Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Format: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Lions and tigers and mammoths, oh my!
Far Cry: Primal is a game that doesn’t sound like it should be as fun as it is.
The series is well known for giving players a massive arsenal of firearms to play with, so scaling things back to prehistoric weaponry sounds like a huge step backwards. However, after spending 25+ hours with the game I can assure you that it’s a captivating, exhilarating and (most importantly) fun new direction for the franchise.
In Primal, you play as Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe.
When a hunting mission goes awry, you’re tasked with finding your way home and scouring the land of Oros for other Wenja, building up your tribe in the process. At its very core, Primal has the most simple story in the franchise. You’re building your own tribe, while fighting and minimizing others. There’s no real plot twists, or deep messages, but that’s okay. Primal keeps its story minimal to emphasize its world and how you play in it.
Oros is full of beautiful lakes and rivers, rolling hillsides, dark and grimy caves, and untold horrors. It’s a wonderful place to spend time with, so long as you’re willing to head out into the unknown. Unlike previous games in the series, the map is uncovered by exploration. If you want to find new missions, areas, or beasts to hunt, you need to explore the land and uncover them. Sure, there’s outposts which can be captured to reveal a small portion of the map, but to fully fill it out you’re going to have awaken your sense of exploration. Every little discovery awards you with EXP, collectibles, and resources, so it’s well worth your time to search the nooks and crannies of Oros.
While on your adventures, you’re bound to run into enemy tribes.
Different tribes dominate different regions of the map, and capturing their outposts and camps will minimize their presence in the area and provide another base for your tribe. One of the things I really respected about Primal was the way it handled its tribes. There’s three of them (Wenja, Izilla, and Udam) and each tribe speaks a different language and acts a different way. This makes the world feel authentic and helps differentiate the tribes, giving you a feel for the rivalry between them. And since it’s a Far Cry game, there’s plenty of ways to take them all down.
Instead of machine guns, shotguns, and high-powered rifles, Takkar is equipped with a club, bow, and spear. The club is a great choice for close combat, allowing you to stun enemies and crack their skulls open. The bow is a terrific long-range tool and can be extremely handy for quietly thinning out a group of enemies before taking them out with melee. The spear is a powerful mid-range weapon that can be used to jab at your foes, but it can also be thrown to skewer your enemies, making it gleefully fun to use. Along with a selection of throwing knives, bombs, and traps, Primal has a fun toolbox to mess around with, despite not having the amount of weapons from past games. It’s a much more primal (no pun intended) approach to combat, but it’s just as enjoyable as the gunplay in the other games.
However, if you decide to take a break from eliminating enemy tribes, you can always head out into the hills and valleys to hunt dangerous creatures. Hunting has always been a huge part of the Far Cry series, but its never been as fun as it is in Primal. The animals are more deadly, travel in packs, and work together to flank you, making hunting far more challenging in Primal. There’s nothing scarier than running through the woods at night and seeing the glowing eyes of wolves in the distance, just waiting for your torch to go out so they can swoop in for a late night meal. Now, tracking wolves and bears is enjoyable (and provides you with skins to craft weapon and storage upgrades), but taking on saber-tooth tigers and gigantic mammoths is unlike any hunting experience the series has ever had. These two beasts are extremely strong, fast, and able to kill you without a sweat. Taking one of them down requires plenty of preparation, knowledge of the terrain, and a healthy dose of luck. Sneaking into a pack of mammoths, throwing spears at them, and trying to survive their retaliation is one of the most tense experiences I’ve ever had within a Far Cry game. However, this time around, animals serve a much more important purpose…
Takkar is a Beast Master, which allows him to tame and command the wildlife of Oros. This requires the luring of beasts with the use of bait, but then you can slowly approach them (with outstretched hands) and claim them as your own. Smaller animals such as badgers and wolves can be commanded to attack or distract enemies, but you can eventually upgrade the ability to allow you to capture and ride bigger beasts, like a saber-tooth tiger, bear, or mammoth. However, the most helpful animal you can tame is an owl. The owl can be called in like a reconnaissance drone, allowing you to control it and scout an area, tagging enemies in the process. Even better yet, you can use the owl to drop collected bee, fire, and poison bombs, or simply dive down and use your talons to instantly kill weaker enemies. Animal taming adds a whole new layer to the series, and there’s nothing quite like hiding in a bush and sending a honey badger into a camp to take out tribesman.
Lastly, the entire game is built around an XP/Upgrade system.
Every action in the game awards you XP, be it killing enemies, hunting animals, or uncovering new areas and collectibles. When you reach a certain amount of XP, you get a point which you can drop into a wide multitude of skills. These skills can affect your health, damage resistance, crafting, ability to sprint, and help you uncover more of the map. Along with a whole slew of side quests and tasks to complete, there’s never a drought of fun things to do in Primal.
Also, I can’t end this review without mentioning the visuals.
The Far Cry games have always looked beautiful, but Primal can be downright stunning. Climbing a mountain to look out across the land is a sight to behold, but there’s so many smaller moments that made me stop and admire the work the people at Ubisoft put into this game. The way the moon beams pour down through branches in the woods at night, or the way water erupts from geysers and sparkles in the sun is gorgeous. There’s a lot of time, talent and love put into making Oros pull the player in.
As a long-time fan of the franchise, Far Cry: Primal doesn’t disappoint.
Oros is my favorite setting in the series so far, and its emphasis on exploration and simply existing in its world is magnificent. The weapons (although not as many as past games) are all fun to wield, the hunting elements are more challenging and fun than ever, and the ability to travel across the land taming animals is incredibly satisfying, and leads to some really fun and unexpected moments. The presentation is on point, with every aspect serving to pull the player into the world of Oros and ensure that their time is well spent. Far Cry: Primal is not only a terrific game, it’s one of the must play titles of 2016.
– Zack Burrows