It’s hard to imagine anything more satisfying than watching your trained Sabre-tooth Tiger ravage a village on your command, or being on the back of a giant Mammoth as it bashes into foe after foe, sending them flying. Far Cry: Primal requires repeated use of these types of mechanics as the 25-30 hour adventure is very shallow on story and more on you and your animal companions ransacking village after village and taking down thunderous mammoths and preying Jaguars.
The game is set in 10,000 BC during the Mesolithic period, taking place within the fictional valley of Oros in Central Europe. Among the forest and winter backdrops, you have small village settlements, caves, mountain ridges and a lot of wide open areas, and while they all look great, there isn’t much variety here with regards to areas within those areas. Characters themselves look fantastic, and animals are equally as impressive. Visually this game is just flat out gorgeous. There are a few blemishes visually as some animals up close do get a little blurry, but then it could just be how the game generates their fur.
One feature that can either be a huge boon to your immersion into the game or breaking that immersion is the complete non-English voice over. Characters speak up to three different languages in the game; Wenja, Udam and Izila. Ubisoft had a linguistic team construct these languages which were based upon Proto-Indo-European dialects, the founding basis for the construction of the modern European language. I was split down the middle on enjoying this feature as sometimes it fit really well, as characters will usually act out words like “eat” or “fly” and it’s neat to see, but when they are simply just talking, I sometimes wished for the option to hear them speak English.
You’ll play the game as a Wenja Warrior by the name of Takkar. You’ll meet a few interesting characters throughout the whole journey, the first of them is Sayla. You’ll help her escape a grisly death at the hands of a savage beast and this is where the games narrative of her hate for the Udam tribe comes into play. You’ll start up a village and recruit more to your cause: Wogah, Karoosh, Tensay and Jayma will join your village through various quests. You’ll even recruit Dah and Roshani who are Udam and Izila, respectively. There is another character, Urki who while his missions end in hilarity, feels out of place here and more in line with a Grand Theft Auto game. When he asks you to throw the spear.. set it on fire first.. just saying.
The story is easily the weakest part of this game as the motivations to take on both the Udam and Izila are pretty basic at best. You’ll hear about the Udam and how horrible they are and Ull, the leader of the tribe will come to your village to do a shake down, and that is pretty much it. You’ll meet Barati, the female leader of the Izila on a mission to save some Wenja, but the game doesn’t do much much more than make them appear as some sort of Bogeymen. The climatic battles for both are mostly hit and miss as they don’t feature any clever mechanics during these encounters to distinguish themselves apart from the other battles in the game.
An open world game wouldn’t be one without a large map, resource gathering, day and night cycles and highlighted people markers on the map, Primal has these in spades. It can at times feel like a DLC add-on to the wonderful Far Cry 4, and considering the development turn-around this game had, that can totally feel justified. Other than being on foot and hiking around the fairly large map, you can ride a few of your tamed beasts, as well as fast travel. Fast travel is unlocked once you secure either a bonfire or take control of the various camps scattered around Oros. The winter areas will require upgrading your clothing to deal with the harsh temperatures, as you won’t last long if you don’t find warmth.
The combat in the game is easily the high point of this adventure and can make you laugh out loud or cringe in agony. The bow, while being a fairly overused weapon in the past few years of gaming, is fairly satisfying here but not as good as it could be. You have clubs and spears to use as well, with the spears being incredibly satisfying. I have to give it up to the sound team as the sound effects for each strike with your melee weapons is painfully brutal. You can upgrade each of your weapons to more effective models and craft small clay pot bombs that set fires, unleash bees, or infect your enemies with hallucinations that cause them to attack themselves. You can also outfit an Owl with said bombs and use it to scout, attack or drop those dangerous clay pots. There is a weapon swap button, but found it swapped between the last two weapons used and not the bow and a melee weapon. So if you swap between your long bow and your double bow, it will then swap between those 2 and you’ll have to open up the weapon ‘wheel’ and select what you want manually.
As you come across various plants, stones or scraps of wood as you trek across Oros, you’ll be able to use these items in your upgrades menu. You can affect things like food items, experience buffs, and how many of an item is crafted from its source and so on. If you are lucky, you’ll find a rare version of that item for other more advanced crafting. Any and all animals can be skinned and their meat harvested for healing, their skins used for crafting. You can also upgrade each of the characters huts in the village to gain access to items like the double bow and other various perks.
One feature that you will use very often is your Hunter vision, in which items of interest will glow while the background will lose its color. I spent just as much time in Hunter vision as I did out of it, and that is at the games’ detriment. I find that games that have this type of mechanic have it relied upon far too much and this game relies on it a lot. Nearly every mission has you track an animal for what seems like forever, or spotting clues or various items that are in dark caves that have no light. Sure, you can light a torch and hope to distinguish the brown bag from the brown wall, but it’s far easier to use your hunter vision and have it glow yellow against a dark gray background.
One of the most talked about features that Primal would have is the ability to tame a large variety of beasts to fight by your side. You will tame Dhole’s, Jaguars, Cave Lions, Leopards, Sabre-tooth Tigers, Bears, Wolves and of course a Badger. There are a few color variants for a few of the different types like White Wolves or Black Dhole’s. You can ride atop the Sabre-Tooth Tiger and the Brown bear, and while you cannot tame them, you can also commandeer a Mammoth. With your tamed animals, you can heal them with meat or give them a petting, and while that won’t get you any perks or experience, it’s still neat to see. There is a large variety of animals elsewhere on the map that I wish you could tame, like Rhino’s and Elk, but sadly, you cannot.
As you get further into the game you’ll unlock 4 great hunts. These are essentially the peak of strength for the Sabre-tooth, Bear and Wolf. You’ll also hunt a giant Mammoth, but sadly you cannot tame this one. These hunts are fun, and depending on your skill, can be difficult to just down right easy. You can set traps if you want, and for a few of them they’ll help immensely. Sometimes the fight will shift to a new area and you’ll be forced to spend upgrades on a whole new set of traps. The Sabre-tooth Tiger for this hunt can only be tamed at night and it took me 2 night cycles to eventually tame it. While these beasts can take quite the abuse to tame them, I didn’t feel they had the same health after being tamed.
Far Cry: Primal surprised a lot of people last fall when it was announced to release this February, a game that nearly no one knew about. This quick development time between this and Far Cry 4 left me to wonder on the overall quality of the title. While Far Cry: Primal isn’t a revolutionary masterpiece, it’s still a very enjoyable experience that has remarkably brutal combat, a gorgeous open world, tamed beasts to do you bidding, and a cast of characters that are extremely well constructed. I was actually surprised at the character that meant the most to me by the end of the game, their resolution was painful and yet touching. Those looking for a feature filled story won’t find one here as the narrative is buried deep behind its open world exploration. I’ll still remember the time I scaled a wall to help take on the Great Scar Bear and watched as one of the warriors who attempted to take it down was flung over the side of the cliff. It’s moments like this that truly makes this game worth playing.