Far Cry Primal is a perfect example of taking what works, implementing enhancements, and not subtracting from the formula. With scenes of absolute beauty, visceral brutality, and touching emotional notes, Primal does some interesting things and ultimately proves itself a valid and welcome offshoot to the series. Much in the vein of Blood Dragon before (albeit a very different game), Far Cry Primal is a solid all-around and fleshed out addition to the franchise. Although it doesn’t necessarily leap the series to incredible new heights, it does everything it does so well that you’ll just have fun hunting, fighting, and building your Wenja destiny.
Far Cry Primal deserves a bit of recognition on multiple fronts, but what I believe truly deserves recognition is the upfront premise. When we were told of a Far Cry set in the early stages of the homo erectus tribal formations and the very genesis of society as we know it today, most were excited, some looked sideways, but all of us were a bit surprised. This isn’t the Ubisoft we remember for playing it safe in the past – less Assassin’s Creed 2016 and more the Ubisoft we see glints of with games like Grow Home, Valiant Hearts, and Far Cry Blood Dragon. This is the Ubisoft we love because they take a chance on a game that pundits might paint as a “never going to happen”. Luckily for all involved, Far Cry Primal hits every note that it needs to, and will certainly serve as a memorable entry to the franchise.
Luckily for all involved, Far Cry Primal hits every note that it needs to, and will certainly serve as a memorable entry to the franchise.
The player is put in the shoes (or maybe feet? Shoes aren’t really a thing yet) of Takkar, member of the Wenja tribe which has been all but destroyed by the Udam, a rival clan from the northern realms of the map where the only thing sharper than their spears is the bite of the cold. The Udam burned our village, and are man-eaters, and rightly deserve to meet our crude bone and stone weapons in violent fashion. Along with the Wenja and Udam, the Izila inhabit the southern region of the map, and sport a blue body paint and worship fire in a near obsessive and zealous way. Both rival factions are unique in their own right, and aren’t just pallet swaps – the Udam are the more barbarous of the bunch, while Izila are leaner and don’t sport the heavy pelts as they don’t need them in the warmer regions.
Through Takkar’s journey we meet many supporting characters, each benefiting from rebuilding of the Wenja homeland through our village. Takkar must find these Wenja and build them back to greatness, with each character returning to the village providing their own perks and benefits. Sayla is our gatherer, she allows Takkar to get perks we’ve seen in past Far Cry games like additional resources when harvesting plants or animals and more. She also serves as a major story player, as her proud Wenja background serves her motivation to see the Udam destroyed. Tensay, the shaman, shares the same sentiment Sayla does toward the Udam but directed at the Izila, as he was personally touched by their flames long ago. Other characters like Karoosh, Wogah, Jayma, and Urki pop up to help flesh out the skills menu in a new and interesting way. Unlike past games where the skills are just in the menu to unlock, Primal has the player level up huts by collecting resources in the world via hunting or foraging, then spending those resources on upgrading said hut and unlocking skills, crafting weapons as well as clothing for the cold northern regions. It’s an interesting spin on the formula that gives us more than Far Cry 4’s two or three main characters, and these Wenja are pretty fun to listen to or get invested with as they all have unique personalities and stories of their own.
Far Cry Primal could be a quick affair if you decided to just power through the main story, but this is my word of caution; do not do that. You’d be cheating yourself not to check out Karoosh’s journey for vengeance, or helping the almost certainly insane Urki in his journey to better himself and the Wenja. Perhaps most interesting of the bunch just for the sheer cool factor is Jayma’s beast hunts. Much like the rare beast hunts in past Far Cry games, you’re tasked with stalking and killing these legendary beasts, with each being incredibly satisfying from beginning to end. Far Cry Primal seems to depart from the formula here as it isn’t just a matter of going through the main quest lines, but can be enjoyed more by helping out your citizens.
There was some exacting degree of attention paid to the map design as a whole, and the game benefits greatly from it. I found myself wandering just to reveal more of the map, and see what lied ahead for Takkar in the next region.
