difficult too. It’s only when fighting Yetis in addition to human enemies that they become interesting, as everyone briefly teams up to fight the greater threat.
But the worst thing about fighting Yetis is the emotional cost of killing them. Like hunting the buffalo to extinction in Red Dead Redemption, murdering a Yeti (and optionally REMOVING ITS HEART) feels like eliminating something wonderful and rare from the world. They’re among the most precariously endangered species, after all. Sure, these Yetis have different origins to the more common Bigfoot myths, and are pretty much completely antagonistic towards everything, but it’s still sad. That the game forces you to kill them in order to progress is awful. Not even the predictable and perfunctory twist ending can make that better.
Valley of the Yetis is a decent piece of DLC for Far Cry 4, but it’s not the Bigfoot game I’ve been waiting for. It’s like the team had an idea for a base-defense game and an idea for a Yeti-cult game and mashed them together to save on resources. I guess I shouldn’t have expected else from an open-world shooter, but I still live in hope that a game that captures the sedate, obsessive thrill of cryptozoology will emerge one day. Maybe I just have to make it myself.