I sat down, ready to be immersed in Far Cry Primal’s world—surely an epic to be painted upon cavern walls—but instead found Ubisoft’s newest release to be confusing and conflicted. The battle between creating a Far Cry game and delivering the “caveman” experience is at the heart of this identity crisis, and the two philosophies often worked against each other, dulling sharp ideas and crippling brand tenets.
Primal fits the established Far Cry action-adventure vibe, dropping the player into a wondrous and foreign world. Filling the loincloth of Takkar, you must unite the people of Oros to ensure the survival of the Wenja tribe. In your way are the cannibalistic Udam, the sun-worshipping Izila, and more than an arkful of prehistoric creatures.
As in previous Far Cry games, you level up through a series of skill trees. Primal’s spin on this requires you to add new members to the tribe in order to unlock different trees. For example, by proving your worth to Jayma—a seasoned huntress—you gain access to skills like “Tag Enemies,” or by friending the warrior Karoosh, you can learn brutal shard takedown maneuvers.
From the start, you can see all of the trees along with who you need to acquire to open each branch. Unfortunately, this means that within minutes of starting the game, from a menu page, I knew nearly the entire possible cast of the game. While it’s nice to be able to plan out your build, the transparency here—and in many other parts of the game—took away a sense of discovery that Primal could have benefited from.
The frustrating thing is you can tell that Ubisoft felt they were delivering more discovery (this is from the caveman mindset). They opted to ditch the more linear storylines that Far Cry has been known for, instead going with a more open-world design. It seems like they were hoping for players to feel like Takkar, exploring Oros and finding the tales that make you legend. But by revealing some of the only things players can discover—all the characters that can join your village, all of the creatures you can tame, etc—Primal unintentionally takes away any narrative surprises. This turns any sense of wonder as to what happens next into a less-than-fulfilling interactive checklist with a monotony that I’ve never felt in the series. Find a villager. Do a couple missions for them. Repeat.
I can deal with that model—many games have similar ones—if I had only felt like I was working towards something. Frustratingly, most missions are completely isolated narratively from each other, making Primal’s epic into less of a cohesive story and more of a gathering of tales. Discerning which missions deliver the “main” storyline is simple, but seeing the final cutscene will require much more than just accomplishing those. For me, the fate of the Wenja was revealed after a very anti-climactic upgrading of a hut.
The grind in Primal is real, and upgrading that hut can be a lot of work for those without the learned skills. Sadly, gathering resources and finishing side missions just doesn’t feel important. Why does my tribe’s survival depend on my cave being fully upgraded? The pop-up only tells me that the construction delivers 3000xp, not the fate of my village.
As a fan of the series, there was one thing I couldn’t get past, and that was the feeling that I had seen all of this before. From every angle, Far Cry Primal felt like someone threw caveman skin over Far Cry 4, and forgot to hide any exposed edges. In Far Cry 4you ride an elephant, in Primal a Mammoth. The majority of the creatures are exactly the same as before—dholes, wolves, bitefish, bears, birds—and the scenery is fairly similar as well.
Missing from the similarities are several things that I actually really enjoyed from Primal’s predecessor: the arena, and the ability to re-take outposts in order to finish it undetected. Without these, Primal’s replay value is shockingly low, which is probably why they filled it to the brim with so many secondary missions and collectables.
Despite all this aggravation, Far Cry Primal does some things incredibly well, the most impressive of which is the combat. I’ve taken down hundreds of thousands if not millions of bad guys in video games, and I can attest that Primal’s no-guns content offered one of the most visceral experiences. There’s a massive difference between shooting someone with an automatic rifle and impaling them through the skull with a tree-branch-sized spear. As a player, I was more affected by attacking than I have been in a long time.
An extra dimension to this was the beast mastery summons. Each animal has unique perks, and knowing when to use each can make your time in Oros much easier. For example, when hunting specific or small animals, the leopard will tag any nearby creatures; when gathering resources, a dhole will pick up anything in the area when you are idle; and if you ever want to wipe out an entire outpost without being detected, just send in a cave bear and then hide in the bushes.
Lastly, the sound design is also top-notch, and I recommend playing with headphones on to get the full experience. If you’re like me and rely—perhaps too heavily—on the minimap to find your enemies, Primal will get you out of that habit. Often you need to listen to find out where your prey is, moving silently through the foliage. You learn the sounds that each creature makes, and knowing the difference between the Izila and Udam tongues will let you know what sort of fight you’re in for.
Overall, I found my stay in Oros very tumultuous. There were things I really enjoyed, and times when I was incredibly bored. I loved the character design, but didn’t connect with any of the characters. I enjoyed exploring the world, but had no interest in anything happening there. The joy of taking down outposts undetected was heavily unrewarded, so I just sped through them, wiping out the waves of additional support as they arrived. Ultimately, Far Cry Primal looked a lot better on paper than it did carved in stone.
Far Cry Primal really wants you to know that there are tons of things you can do in its prehistoric, open world. Unfortunately, you may not want to do any of them.
M - Mature
|Far Cry Primal is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Matt learned how to play video games from his grandma, who bravely adventured with him through the “terrifying” halls of Shadowgate. He plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons on a podcast with comedians.