Far Cry 3: Surprisingly Good Witch Game

Don’t read more into the title than it’s saying. Far Cry 3 isn’t a good witch game – but it is much better than you’d expect.

Drake Hollow had witch themes to its gameplay but very little witchery – there was no botany, your familiars serve as quest ATMs and nothing else, and the relationship between crystal magic and buffs is strained by the way it relies more heavily on building a camp full of lobster tanks and pinball machines than on finding crystals for magic power. The Serpent Rogue had a really good alchemy system (and alchemist gameplay is pretty well identical to witch gameplay in terms of the actual game mechanics), but was balanced for such intense resource pressure that experimentation was frustrating and building up ingredients was tedious.

And then there’s Far Cry 3, casually getting 80% of the way there without even really trying. In Far Cry 3, you can gather four flavors of herbs and convert them into various syringes to get buffs. Your standard health potion requires one green herb, an enhanced health potion requires two green herbs and one blue herb, a boost to hip-fire accuracy requires two red herbs and one yellow herb, and so on. The different herbs tend to grow in different biomes, so blue herbs are always found underwater, green herbs are found in thick jungles while yellow and red herbs seem like they grow in more sparse areas, and so on. All of them are found in sufficient abundance that it’s not hard to keep stocked up most of the time, and in any case your primary means of interacting with the world is gunfire, not herbalism, so if you do run out it’s an inconvenience but not a soft game over.

Far Cry 3 does have two flaws holding it back from being a witch game besides the presentation issue that you are definitely not playing any kind of witch. First, the recipes are given to you at certain story points, not unlocked through experimentation. You don’t sit down at an alchemy bench and try sticking two green and one blue herb together to see if it does anything, you just get a certain ways into the story and the greater healing potion recipe just appears in your crafting menu without explanation. Second, the game doesn’t seem to want to give straightforward buffs to things like weapon damage. The herb crafting is dabbling in survival mechanics, not proper magical witchery, so this might be an appeal to realism, except that you have syringes that seal up your bullet wounds and make you fireproof, so it doesn’t seem like that much more of a stretch to have a syringe called an “adrenaline booster” or something and have it increase damage.

There’s even mechanics related to animals, although these ones aren’t nearly so close to what you’d want in a witch game as presented. Indeed, they’re not even great for a survival hunter kind of game, i.e. what they’re supposed to be. As you uncover sections of the map by climbing radio towers, little animal symbols are stamped in various places. Different types of animal hides are required to increase the number of weapons you can carry and your ammo capacity. Exploring the island to find out where animals live is pretty witch-y, doing it to hunt them is pretty survival-y, and doing it to hunt them by unloading a PKM light machinegun on them feels like I’m playing a wealthy mid-life crisis simulator, so, uh, part of the mechanic for evocative gameplay is there, but they didn’t quite stick the landing. In fairness, there is an option to use a bow and there’s even some gentle nudging to do so, since the bow is silent and thus doesn’t alert nearby animals, making it easier to shoot several of them and stock up on materials. Problem is, the bow takes a weapon slot, you unlock weapon slots by harvesting animal hides, and depending on how you feel about LMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles, the bow is plausibly priority 4 and won’t become a part of your arsenal until you’re nearly maxed out anyway.

A lot of Ubisoft games have copied the hunting mechanics from Far Cry 3 (I say “copied,” but Assassin’s Creed 3 came out at almost exactly the same time, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if people were sharing notes between the two teams, there’s no reason to think the Far Cry 3 team originated the idea and AC3 was copying), but I don’t remember the herb-gathering gameplay so much. I didn’t get super far into any of the other Far Crys, though, so maybe I just didn’t bother with the mechanic and then forgot about it? I’ll see when I get to Far Cry 4+. In any case, it’s about what you’d expect from an Ubisoft mechanic: Easy, evocative, and fun, but held back from greatness by how overly hand-holdy it is.

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