Some of the most memorable early impressions of Far Cry Primal include the sheer beauty of the world of Oros. Much like the Himalayan ranges in Far Cry 4, the backdrops are spectacular, but in contrast to the somewhat repetitive and less-than-memorable in-between spaces of 4, Primal is so beautiful throughout the entirety of the map that it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate. The day/night cycle in Primal is used to incredible effect, as more dangerous and rare animals come out with the sun falling, and touches like glowing eyes in predators set an absolutely incredible mood and atmosphere for wandering the world at night. Walking from the grassland portions of the map to any of the other regions for the first time is an experience – the northern realms coated in snow, the southwest with a completely different feel and foliage to all the surroundings. There was some exacting degree of attention paid to the map design as a whole, and the game benefits greatly from it. I found myself wandering just to reveal more of the map, and see what lied ahead for Takkar in the next region.
Returning in the way of mechanics is nearly all things that make a Far Cry game in the modern age recognizable; bonfires and outposts to capture for fast travel, hunting differing species in order to craft upgraded equipment, and some incredibly good acting from the cast of characters. The entire game is voiced in the language of Oros, subtitled which might be a pet peeve for most, but personally as I play all games with subtitles on, it didn’t really detract from the experience, reminding me of watching Apocalypto. Instead I found myself bouncing from reading the subtitles to watching Sayla and her great on screen presence, or Ull, leader of the Udam, command the screen as he schools me on their tribe’s ways. Each of the characters pulls the player in to the performance, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the responsibility being laid upon you as Takkar.
The game does a great job at letting the player discover these things without hand holding, but not in a punishing way that breaks the experience if not discovered.
Far Cry Primal is also a game of new mechanics and features being brought into the space – most of which will work for this game but I have a hard time picturing moving forward without some definite tweaking or rework in a different time setting. While at this point I feel like I’m just going to be rattling off features, there’s some truly impressive and fun additions that need to be at the very least touched upon. Instead of using binoculars to scout out camps and outposts, Takkar commands an owl that can fly overhead like a primitive UAV. The owl can mark enemies, attack them, drop bee bombs and other primitive grenades, as well as command your beasts to attack a target from the air. The beast hunts themselves prove to reward the player with the legendary beasts to command and ride if they have the skills unlocked, but the player can also tame and command beasts in the wild on their own. Throwing bait in order to distract powerful predators like wolves, jaguars, and mammoths will allow Takkar to sneak up and hold X to tame, then command the beasts through the rest of the game. These beasts might take some damage and even perish from time to time, but Takkar can use the D-pad to select a new beast, or revive his fallen buddy. Each beast has their own stats as well, and might possess skills like growling to indicate a nearby threat.
Weapons may have been a concern for some, as the focus of core gameplay in past Far Cry games has been the weapons and how you use them to progress. Players need not worry, as each weapon feels great, appropriate, and has variation throughout the gameplay. Spears are your precision strike, short-range weapon, while the club is a sweeping striker, and the bow handles your long range attacks. Each of these has a heavy variant, and each can be thrown to do damage as well. It’s entirely satisfying when throwing a spear at an enemy to have it stick right in their core, and being able to recover it or quickly craft another via the weapon wheel makes the consequence of losing one real, but somewhat minimal as if you’ve got resources, you’ve got a new spear to make. Each of these can also be lit on fire from the beginning of the game in order to deal fire damage over time. The smart thing here is that you can throw your flaming weapons not just at enemies, but also to clear our brush or light a field on fire. There are a few puzzles and areas inaccessible by other means until the player as Takkar figures out they can light the thorns on fire to reveal a rock wall which can be smashed by a heavy club strike. The game does a great job at letting the player discover these things without hand holding, but not in a punishing way that breaks the experience if not discovered.
+ Stunning visuals in all areas, fur, environments, skybox – all of it is beautiful
+ Weapons all feel appropriate, balanced, and fun to use
+ Rival tribes are unique and individual
+ Incredible performances from all cast
– Story isn’t anything revolutionary, decent but not great
– No big baddie that commands the screen like Pagan or Vaas
The Bottom Line
Far Cry Primal is a bit of a surprise, not just being it happened in the first place, but that it works so well. It’s a beautiful game set in an interesting time, place, and involving interesting characters. Weapons feel great, the gameplay itself is fantastic, and the new mechanics introduced work extremely well for the game itself. While it doesn’t break any ground in the narrative department, it tells a decent story of family, legacy, and revenge. Far Cry Primal is an unexpected but wholly welcome entry to the series, and serves as an example of something you didn’t see coming, but can’t see yourself without.