With Far Cry Primal, Ubisoft doesn't only change the location but the entire age its next Far Cry game is set in.
Now taking place in 10.000 BCE., Far Cry Primal takes players all the way back to the Stone Age with tribes fighting each other over dominance of the land and mammoths, sabretooth tigers and other long extinct animals roaming the landscapes.
Armed only with what is basically "sticks and stones", question is, if the theme of this newest spin-off in the Far Cry franchise can lead it to new heights, or whether it's not only the setting that happens to be prehistoric in this game?...
The game is set in 10,000 BCE, during the beginning of the Mesolithic period. It takes place in the fictional Oros valley in Central Europe, an open world filled with wildlife such as mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Survival is a daily challenge as tribes come into conflict with one another and nature.
Players take on the role of a Wenja tribesman named Takkar (Elias Toufexis), who is stranded in Oros with no weapons after his hunting party is ambushed. Takkar, using his newfound skill of taming animals, will eventually rise to power and lead his own tribe.
Right from the start when Far Cry Primal got announced, people probably were asking themselves, what kind of story Ubisoft would be able to tell when it's all set in the Stone Age. The answer?: a storyline that comes off just as primitive as its setting.
When you read the above written main premise and plot of the game, that's basically the entire story of Far Cry Primal in a nutshell.
And even though video game storys don't necessarily have to be overly complex to be interesting or immersive, Far Cry Primal's extremely thin and very straightforward storyline simply doesn't offer enough motivation to keep you invested. Without any characterization of Takkar (the game's main protagonist) the game most of the time (primarily during its middle section) feels like it's just dumping you into the middle of the Stone Age just for you to take over one outpost after the other and do numerous mundane errand quests for random characters.
|So, why exactly am I helping you again?|
After the suprisingly great story in Far Cry 3 and the rather lackluster story in Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal without any doubt marks the weakest point for the franchise thus far regarding the narrative quality.
Though it can fairly be said that the primitive era of the Stone Age doesn't really offer that many possibilties for a complex story, Far Cry Primal's story problems are not really the simplicity of the story itself but rather that 90% of the missions in the game feel utterly inconsquential and uninfluential to the main story. While the main story simply revolves around Takkar rallying the last members of his Wenja clan together to defend themselves against two evil tribes and their leaders, only the first and last few missions of the game really feel like you are making progress in said storyline. The entire middle part of the campaign though feels utterly aimless. At its worst moments, the game's aimless narrative can make you actually feel like you are doing the wrong missions or wasting your time, since the outcome of most of these missions (again) seemingly doesn't have anything to do with or affect the main story at all.
And even though the game's stellar environmental atmosphere, sense for detail (the developers created three seperate languages for the game) and some tribal nature themes do get used well enough throughout the story, Far Cry Primal's story feels awfully scattershot. It's by far the weakest aspect of the game and the biggest indicator why Far Cry Primal feels like it originally started off as a DLC-project for Far Cry 4.
|"You bad guy. Me good guy. Me kill you." - The End.|
Core Gameplay Mechanics - "Same Same but Different but still Same"
Gameplaywise, fans of the franchise will feel right at home with the game's core mechanics.
With that said, aside from its new presentation as a prehistoric survival game, the core Far Cry formula (started by Far Cry 3) is still fully intact here and pretty much unchanged. Sure enough, with the lack of any modern technology, like guns, vehicles or electronics etc., some things have simply gotten a fitting makeover, like for example radio towers have now been replaced with signallig bonfires, and your weapons are now consisting out of spears, clubs and arrows, but other than that this is simply Far Cry 101.
So without going into further detail about the standard Far Cry mechanics, let's just move on to what's actually new in Far Cry Primal.
|I got a very familiar feeling about all of this.|
In Far Cry Primal, the said lack of any technological advancements has indeed changed how you handle some of the game's aspects.
For one thing, gathering material and hunting is way more important now than in any Far Cry game before. While you of course need hunting goods to craft your own gear like in the previous two games, in Far Cry Primal absolutely everything you do is connected to resources provided by mother nature. Thus, not only do you need meat and plants as bait and medicine, but now you also need stone, clay, wood, etc. to build up every single one of your weapons and even to upgrade your home base - your Wenja village.
