February 22, 2016
Let’s get this out of the way first: Far Cry Primal is a full-size game. Ubisoft has been pretty clear about this, yet I’ve still seen some lingering confusion so it’s worth clearing up. Far Cry Primal will take you around 15-20 hours to complete. More if you get super wrapped-up with side-missions and collectibles. It’s a big, busy, open-world Far Cry game. All that’s missing is co-op and multiplayer.
Much more important than all of that: Far Cry Primal is really rather good, with a refreshingly generous approach to new features. There’s a lot of good ideas here, things that will no doubt pop up in subsequent Far Cry games and elsewhere across Ubisoft’s flagship franchises. After the safe (but still ace) Far Cry 4, it’s a welcome - although admittedly slight - change of pace.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Set in the Stone Age, Far Cry Primal sees you take the role of Takkar, a great big lump of a caveman intent on reuniting his tribesmen and creating a safe haven for them to thrive. It’s not going to be easy, however. Prowling the land are mammoths, sabretooth tigers and a plethora of higher-up-the-food-chain prehistoric nasties, as well as rival tribes that want to eat Takkar’s face, burn him to a crisp and otherwise see him extinct. It’s dangerous out there.
Primal is unmistakably a Far Cry game. There’s an exotic location with a big map that reveals itself as you explore. There are outposts to liberate, either with stealthy take-downs, noisy battles or a messy combination of the two. Wildlife roams around causing trouble for the locals and interfering with your adventures. There’s skinning and crafting, flower picking, side-missions, grappling hooks and a squillion collectibles. Guns are out and bows are in. It’s Far Cry in a pair of hairy Speedos, basically. But as you play, the new stuff becomes apparent.
One big change is the addition of your tribe’s village. As you progress you’ll encounter a handful of new story characters, each with their individual area of expertise. Bring a character skilled in crafting back to your village, for example, and you’ll gain access to new crafting abilities. Use your gathered resources (wood, rocks, skins) and you can upgrade the hut in which the character lives, unlocking further abilities. It’s all represented in a hub area that you can explore, a nice way of visually representing your progress.
The village even adds a bit of meaning to some of the encounters you’ll stumble across out in the wild. In the last couple of Far Crys, if you bumped into someone being held hostage or in a running battle with an enemy, you could rescue them for XP. It’s essentially the same in Primal, but instead of being represented by just numbers, your actions now have an impact on your village. Rescue an NPC and they’ll join your community, swelling its ranks and allowing you access to greater perks.
The headline new addition is Takkar’s Beastmaster abilities, which allow the character to tame and control some of the game’s wildlife, from wolves all the way up to sabretooth tigers. Each animal type has its own stats, across stealth, speed and power, allowing you to pick a companion that suits your playstyle. Want to burst into an outpost and mess shit up? You’ll be wanting a bear. Rather go in stealthy and pick people off one by one? The wolf is probably your best bet.
The most useful companion animals can be found via Beast Master quests, which see you track, hunt and tame the land’s most fearsome nasties in long, multi-part missions. They’re pretty fun, these missions, each one ranging across a number of locations and calling on you to build traps to either stall or damage. The payoff is good too. Wandering around with one of the most badass, visually distinctive beasts at your side is a great feeling and vital to your progress.
Similarly, the ability to control an owl is a good new addition, giving outpost attacks a slightly different flavour. Before wading into enemy encampments, you can now scope out the area and tag all of the different enemy types to get the lay of the land. This allows you to make more informed decisions about where and when to move, essential if you’re planning on taking everyone down stealthily. You can even get the owl to swoop down and take out weaker enemies, or drop little handmade bombs to give you a further advantage.
There’s new stuff beyond that too. In the northern reaches of the map it’s icy and cold, dictating that Takkar has to avoid prolonged exposure to the elements by ducking into caves and searching out fire. You can ride some of the land’s bigger animals, like bears and mammoths. There’s even a new approach to the story, which gives you a degree of freedom over what order you take on missions. Far Cry Primal doesn’t offer up a linear narrative, instead providing a handful of storylines to follow in whatever order you fancy. It’s a decent fit for a game all about freedom.
Oh and it’s funny too! Without spoiling too much, Far Cry Primal made me laugh out loud on a few different occasions. One character in particular was responsible for most of them, his missions playfully taking the piss out of established series tropes. Far Cry Primal is a serious game, for the most part, but the moments of levity are welcome.
All in all then, Far Cry Primal is a good game that does enough to differentiate itself from its predecessors. There’s lots of new ideas here, most of the good, but the rhythm of the experience is familiar and remains compelling. By this point, Ubisoft has perfected the core formula of exploring, fighting, gathering and crafting. More than just a spin-off, Far Cry Primal maintains the series position as one of the best open-world action games money can buy.
From the roars of prehistoric beasties, to the expressive chatter of its NPCs (the writers created a caveman language especially for the game), Far Cry Primal’s soundscape does the job well.
The Dunia Engine continues to do the business, drawing Far Cry Primal’s busy world - from icy mountain vistas to dark, firelit caves - with aplomb. Character models are especially impressive.
Far Cry Primal’s familiar rhythm of exploration, outpost liberation, resource gathering and wildlife hunting still feels good. The new stuff (taming and commanding animals) works well. Melee combat’s not the best.
Far Cry Primal will take you about 15-20 hours to complete and considerably more if you’re going for a completionist run. There’s no co-op or multiplayer, but the game nevertheless feels like a full release rather than a bitesize spin-off.
I enjoy Far Cry lists. They’re nice and easy, don’t demand that you collect and discover everything, and steer you around the game’s various features in a way that rarely feels grindy. Far Cry Primal’s list is no exception.
With a wealth of new ideas, including taming and controlling animals, a non-linear story and an upgradable village hub, Far Cry Primal isn’t just Far Cry 4 with cavemen. Much of the gameplay will feel familiar, but the additions are just about enough to keep it fresh.