Far Cry 4's post-release stuff kicked off this week with Escape From Durgesh Prison, a new timed challenge mode that's now available for purchase either individually or as part of the game's season pass. Sadly, it doesn't get things off to a great start.
The pre-release hype for the Escape from Durgesh Prison — which was released yesterday for $US10, or as part of the $US30 season pass — made it sound like a brutally punishing (in a good way) timed run through part of Far Cry 4 complete with permadeath and limited access to the game's weapons and other powerful killing manoeuvres. That was not my experience playing it, so let me get some top-level information out of the way first.
For starters, the name is misleading. Escape From Durgesh Prison doesn't take place in Durgesh Prison, which is a location you get thrown in briefly in the original Far Cry 4 campaign. Rather, it seems that the events in the DLC serve as a bit of connective tissue to explain what happens after you were sprung from Durgesh in the first place.
Well, sort of. Escape from Durgesh doesn't take place in the same version of Far Cry 4 in which you originally escaped from the eponymous setting. It's a self-contained gameplay mode that you access by switching over to the multiplayer side of things in the main menu. See here:
As for the world itself, Escape from Durgesh is played entirely on the northern chunk of Kyrat's map. The outposts, special locations, and loot containers have all been reset — as have protagonist Ajay Ghale's skills, weapons and character progress.
I normally hate to fixate on "content" of all things in games, but since this is an ostensibly new slice of the stuff that you're paying a premium for, it's worth noting that there's really nothing new here besides a few extra lines of dialogue. Escape from Durgesh is more a reshuffling of Far Cry 4 than anything else, and one that only uses part of the original deck of cards. One would be forgiven for mistaking it for a mod, or just a random gameplay idea they stumbled upon on Reddit or a thread on the game's Steam forum, if they didn't have to give over their credit card information to gain access to it.
As a reshuffling, though, Escape from Durgesh begins on a high note: by sending you back to square one. You have no weapons at the outset, and only 30 minutes to make your way to an extraction point (I guess that's what they meant by "Escape"). The challenge comes in trying to quickly and efficiently arm yourself, re-hone your skills, and thus prepare yourself for a final showdown between Ajay and a horde of bad guys who launch an all-out assault at the extraction point. Here's how the game lays out its rules for you:
The time-limit isn't strict, though. Doing standard Far Cry 4 stuff like capturing outposts, side-missions, karma events, even taking down propaganda posters all add time to the counter ticking at the top of the screen. Pagan Min returns as Kyrat's resident evil genius in Escape from Durgesh to poke fun at you and goad you along over the radio, much like he did in the original game.
The DLC is basically a smaller version of Far Cry 4 with a heavy dose of steroids. All the long-winded, meandering times spent exploring Kyrat and enjoying its picturesque scenery are gone. In their place is a non-stop call to arms — a constant reminder that you need to make it to the next checkpoint, kill the next bad guy, do the next thing in order to buy yourself some time or beef up Ajay's formidable assets.
Escape from Durgesh is a challenge mode, in other words. But how challenging is it, really? Many (myself included) described the DLC as a permadeath mode. After playing through the thing, however, I see that I was mistaken. If you die at any point in Escape From Durgesh, you have to restart the campaign from the beginning — losing any progress you've made in terms of capturing outposts or completing missions. But — and this is key — you don't lose your character process or the weapons you've acquired. So while the timer is reset whenever Ajay gets killed, he still begins Escape from Durgesh in a more powerful position than he previously did.
I die a lot in Far Cry games. And I mean a lot. I didn't think much of the "sort-of-but-not-really-permadeath" setting at first as a result. Setting out with no weapons and only a wingsuit to your name is a brutal way to begin any mission in a shooter like this, so the first time I restarted with a pistol and assault rifle in hand I was relieved. But as I spent more time in Escape from Durgesh, I noticed that the looseness of its gameplay confines makes it so the campaign quickly begins to lose shape, before falling apart entirely.
(It's worth noting that Far Cry developer Ubisoft said in a press release for Escape from Durgesh that players will only retain "the knowledge and skills they gained during their previous run-through." Something I and other players have noticed, however, is that Ajay's weapon loadouts carry over from one run to the next. I'm not sure if this is an error or oversight, or an intentional feature of the DLC.)
Rather than offering a challenge that's genuinely compelling or rewarding, Escape from Durgesh leaves itself far too open for repetitive grinding. Once you realise that the 30-minute deadline is so flexible, there's little to no pressure to act quickly. Or act at all, really. I could easily spend 29 minutes wandering around Northern Kyrat hunting animals and picking plants to beef up my arsenal, then jump off a cliff before the timer runs out. Forcing players to pick up the pace in an open world game like Far Cry 4 is a cool idea. But the very part of the new campaign that's supposed to make it fresh and invigorating is crippled by the uneven imposition of its rules.
As a piece of DLC, then, I found Escape from Durgesh Prison a disappointment. It adds little to nothing to one of the best shooters to come out last year. And anything it does add could be easily replicated, if not improved upon, by enterprising gamers looking to amp up the base game's difficulty like some did with self-imposed handicaps in Shadow of Mordor last year. If an extra challenge is all you're looking for, you're better off trying a Far Cry 4 playthrough where you only let yourself use the bow and throwing knives, for instance.
Escape from Durgesh Prison is only worth trying if you've already picked up the season pass for Far Cry 4. Otherwise, it's better to wait and see if that Yeti DLC will be any good.