The newest Far Cry rockets the franchise all the way back to the Stone Age, with Far Cry Primal foregoing the franchise’s current modern day jungle and island habitats — and many, many guns — for the mountains and stone and wooden spears of the ancient world.
But does Primal live up to, or even surpass its predecessors? Or is the deviation from the norm too much of an oddity to work? EW’s Aaron Morales and Jonathon Dornbush discuss their feelings on the game’s first few hours, including the weaponry, the game’s place in the series, and how it feels to have a feral wolf companion by your side.
Out of the modern day jungles and into the Stone Age, Far Cry takes a surprising journey back in time for its latest entry, Far Cry Primal. (Though considering this is the franchise that gave us retro-future metallic dragons, maybe nothing is out of bounds.) Primal takes players back to 10,000 B.C. as Stone Age warrior Takkar, fighting against other tribes to take back the land of Oros for the Wenja people and repopulate the scattered civilization.
But despite the major shift in time and place, Primal sticks to Far Cry‘s roots, with outposts to conquer, weapons to craft (without guns of course), and missions scattered across the map to distract you while completing the game’s main arc. Aaron, you and I have both played the first several hours of the game, and so far what’s struck me is how fresh the game feels despite hewing so close to the series’ staples. While the use of a basically modern-day grappling hook is laughable, the way the game not only adapts to its B.C. era but uses it to make the old feel new has kept me playing far longer than I might have expected. What’s struck you most so far about your time with the game?
I’m totally with you that despite definitely feeling like yet another Far Cry game, the change of scene has refreshed the series considerably. Far Cry 3 was a revelation for me, offering the best open-world concept to date, and was vastly superior to Ubisoft’s other open-world franchises (which, let’s face it, is pretty much all of them, including their driving game The Crew). But as engaging as those core mechanics are, I couldn’t help but feel a pervasive sense of sameness in 2014’s Far Cry 4, which was basically Far Cry 3 on better hardware.
But by stripping the series of modern-day trappings like guns and vehicles, Primal really envelops you in its prehistoric world. This game does such an amazing job of world building, from the crude cave etchings you discover to the sabretooth tigers chasing wild goats—Ubisoft even hired linguists to create a Proto-Indo-European language!—it all combines to transport you to a whole new world that we rarely get to experience in video games.
But arguably the biggest change to the formula is the Beast Master ability that allows you to tame and then control the wild animals that roam the world. Being able to summon a cave lion at the press of a button really changes the dynamics of the game and makes you feel like you’re truly hunting with a companion. Jonathon, what did you think of this new mechanic?
Initially, I was skeptical of how it would come into play, but I’ve found myself hesitant to go on the hunt without a furry, vicious prehistoric feline by my side. The taming process is nothing special, but there’s a nice sense of camaraderie as your panther/wolf/cougar helps fend off other wild animals or warriors in your path.
Of course, depending on the prowess of your pet, the function can make dominating the fields of the Stone Age easier than fashioning a bow and arrow (which is, presumably, actually difficult, but of course a total breeze in the game). The game rewards players with bonuses for taking on missions stealthily, and so long as Takkar reminds hidden from view, using a combination of your scouting owl and whatever animal is by your side to attack your enemies practically guarantees those additional experience points. That’s not always the case, especially at lower levels or when a dozen foes wait in Takkar’s path, but the relative ease with which the cats of 10,000 BCE can tear down the opposition saps some of the experience of its tension.
But the taming of these beasts plays into what has struck me most about the game so far — the environment. In fact, it’s become so much of a distraction that I lose myself in the world rather than follow the admittedly loose narrative there is to follow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a certain lack of cohesive storytelling that often has me questioning what I’m supposed to be doing when I feel like I’ve strayed off the beaten path for too long. How has the thread of the game, or the lack thereof, affected your time with Primal?
I think that’s been a problem with all of Ubisoft’s Far Cry games (and most open-world games in general). They’re so stuffed with collectibles, hidden items and myriad side missions all vying for your attention (oh look, shiny!) that it’s easy to spend four hours playing the game without doing a thing to progress the main story. But Far Cry 3 and 4 featured super charismatic bad guys in Michael Mando’s Vaas and Troy Baker’s Pagan Min that really compelled you to go back into the main story, and thus far, Primal is seriously lacking that sense of urgency. There is a big bad named Ull who is bad because the game says so, but roughly eight hours into the game I’ve only come across him once, and he never once gets on a giant Flinstones-style bullhorn to taunt me the way Pagan Min did via radio throughout Far Cry 4.
And yet, this really doesn’t bother me much, which is a true testament to how enjoyable Far Cry’s core gameplay loop is. I’m not nearly as driven by the story so much as by the desire to sic my wolf buddy (who I’ve named Woofy) on an unsuspecting group of Udam cannibal jerks. The Far Cry games are all about creating these moments of unbridled chaos, and Primal definitely scratches that itch — with a wolf’s claw. I can’t stop playing it.
But what’s most exciting about Primal to me is that it potentially opens up the series to all kinds of other eras and possibilities while still staying true to the spirit of the franchise. Jonathon, where would you like to see the series go next?
You know, I think it might do Ubisoft some good to mine the Italian Renaissance, since the publisher really has left that period unexplored. All joking aside, I’m not sure I have an answer, only because the Stone Age was such an unexpected but, at least so far, seemingly successful choice that I’m more than willing to let the developers surprise me.
Primal feels like an experiment, a safe one, since it sticks so closely to the franchise formula in many ways, but an experiment nonetheless that has kept me in a franchise I felt otherwise fatigued by. I’d love to see other studios take a leap of faith like this and zig in one direction when audiences expect them to zag down the same path they always have. Far Cry Primal isn’t revolutionary, but it’s an unexpectedly invigorated take that I hope rubs off on the rest of Ubisoft’s other franchises.
But if they do run out of ideas from here, I guess I’d be OK with Far Cry… in Space!
Far Cry Primal is now available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.