Far Cry Primal is not trying hard enough to be viewed as more than a stop gap between Far Cry 4 and 5. So far there is no indication that this will be an improvement over Far Cry 4, which mechanically was great, but narratively had some major missteps. Primal does make some distinct additions to the gameplay, thanks to the radical change in the time period.
The map is as large as Far Cry 4’s, though since you won’t have a gyro-copter or wing suit, traversing the land will take longer. The map is also as full of things to do as Far Cry 4, with encampments, collectibles, bonfires (replacing radio towers), plants, and animal locations to visit and clear out of everything valuable. To help ease the removal of vehicles, animals are now your new way to get around, thanks to the introduction of the beast system.
A majority of animals can be tamed and used as a combat buddy. All you need to do is throw some meat, wait for an icon to appear, and then trigger the taming animation which sees you slowly approaching a wolf, bear, or some other wildlife to pet its head. Then, blamo! You’ve got an animal friend you can join your bestiary off screen to be summoned later, or travel with you and help out during hunting and combat. If you currently have an animal friend when you tame another, you can dismiss it, or kill it for fur and meat.
I can see many players finding a certain animal type and developing a longstanding bond with it, especially since the developers wisely included the option to pet your animal at will, and they heal by being fed meat from the player. This will cause some to really love their animal buddy and develop favorites for more emergent gameplay stories of horrible losses, or will just be something other players rarely dabble into.
You have to level up your tame ability, so don’t expect to jump right in and be taming saber-tooth tigers and woolly mammoths. Clearing out encampments appears to be the main way to advance this skill tree, though I’m sure story missions will probably also help unlock certain elements. Overall the beast system appears to be a more evolved version of the Far Cry 4 buddy system, which was itself an attempt to bring back the bonds found between the player and NPCs in Far Cry 2. Animals are an easy way to access a player’s empathy, and also taps into the catch-em-all impulse.
The map is also populated with outposts, though you’re tools of destruction are now limited to clubs, spears, bow, and your animal buddy. You can scope out the area around you by calling and taking over an owl to fly around and use “hunter vision.” Headshots are pretty generous during combat, since melee weapons can now also achieve “headshots,” though the hit box is very large for what counts as one. Enemy rag-dolls and hit animations have been reworked and given more variety, since players will be engaging in more melee combat than any previous Far Cry game.
Fire effects are still present, as one of your equipment items is a torch which can be held out to set foliage or wooden encampments on fire. You can also set your spear or arrow aflame for more damage, and as an easier way to set buildings on fire. There are also some small bombs you can craft, such as one that unleashes bees on whoever they hit, which sadly does not appear to cause enemies to bark, “Not the bees!” Crafting is tied to your village, which has multiple characters who each have different specialties. You will also be discovering and taking over bonfires, which hold inventory storage allowing you to dump resources to build the village. Much like how the beast system is an evolution of the buddy systems in Far Cry 2 and 4, the village reminds me of an evolution of the encampment defense you would participate in Far Cry 4 after taking over enemy bases.
The grapple is still present, which is strange for a prehistoric setting, though I suppose taming a saber-tooth tiger is far enough detached from reality to allow for most anything. It looks as good as Far Cry 4 did, with very little technical interruptions during the demo. The exotic Asian forest of Kyrat has been replaced with an evergreen forest, as well as massive mountains with jagged edges and a large glacier.
It is still a Far Cry-ass Far Cry game, with a ton of collectibles you will be searching for throughout the map. A good portion of the demo was scrambling around trying to nab as many plants and other resources I could, even though all my progression would vanish by the end. Cave drawings, bonfires, encampments, flowers, animals to hunt and add to your roster, all come together to give players yet another big to do list on an equally large map. Quantity does not equal quality, and sadly for all Primal does, it still feels a lot like just another Ubisoft to do list, and fits the stereotype of, “If you liked the previous game…!”