The Thin Line Between Far Cry 3 and Skyrim

Ubisoft's upcoming shooter is blending genres one shark hunt at a time.

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Spend an hour with Far Cry 3, and it feels like a first-person shooter. One where you can hang glide from a mountaintop and hunt sharks with a grenade, mind you, but a shooter just the same. But spend a few more hours with it, and Far Cry 3's influences from the role-playing genre begin to creep in. It's not quite Borderlands or Deus Ex, but there's a sense of openness and adventure here that doesn't feel too far removed from a game like Skyrim.

Far Cry 3's open world--a tropical archipelago overrun by pirates--is a scavenger's playground. There's an entire economy built around finding items, selling them off, or crafting them into more useful pieces of equipment. On the most basic level, you're constantly finding little bits and bobs that you can pawn for cash to put toward weapons and ammunition. The archipelago is also full of plant life you can harvest and mix into various types of concoctions, from basic medicines to a mixture that makes animals less likely to run away from you while hunting.

That last mixture can come in pretty handy, because there's a lot more to Far Cry 3's hunting system than running over a deer who got in the way of your jeep during an especially reckless joyride. Every animal you kill can be skinned, and those hides become the leather you use to upgrade all sorts of equipment. You can upgrade the size of your wallet to carry more cash, craft new weapon holsters for carrying more guns, and make all sorts of arrow quivers and ammo pouches.

It's one of those systems that don't sound terribly sexy on paper, but in my experience it somehow managed to entangle me in a compulsive scavenger hunt across the gameworld. Say you're planning a raid on a pirate camp, and get to thinking just how nice it would be if you could carry a backup gun, or a few more assault rifle clips. What do you do? Well, you take a look at which animal skins you need in order to upgrade a specific holster or pouch, and before you know it you're after the next upgrade beyond that first one, scaling the crafting tree one expedition at a time.

There's a difficulty curve built into it. A basic wallet upgrade requires only a few boar hides; boars are dangerous animals when they catch you by surprise but don't pose much of a challenge when you're the one searching them out. But if you want the biggest wallet you can carry, well, that's when you'll need to start hunting sharks.

Yes, shark hunting. I don't think I got caught up in anything more dangerous or more exciting during my hands-on time with Far Cry 3. Snipe one from the beach, and you'll need to swim out and find where its body has sunk down to the ocean floor, making sure that (A) you return before you run out of air and (B) you don't run into any of his shark buddies along the way. Eventually I discovered that cooking a grenade and tossing it in the shark's general direction was an effective tactic, though that meant bearing the guilt of killing a few innocent sea turtles along the way. It wasn't exactly my finest moment, but I got my shark skins.

But that's the beauty. The crafting system feels like an open-world role-playing game in the way it sends you off on your own wild journeys and expeditions through the gameworld, bringing back tragic stories of dead sea turtles. Whether you're sitting on the beach thinking of the best way to kill a shark, hiding in the bushes debating whether you can kill a buffalo with the two shells left in your shotgun, or just wandering through the wilderness picking flowers to stock up on medicine, Far Cry 3 really seems to capture a lot of that emergent exploration that people love about open-world RPGs.

Where Far Cry 3 gets a little more overt in its RPG leanings is in its skill tree system. As you complete quests and pull off especially skilled takedowns (headshots, stealth kills, and so on), you collect experience points, which unlock skill points at various thresholds. These skill points let you purchase new active and passive abilities along three different animal-inspired skill trees: The Heron (long-range takedowns and mobility), The Shark (assault takedowns and healing), and The Spider (stealth takedowns and survival).

Each of these trees bears a different focus. Dumping your skill points into The Heron unlocks abilities like reduced fall damage, shooting with one hand while on a zip line, or staying underwater longer. With The Shark, you get things like more health slots and the ability to quietly pull the pin from an enemy's grenade before kicking him away. And with The Spider, you unlock stuff like faster reloads, quieter sprinting, and selling scavenged items at a higher price.

Combine these skill trees with the focus on exploration, and you have a game that really does feel like it has taken a page from Bethesda's portfolio of expansive, exploration-driven RPGs. Of course, this is still a first-person shooter first and foremost. There's no leveling, no class system, and no dialogue options. But in that one specific way, where you're wandering this world searching for interesting items to gather and mix together, Far Cry 3 really does feel like an RPG. Exactly how much is something we'll find out come Far Cry 3's December release.

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