At nearly 12 years in the making, Far Cry has become one of the most recognizable names in games. This fact is also what made the original announcement of Far Cry Primal so surprising. Not only were we told that its release was just five months away, it was also the first title in the series not to have a number. Consequently, many believed that it would be another spinoff like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but – after beating the game – I can tell you with absolute certainty that Far Cry Primal is most definitely a full-featured installment in the series.
As the name suggests, Far Cry Primal takes things way back to 12,000 years ago. You fight for survival in the year 10,000 BCE, against ravenous predators and savage tribes. While it’s a drastic step backwards in time, it’s a definite step forward for the franchise that feels like a homecoming for the series. Far Cry has always been about surviving in jungles and remote areas, scavenging for resources, and crafting materials from animal hides. When did that ever happen more than in the Stone Age?
In Far Cry Primal, you are Takkar, warrior of the Wenja tribe. You seek the land of Oros and fight to rebuild the strength of your people. Long have your people been oppressed by the ruthless Udam, cannibals to the north, and the fanatical Izila, masters of fire to the south. You search the lands for surviving Wenja to join your cause and make a new home for the tribe. Key Wenja characters found in the world also serve as mentors to Takkar—allowing you to unlock new skills, weapons, and usable items. There are seven characters that can be found and added to the village who influence Takkar’s abilities, and each has their own brief storyline that can be pursued at the player’s leisure. By gathering resources you can build huts and upgrade them for these characters; which not onlyadds to the visual appeal of the village but is also necessary to unlock parts of the game.
One of my favorite aspects of Far Cry Primal is the language. The whole game is spoken in a language based on Proto-Indo-European, which is the mother tongue of most modern languages. This means that the whole game is subtitled, but it is a very welcome change. The story itself—and much of the gameplay—is centered on the fact of Takkar being the first Beast Master. Harboring control of the land’s greatest predators, Takkar becomes leader of the Wenja, and is infamous to enemy tribes. With this unique talent and his skill as a warrior, he sets out to defeat the leaders of the Udam and Izila. The overall story is simple and lacks any real surprises. This is partly due to the game being set in the Stone Age—a time where deep political and religious aspirations or conspiracies were far less complicated. This also isn’t a romantic story, so don’t expect any forbidden love between tribes or swooning Wenja women as you walk through the village.
It does have some interesting moments, largely brought on by bloody concoctions that Tensay the shaman forces Takkar to drink. One of my favorite characters is actually part of the Udam, but he felt underexplored—which was the same for the rest of the cast too. This really was disappointing because the characters were all very unique and well-conceived. The scenes that took place, while well performed, seemed to be thrown in merely for context to set up the next mission. There was little time spent developing the characters and letting you become invested in the story or who you were fighting for or against. There were also extremely few moments where any of these characters would even be seen in the same scene, which made them feel almost completely isolated from one another and worked against the whole idea of uniting the tribe as one.
I was able to beat the core story, all side storylines, and craft everything in about 20 hours of gameplay. That being said, my completion rating isn’t even at 50%. I’ve hardly touched on the numerous side missions scattered through Oros, or really even began to explore the various cave systems for collectibles. After finishing the story of Far Cry 4 I wasn’t interested to go back and finish up all of the optional content, but in Far Cry Primal I’m looking forward to jumping back in for the Platinum like I did for Far Cry 3.
The reason why I want to jump back in is simple. Far Cry Primal’s best feature is its gameplay, and it’s hard to beat riding into battle on the back of a sabretooth tiger and nailing a headshot with your bow as your mount mauls an unsuspecting enemy. Primal is absolutely brutal, and its visceral nature helps transport the player back to unforgiving period of history. This is not to say that it’s unnecessarily gory, but itdefinitely doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. Encountering enemy tribesman or carnivorous beasts is a constant threat that keeps you on your toes and adds to the immersion of the world. A day/night cycle also changes the animals that you may find in certain areas as well.
The biggest changes to the series found in Far Cry Primal are a lack of guns (obviously) and animal companions. Not having guns is something that isn’t missed at all. I largely used the bow in the previous titles anyway, so I felt right at home. Having throwable melee weapons—clubs and spears—mixed in with bows and other exclusive throwables—rock shards, sting bombs, fire bombs, and berserk bombs—provides a great balance of combative options. The ability to craft more arrows and weapons from the weapon wheel instead of pausing the game entering a separate menu is also a fantastic feature. Simply put, the gameplay in general is just as fluid and satisfying as a Far Cry game has ever been, if not more so.
While animal companions are a welcome addition in Far Cry Primal, I was disappointed with how taming animals was handled. You simply throw a chunk of meat near an animal you want to tame (if unlocked), walk up to it, and hold down square. Voila! An animal that was just about to kill you is now an unquestionably loyal servant. The act of taming an animal is completely unrewarding and feels utterly trivial. Visually, at a distance the animals look great, but up close they look strangely out of focus and hazy, which is odd that they aren’t more defined considering the number of times they are put right in your face.
There are 17 tamable animals in Oros—13 of which I had tamed in the first three hours, and 3 of which are unique beasts unlocked towards the endgame. Each animal is technically unique, but half of these are almost carbon copies of each other, giving little incentive or need to use them. Dogs, cats, and bears are the three main categories of companions. Dogs gather resources and warn of nearby enemies, cats are stealthy, and bears are used as tanks. Since I tamed so many so quickly I had little chance to use most of them, and once I unlocked the sabretooth tiger I never looked back. Occasionally I called in a bear to distract enemies when taking an outpost. As I mentioned earlier, some beasts can be ridden: the brown bear, sabretooth tiger, and mammoths. There are other bears that you tame, but I’m not sure why you can’t ride those as well.
All that being said, having an animal companion does make you feel powerful and they are useful tools in your fight to rebuild the Wenja. Their animations and how they interact with the player, enemies, and other animals is extremely well done and makes them feel alive, but having so many tamable beasts that are so similar is unnecessary and redundant. I would have preferred having only three or four highly specialized beasts that were part of some story missions that showcased your transformation into Beast Master.
The world of Oros is beautiful and extremely well realized. The dynamic landscapes and unique locations are fantastic with a superb attention to detail. In terms of the environment, nothing feels out of place or overlooked. The sounds of the world do a great deal to add to its beauty as well. The nuances of your companions, the animals around you, or the natural sounds of the world feel just like that; natural. In short, Oros itself does a phenomenal job to elevate the gameplay.
Far Cry Primal takes survival back to the beginning, where scavenging for resources and crafting materials never made more sense. The brutality of combat and struggle against savage beasts immerses the player into what life in the Stone Age could’ve actually been like. The story is simple and without much flourish, and is accompanied by flavorful characters that feel regretfully unexplored. The gameplay of Primal however, is at a series best. The absence of guns isn’t even noticed, and the addition of carnivorous companions is extremely welcome and fun, but could have been more streamlined to make their acquisition more impactful. Oros itself is beautifully crafted and just begs to be explored as you fight past its unforgiving inhabitants. There is plenty to do in Far Cry Primal, and you won’t regret taking the time to do it.