Far Cry Primal is an attempt to take the franchise into a new direction; after all, there’s only so many times you can be stuck on an island with a crazed madman without it getting a bit stale. Honestly, Far Cry‘s core gameplay of taking down enemy outposts and upgrading your character via simple crafting is something that can work in a lot of different settings. Primal attempts to bring the series to the Stone Age, which isn’t a setting you typically see in a AAA game, so that certainly helps it stand out. The question is, “Is this game really Far Cry, and does it offer an experience worthy of a full retail game?” The answer is “not really”.
You play as Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe. At the outset of the game, your hunting party is killed by a tiger while on the way to the land of Oros, as there, it is thought, your people are thriving. When you get there, however, you find the Wenja are scattered. Two other tribes are using them as slave labor and/or a source of food. You start off on a quest to rid the land of these other tribes while bringing in Wenja to start your own village. Along the way, you meet a handful of wacky characters and kill a couple of villains.
That above paragraph is pretty much the entire “story” of the game. There’s not much plot here at all; instead, most of the story is just concepts. The characters you meet might be interesting, but they have no arc and there’s no attempt to make a real connection between them and the player. They just serve as people who hand out missions. Takkar himself pretty much never speaks after the beginning of the game except to say, “Well I killed that dude. Huzzah.” When you clear out the final story mission, you’re not treated to an ending sequence or credits; instead, the game just kind of continues without you being able to speak to people. It’s odd.
Basically, if you normally play Far Cry games for the story, you’ll be sorely disappointed by Primal. This is important, because unlike the previous games, it doesn’t include any multiplayer modes, meaning you don’t have co-op or competitive modes to fall back on. The single player element needed to be solid, and it just isn’t.
Visually, the game is hit and miss. Character models look amazing during cut-scenes, and they move and animate fantastically. Even during gameplay, it looks mostly solid. The issues come from the scale of the game. Open world games can rarely afford to have the best textures and backgrounds, as the games would prove impossible to play without lengthy load times. As such, you’ll occasionally get a blocky texture or a blurry face, and the water and fire effects can look dated as well. Still, while the world can look less than appealing at times, there aren’t really too many complaints that can be made here. You always know what you’re looking at, it usually looks pretty good, and the performance is mostly solid. The art design is pretty great, as each tribe looks different both physically and stylistically. The Udam, for example, have larger heads and wear warmer clothing. It’s also really nifty to come across cave art or a village decorated in human body parts. Okay… that last bit is more horrifying than nifty. Still, if you don’t mind walking around in a set piece for a Ruggero Deodato film, you’ll at least be able to appreciate the attention to detail.
Primal uses the typically associated collection of grunts, growls, thwips, and thuds for sounds. Things are pretty much appropriate across the board, including the various sounds of the animals. At least that’s what I assume a wooly mammoth would sound like. More interesting is the fictional language the three tribes speak. The actors do quite a bit with it, despite the fact they’re speaking utter nonsense. Ubisoft could have easily fallen into the trap of having everyone speak broken English. This primitive language is far more interesting. You just have to be willing to read subtitles. Most of the time, the game lacks music, but it does pick up for big fights. It’s a lot of drum and horn heavy stuff, but it’s fitting. I really don’t have any complaints from the aural side of things.
The core mechanics of Primal work the same as FC3 and 4. You control the character from a first-person perspective, use the sticks to move, aim and fire with the shoulder buttons, jump with the cross button, etc. Basic gameplay involves exploring an open world and getting into combat with enemy tribes and/or local fauna. You can tackle story missions to move the game forward, capture enemy outposts, hunt for animals, track down collectibles, etc. At the core, it’s a Far Cry game. The big difference here is what’s missing versus what’s been added.
Gone are vehicles, guns, explosives, wing suits, markets, radio towers, and racing missions. To take their place, you can now tame various animals. These only include the various predators in Oros, however. You can’t get a pet mammoth or rhino, but you can get a sabre tooth tiger, and that’s not nothing. Although there are no cars or bikes to ride, you can eventually ride some animals. Mammoths take the place of elephants from Far Cry 4, and you can also ride your tiger and/or bear using the same controls. You just have to advance far enough into the game to be able to learn and afford the prerequisite skills. There are certainly a lot more things missing than there is stuff added to replace them. The game therefore suffers from a lack of variety. You’ll start the game with clubs, bows, and spears, and you’ll end the game with those same weapons. You can upgrade them, but you can’t spec them out with add-ons and paint jobs. This lends and overall sameness feel to the game that makes it difficult to play for longer sessions.