The fact that hunting and gathering material has now become so crucial is a nice change of pace and works greatly in favor of the game's "back to the roots"-kind of approach.
No longer can you simply use a machine gun to hunt down tigers or any other animal to get its preciouse hide or bones to create something, but now you really have to act like you are hunting. Carefully approaching a deer while crouched (in order not to scare it away) and precisely aiming for its head to get a kill in one clean shot, gives the entire hunting in the game a completely new and fresh feel - succesfully differentiating it from the hunting from the Far Cry games set in the modern era.
|You better make every shot count when you're out hunting.|
Weapons & Upgrade System - "Back to Basics"
No pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers. Far Cry Primal is all about going back to the roots of course and this also means that different from previous Far Cry games, Far Cry Primal has a big focus on melee weapons and bow & arrows.
And while this once again in many ways changes how you approach combat in the game, the refreshment of the game's arsenal limitations quickly and sadly gets replaced by mundane feeling combat. With that said, though smashing enemy skulls in with a huge two-handed club or shooting two arrows in into an enemy's head certainly has its good share of fun, the game's offered arsenal of weapons quickly runs out of tricks and the feel of excitement making doing missions or taking over outposts feel much more grindy and less fun than in previous games. Even though you are given upgradable clubs, a good number of different gadgets and even three different bows to use, Far Cry Primal's strength does not lie in giving players much freedom regarding experimenting with different weapons.
Considering that this is the Stone Age after all, the limitations are understandable, and the developers even went so far to even come up with some tools that probably weren't even around at the time (like a grappling hook or fire bombs), but in the end, your entire playtime in Far Cry Primal will be dominated by using a club, a bow and a spear...and little else.
It's a prime example of changed combat mechanics that feel really refreshing and fun for the first few hours, but seeing how many outposts there are to take over, missions to do and things to hunt for several hours (the main story alone takes roughly around 10-12 hours to complete), the novelty of weapons only made out of "sticks and stones" wears off rather quickly.
Counterweighing this in some respect is the fact that the upgrade system in the game has been majorly expanded.
Far Cry Primal offers roughly double the amount of upgradable skills compared to the previous two games, ranging from basic enhanced movement abilities, over increased abilities during combat over to the being able to tame new beasts.
|Sticks and stones will break your bones.|
Beast Taming - "The Beast Master"
Probably the biggest new mechanic in the game, and one that certainly helps giving combat situations in the game a good amount of unpredictability and fun, is the new "Beast Taming" mechanic.
Throughout the course of the game (and by upgrading your skills) Takkar is able to tame the predators of the prehistoric wild. From a scouting owl, to sabretooth tigers all the way to huge bears, the tamed beasts will give you a huge advantage in the game - most importantly in combat.
Each one of your tamed beasts (that you can even in some way "store" in your beast arsenal and call/switch between whenever you need) has specific characteristics that make it standout. Thus, there are no real beasts that become entirely obsolete within the game. For example, while bears are ideal ridable tanks due to their big emphasis on strength, feline predators though deal a bit less damage but a far better in being stealthy.
|O.W.L. engaged. I repeat: O.W.L. engaged.|
Your tamed beasts thus are not only a nice and easy way of getting from A to B (if ridable) but are first and foremost tools and weapons for you, giving you a crucial edge in combat. Not only do beasts attack your enemies when in combat, but most of them can also go into a crouching position whenever you do, succesfully adapting to your strategies during certain situations.
While it's oftentimes not the smartest idea to have a huge sabretooth tiger at your side when you are hunting, since your beast sidekick will also defend you from other animals, the feel of working together with another animal that adapts to you and listens to your commands truely is a great new mechanic and easily THE standout selling point of the entire game.
And despite the numerous advantages the beasts give you during the game, they never really feel overpowered. Your tamed beasts can of course also receive damage and actually die, so taking care of them by keeping their health up with food is important (even though you can even revive them after death with specific plants).
