I can acknowledge that I went into Far Cry: Primal with a fair bit of skepticism. Each numbered entry in the series has brought with it substantial changes and a new menacing antagonist that you were dead set on seeking revenge upon within the first 30 minutes of the game’s opening. While it is clear that Far Cry: Primal brings with it those same substantial changes, not all improve upon the existing framework.
The story begins 10,000 B.C., and, like Far Cry 4 before it, you are an outsider who quickly gains the trust of the Wenja Tribe. In earning that trust, you must complete a wide range of fetch quests, seek missing members of the tribe, and build the Wenja village in the land of Oros, all while defending it from the Udam tribe. The story here is bare bones, and the gameplay gets tedious at times with all of the on-foot travel, but that is not to say there isn’t plenty of fun to be had here.
My first thought when I heard Far Cry: Primal’s premise was, “wait…..Far Cry without guns and a wingsuit?” It sounded quite a lot like taking the bacon out of my B.L.T. The fact of the matter is, the combat is still damn good fun. And while it’s a pain in the ass to walk or ride the variety of animals around that intimidatingly large map, it gives you a sense of what it is like to live in a time with little innovation. It’s authentic. The weapon and crafting systems work much like they did in Far Cry 4. In place of grenades you have bee bombs, which are quite overpowered early on. Your bow is capable of rapid firing arrows. The crafting system is identical: collect resources and craft, rinse and repeat.
The story was the biggest let down, considering the pedigree of the games that came before it. The lack of a truly menacing antagonist leaves quite a lot to be desired. I mean, we have seen Vaas, we have seen Pagan Min’s grim face splattered in blood while he acts as if he just finished meditating. Calm, cool and psychotic. Primal lacks in this area and this feels more like a Dances with Wolves type of story, a group protecting what is theirs. There are memorable characters here but they are on your side. Tensay, the witchdoctor of the group, takes you on some fantastic psychedelic escapades because clearly our protagonist Takkar will drink anything, no questions asked. But again, these recall the Shangri-La episodes of Far Cry 4.
The game controls well, and the buttons are mapped identically to Far Cry 4. The combat feels absolutely brutal at times, especially when surrounded by 10-15 Udam’s while wielding a club. It is chaos. It’s bloody fantastic. The game is balanced very carefully as to not make you feel too overpowered. Fire is your friend, but overuse it and soon the foliage around you is in flames and spreading quickly, threatening you and everything in the vicinity. Weapons are leveled up and new abilities are learned by searching for and finding missing tribe members, as well as building huts for your people. Our Witchdoctor friend, Tensay, shows us how to tame wild animals, which consists of dropping bait and holding square. That’s it. I felt like this was a missed opportunity to do something really unique.
The graphics are outstanding, the lighting is top of the class, and the acting is a breath of fresh air. A new language was created for the game to keep Primal authentic, and when coupled with a series known for its outstanding sound design, Primal shines. Much of the land is uninhabited by humans, but densely populated by all sorts of animals. Events will pop up around you while traveling, requesting you assist fellow tribesmen in their battle against a pack of wolves or an attack from the Udam tribe. Gone is the wingsuit, and so to get an aerial view you summon an owl to take to the skies and survey the land. And with a few unlocks it can be used to aid you in combat. One innovation Primal brings to the series is the fact that you will need to prepare for weather. Head too far north and enter a region that has sub-zero temperatures and you will freeze to death. This can be handled one of two ways: dress for the weather by unlocking winter apparel, or keep yourself within shouting distance of a campfire.
So, in closing, I will say I enjoyed Primal. As gamers, we cry for innovation, but when something strays too far from what we know, we get uncomfortable. I appreciate what Primal did here. There is no doubt that there was a major reuse of assets in terms of the map itself, and that the gameplay does very little different from the last entry in the series. Clearly, the time piece and the fact the team at Ubisoft knew it was stripping away some of the most beloved components of the series, was a risk. I said upon its release that I felt this should be DLC for Far Cry 4, but it’s clear to me that the amount of content here constitutes this as a full-fledged AAA game, one that is worthy of your purchase even if it isn’t as original as we would have liked.