Review: Far Cry Primal
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I’ve fallen a bit out of love with the Far Cry series over the years. Since the heights of the second one (yes Far Cry 2 is the best), the franchise has calcified more and more into a set open-world shooter collect-a-thon mold. Even the kooky side games like Blood Dragon haven’t split much from the format, and Far Cry Primal isn’t really an exception to the rule either. You’re still going to have the same plot missions rescuing people or assassinating commanders, emergent missions saving or assassinating random people, and hundreds of collectibles, pelts, and rocks to gather up. But there are important differences here, owing to the setting, that give Far Cry a much needed shake-up away from the familiar gunplay and plot points.
Thousands of years before bullets, gyrocopters, and awkward sex scenes, the land of Oros was a vast, untamed wilderness full of promise. Your people, the Wenja, traveled to Oros in search of better lives. What they found instead were the brutal, cannibalistic Udam and the crazed, pyromaniacal Izila. Scattered and hunted, the Wenja need a hero to unite them and show them how to survive in the face of such threats. Fortunately, you are Takkar, a gruff, no-nonsense warrior ready to learn all there is to know about Oros and lead your people to victory. From the humble beginnings of your cave and first scattered huts, you’ll build your tribe a thriving village, take the fight to your enemies, and tame the land itself in search of peace and prosperity.
“Far Cry minus guns” is surely an intriguing premise, but what this Stone Age setup really does is refocus the combat. Your main weapons are clubs, spears, and bows, with bows mostly following how they work in the other games and the other weapons providing awkward melee options and still being throwable for big damage. There are some neat interactions like lighting your weapons ablaze to illuminate caves, scare off animals, and torch obstructions, and some of the supporting gear adds additional options like harrying foes with bees or turning them against each other. It’s a creative if limited arsenal, and it’s still in service of traditional Far Cry gameplay of creeping around and murking dudes before shooting it out with the alerted survivors, but it’s enough of a change to feel fresher than the other titles.
There are two notable differences here from other Far Crys, and the first is your menagerie of deadly critters. Takkar is christened the Beast Master early on in your adventure, granting you the option of taming wolves, jaguars, lions, bears, and more to accompany you. You can have one beast out at a time, each with its own little perk like tagging enemies or warding off wild aggressors, and it can be ordered to attack enemies at will. Having an animal companion is honestly a game-changer, seeing as how they can take down enemies and other animals for you instead of you needing to hunt down every single thing that needs to be dead. The larger ones like saber-tooth tigers and bears can obliterate whole packs of foes, making all-out frontal assaults even more feasible than ever before. Oh, and you get a neat little owl buddy that can scout and tag for you, and eventually pick off enemies and drop bombs on them.
If the animal companions are a much-needed punch-up to the combat, the story is a much-needed retreat from the usual Far Cry slog. Really this series has never had a story that could carry the game anywhere, often vacillating between the forgettable drama of 4 and the tonal trainwreck of 3. Primal seems to understand this and pulls away from any big, over-arching narrative to focus on rebuilding your tribe. There are great character moments with your named tribesmen, and a few cutscene encounters with the two villains, but no time is wasted on awkwardly emotional beats or ham-fisted symbolism. Your tribe needs you, and you will kick ass and skin goats until they are triumphant.
And no, you’re never really all out of goats, either. Far Cry Primal leans heavily on the crafting introduced in previous entries for everything, including your healing, your weapons, your tools, and expanding your village. You will absolutely need to go on hunting trips for yaks or elk or bears to grow your character, and you can’t skip out on hoovering up rocks and reeds for huts, either. It’s not really an impediment to gameplay, and often becomes a nice diversion between sacking Udam camps and spelunking. At least the crafting system has many uses here, feeling less like a vestigial system added by committee and more like an integral part of the experience. The same goes for the many kinds of collectibles to find, including cave paintings, totems, and lost bracelets. There’s not a huge amount of variety to missions but they’re spread out enough that they too can become welcome diversions from the hunting and foraging you do for much of the game.
I can’t get away from the fact that this is still very much a Far Cry-ass Far Cry, down to the map indicators and first-person mantling animations. If you’ve played a Far Cry since 3 then you’ve seen what this game has to offer, but to its credit it works pretty hard to put a new coat of paint on it. Taming wild beasts and letting action take over for the story are both very welcome additions here, and the whole package does a great job of selling the Stone Age struggles of your people. Maybe it’s the setting, maybe it’s seeing a village spring up from nothing, or maybe it’s having a saber-tooth tiger I can ride, but something about this one has hooked me more than any of the recent Far Crys have. Whatever it is, I hope they keep putting it in because the series needs more unique entries like Primal.