Combat in the game is simultaneously thrilling and disappointing. While you don’t have a vast arsenal to choose from, you do still have a decent number of options. Clubs are quick, spears do their best damage when thrown, and bows are good for range. You’ll unlock a double handed club for when you’re dealing with enemy groups and a couple of different bows for different ranges. The long bow, for example, is great for sniping while the double bow is more like a shotgun. You also have a handful of throwing objects such as knives and special weapons like the sting bomb. The latter isn’t an explosive per se, but it does involve tossing an angry bee hive at your enemies’ feet.
As you might imagine, things often get up close and personal this time around, as enemies don’t have guns either. Melee combat is where the game is at its weakest. No matter if you use the club or the spear, the combat involves spamming the attack button until the guy in front of you goes down. There’s no blocking, dodging, or parrying. This is a shame, as such mechanics would have done justice to the concept and proven the game wasn’t just Far Cry in the Stone Age. If things get too hairy, you just spam a heal or race off in a straight line until you get away.
The big hook for this game is taming beasts and using them. Taming beasts is simple; so long as you have spent the required skill points, you can tame any predator by tossing bait in front of it. If it goes to eat said bait, you just crouch walk up to it and hold down a button. After a few seconds, the animal is yours. You can command it to attack your foes or simply have it follow you around and watch your back. You can toss the thing meat to heal it, but it can still die. If that happens, you have a short window where you can heal it before you have to spend a special resource to bring it back from the dead. They’re never permanently gone though. Oddly enough, you can kill them yourself, wait for them to time out, and then skin the carcass in order to boost your stores. That’s certainly off-putting.
Speaking of skinning animals, you still need to do so in order to craft better gear. To start with, you can only upgrade the basics, but as you add people to your village (via story missions), they’ll offer up more for you to craft. At that point, all you need to do is have the right number of each item. For example, a larger quiver might take a couple of lion skins. If you have the right items, you simply tap a button in a menu and upgrade is yours. The upgrades are pretty much “this does more damage now” or “you can hold more of this”. Each upgrade makes the weapon or piece of gear strictly better, so there’s never a reason to not upgrade something.
The lack of a market is troubling. After you’ve purchased the upgrades that require cave lion skins, for example, they serve no purpose. You’ll eventually just fill up your inventory and always have lion skins around that do nothing. If you go to skin another, you’ll repeatedly get a message that says “your bag is full of this item”. Not being able to sell or do anything with the excess is irritating. Eventually, the entire system will be useless as a result. The only items you need will be the ones that allow you to craft ammo and extra weapons. These can be got through daily resource dumps that you get for filling up your village. So long as you aren’t stupidly wasting everything and not reclaiming any of it, you’ll be fine.
Where the game really lacks is in mission variety. There are basically three types of missions: go to X and collect things, go to X and kill things, and go track down and tame this special beast. The latter of these is mildly interesting, but they mostly involve running from one location to another before fighting the beast until it gives up. The main story missions all work this way, and the side missions are just shorter versions of these. It creates a feeling of sameness from start to finish that makes the game easy to put down. Even the constant inflow of upgrades and new skills doesn’t alleviate this.
You can complete the game in just a couple dozen hours. That includes finding all the collectibles and completing every side mission. Normally, that would be a great amount of play time, but it pales in comparison to the other games in the series. Again, the lack of extra modes hurts the game’s replay value. There was a lot to be said for inviting a friend along to try out new tactics for taking down outposts or forts. Without any massive effort to increase the quality of the single player experience, the lack of these modes just feels like a wasted opportunity.
Short Attention Span Summary
Far Cry Primal feels less like the prior two games in the series, and honestly compares more directly to something like Blood Dragon. Like BD, Primal is a single player only experience that tries out a new setting and offers a mix of old and new mechanics based on its theme. However, whereas BD was a budget priced digital game that offered a fantastic story, Primal is a full price retail game with a lack of story. Even though this game is certainly longer than BD, it’s no more feature rich. In other words, this would have been suited better as a budget title rather than a full priced retail game. It offers drastically less than the past two main entries in the franchise and pales in comparison to them on all levels. It can be fun in short bursts, and the lure of upgrading and taking down outposts is still there. It’s not a bad game by any stretch, it’s just a disappointing one.