Funnily enough, Far Cry Primal's specific "Beast Master Missions" which task you to hunt down and tame and or kill a very aggressive and big specimen of a certain predator also turn out as the game's most fun and impressive missions. Not only are those missions pretty well paced and tense, but they also give a nice feel of you being in an age where man isn't necessarily on top of the foodchain.
|Riding through Oros in style.|
Far Cry Primal once again utilizes the same engine as Far Cry 4. The result: it looks just as amazing as Far Cry 4.
The Dunia Engine truely shines both on the PC and on consoles. Once again Ubisoft did great in creating another fantastic, convincing and lush open world to explore. Far Cry Primal does a tremendously great job in setting the mood prefectly right and making you actually feel like you got sent back to the Stone Age. Since you are also now depending on uncovering the entire game map completely on your own without any radio towers to do it for you, this is no problem seeing how inviting this game world in 10.000 BCE is. From colorful forests to the snow covered mountains in the tundra, Far Cry Primal offers another quite varied world to explore for players.
And while most character models look great and detailed, a rather minor takeaway would be that some of the animals' fur and eye textures sometimes can look a bit muddy when up close (on consoles).
The game's great presentation is further accompanied by Far Cry Primal's great sound design.
While the usual suspects like top notch animal- and weapon sounds are of course present, it's most notably the effort Ubisoft made to actually develop three different prehistoric languages for the game that steal the show. Whereas some characters or voice actors seem to have difficulties getting rid of their english accents when pronouncing some of the antic words from the Oros language, the decision to invest that much time in developing those realistic languages in the game was well worth it. The Oros tribe languages truely feel ancient yet are also based on Indo-European languages and even feature some recognizable modern words like "tiger". Aside from the visual presentation aspects, it's certainly the Oros languages that do the most in effectively immersing you into the game's Stone Age feel. A brave and great move on the developers' part.
Looking at the score, it fittingly features a lot of ancient drums and choires, whereas strangely enough, one specific very modern sounding song with english lyrics during one of the final missions will definitely raise some eyebrows.
|Behind blue eyes.|
All in all, Far Cry Primal feels quite brave and somewhat scared at the same time.
With that said, while it's in many ways really bold and brave, seeing how it just so drastically goes back in time and discards all the possibilities of modern technology, it's nevertheless at its core not brave enough to shake off too much of the core Far Cry formula, which is still fully intact here.
While it justifiedly feels for the most part like a reskin of Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal offers just enough change with its new gameplay mechanics to warrant its existence as a full game - even though it remains questionable whether it maybe wouldn't have fared better as a DLC for Far Cry 4 instead (here's looking at you "Blood Dragon").
However, from its presentation to its emphasized survival gameplay, Far Cry Primal does an excellent job of immersing you in its prehistoric world. Accordingly, material gathering and hunting is more important than ever this time around, since everything, from medicine, over weapons, to upgrading your home, is based on resources from mother nature. But even though you are clearly not on top of the food chain now, the new Beast Master mechanic is there to give you the ability to tame predators from the world's wildlife to act as your deadly (and oftentimes ridable) sidekicks. Resultingly, this not only makes doing missions and taking over outposts more fun, but it also balances out the game's refreshing yet quickly mundane feeling limited weapons arsenal (club, bow, spear).
What drags the entire experience tremendously down however, is Far Cry Primal's very lackluster and weak storyline, which, despite a promising beginning, feels utterly scattershot and aimless in its big middle section. With numerous missions and characters appearing and disappearing without any impact or consequences to the main story, one often forgets that there even is an actual story there to follow.
Let alone for the unique setting and perfect presentation, Far Cry Primal is worth a playthrough.
However, considering that the game's new mechanics are fun yet overall only rather minor additions to what essentially still is a very barebones and basic Far Cry game (only without a good story), Far Cry Primal is best adviced to longtime fans of the franchise who can't get enough of the series' classic formula anyway.
Everybody else should better wait for a discount, before diving into the Stone Age.
Final Verdict: 7 out of 10