I nearly gave up on Far Cry 4. I recently recovered from that mistake.

Late last fall, faced with a stack of games to play, I gave Far Cry 4 just a couple of hours to impress me. My quick 2014 take: it’s too similar to the wonderful Far Cry 3, the tropical game about shooting hostile people and animals. Ubisoft’s 2012 action game had been vaulted into the Himalayas, a new grappling hook tossed in. It looked different, didn’t play all that different.

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Life is long enough to play greatly-improved sequels, but can we last enough revolutions around the sun to play the sequels that exhibit merely moderate improvement? Maybe not. I put Far Cry 4 aside.

Well, freeze my head, because I decided a few weeks ago to go back to Far Cry 4 and I can now say that one of my favorite games I’ve played in 2015 is this 2014 adventure. Time well spent!

Given the possibility that you may have skipped Far Cry 4 for some silly reason, I need to show you some sights and offer some tips.

The game is beautiful:

It plays well, too.

Like its predecessor, Far Cry 4 is pretty much all about killing. That’s most of what you do. It can be weird if you think hard about what that means for story and your potential interactions with the virtual people in the game’s world. In terms of gameplay, though, the shooting and blowing of things up, the various means to attack each problem with guns, knives, arrows, vehicles or animals...from the ground, from the air or from the shadows...feels really good. We’re on the same page about this, right? Combat in video games is a means of interaction, as it is in checkers and football. Tune it well and you’ve got something delightful to play, all about picking the right targets, surviving attacks, making the best moves.

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This ghoulish sight is Far Cry 4 at its best. Amazing vista. Well-executed stealth chain kills, using abilities I earned playing through many quests:

What you see isn’t new, which is what had bugged me last year. Bows and arrows. Stealth. Chain kills. All were in Far Cry 3, but as I played more, I did find some new stuff.

This sure wasn’t in Far Cry 3:

What you’re seeing here is part of one of the main series of sidequests classified as Shangri-La missions. They transport you to another time, give you a magical tiger minion and, overall, are the coolest-looking missions of the game. Too bad the final Shangri-La mission isn’t very good, but the rest? They’re a joy.

Here’s me approaching one of the missions:

And here’s me playing it:

There are pockets of Far Cry 4 like this that feel entirely new.

When you’re playing an iterative sequel, however, you encounter a lot of the familiar, hoping for tweaks. A good sequel such as Far Cry 4 gives you that. Far Cry 3 had some fun towers to climb, for example.

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This next clip shows some damn good iteration and probably the most fun and challenging tower to climb in Far Cry 4:

Speaking of things Far Cry 4 took from 3 and tweaked, how about the new vehicle takedown?

You should go into any Far Cry game expecting a beautiful, violent playground, though that might be a hard pitch for some people. A great open-world game doesn’t sell you its excellence on the strength of any one mission but on the satisfaction you find in your incremental exposure to its world. You’ve got to spend time in it, maybe go on a violent vacation in it. In this post, I’m trying to get that across by giving you a smattering of my highlights trekking through Far Cry 4. You’ll trudge through a patch of the ordinary. Next thing you know, you’ll be walking through some beautiful scenery and come upon a bear wrestling a yak:

You’ll be walking around a building, spot a well and discover a small secret base. That wonderful nook is a treasure worth celebrating because it doesn’t matter to the game’s big story or big missions. It’s just this little hand-crafted thing that some game designers put in there for you to find, a treasure just for you.

Really, finding that well was one of my favorite gaming experiences of the year:

Far Cry 4 is overwhelming, though. Maybe it’s too large. Like, here it is when I decided I was “finished” with the game a couple of weeks ago, with all of the main missions done, all the outposts liberated, all the towers climbed and all the sidequests complete. Still plenty more to explore:

I should warn you. If you’re compulsive about cleaning everything out of a game, you’ve got very little chance with Far Cry 4. I mean, look at this:

That’s me feeling like I finished the game. Story was over. Map fully de-fogged. Lots of stuff complete.

And yet...

There was more...

If I go back, though, it won’t simply be to collect stuff. I’ll go back because I like the enchanting weirdness hiding in the game’s world, the other stories hinted at but not fully detailed. Scenes like this:

(Personal spoiler: I won’t be going back to Far Cry 4, because now I’m neck-deep in Dying Light and really want to try some Witcher 3 and should finally get back to the last Mario & Luigi and was having fun with Splatoon and really should play Grim Fandango someday and I’ve surely got to spend some time on Bloodborne and I already miss keeping up with those new Streetpass games and the new Batman is coming out soon and Hand of Fate’s last PS4 patch seemed to resolve its framerate issues so I can go back to it and I really want to re-visit Assassin’s Creed Rogue and... etc etc etc)

If you go back to Far Cry 4, I have some suggestions about what to play and what to ignore.

Play the main campaign, because it has some fun missions that are more varied than those of FC3. Clear as many outposts as you can as you do so, and always try to do it stealthy without raising alarms. That’s the most rewarding approach.

Do play the Shangri-La side missions. They’re the coolest-looking missions in the game.

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Skip the Longinus missions if you feel like it. They’re forgettable. The Yogi & Reggie missions aren’t that interesting in terms of gameplay, but given the premise that you are on drugs during them, they contort the world in interesting ways. Sometimes they change the game’s colors for the better, which you can see in the image atop this post.

Do play the Hurk missions, if you grab that DLC. One of them is like the movie Speed and forces you to drive fast through Far Cry’s map. Another is one of the few missions of the game that pushes you to use an elephant in combat. (Side note: I’ve really been enjoying waiting until a game’s DLC has been entirely been released before committing a lot of hours to it; you get a fuller spread of options of what to play that way. I did the same with Watch Dogs.)

Play the Syringe and Yak Farm missions, former pre-order and/or retailer-tied missions that might cost a couple of bucks extra. They are fun combat-heavy sequences set in the mountains, a setting the game otherwise doesn’t do enough with. Here’s some of that Yak Farm mission, which turns into one of the game’s toughest shootouts:

Regarding the game’s expansions, I’m not sold on the Escape from Durgesh Prison expansion, though I appreciate the experiment. It remixes the game so that you’re playing on a smaller map with a timer and start back from the beginning any time you die—albeit with any skills you earned during your last attempt to reach the expansion’s conclusion.

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I am sold on the Valley of the Yetis, a several-hour semi-inversion of the game that has you upgrading and defending a base over the course of five simulated nights of increasingly aggressive soldier and yeti attacks. That expansion has a special subset of “mountaineering” quests that are the best climbing-and-grapple-hooking missions in the entire Far Cry 4 offering. I played through this expansion before I went back to the main game and had a great time with it.

Also, a general tip for the game: don’t panic if you get set on fire.

As you play Far Cry 4, you’re not going to find anything radically experimental, nothing shockingly new. But you’ll repeatedly find beauty in the game’s world as you marshal some of the most satisfying first-person action mapped to a controller. Yeah, it’s a lot like Far Cry 3, but I finally got over that.

Play this game. The animals are waiting.

To contact the author of this post, write to stephentotilo@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.