It’s a pretty common trend in most franchises to push forward into the future as the natural progression and evolution of a series, from Call of Duty and Civilization and beyond.
As time progresses, we push forward into the potential of the future and all of the desires it promises: the potential, the unknown, the possibilities that await us in the years ahead.
In the case of Ubisoft’s Far Cry series however, the franchise is taking a bit of a different approach in taking us back in time with its latest release, Far Cry Primal, where players might have to unlearn a lot of the more traditional mechanics they might have expected from previous games/other shooters, and instead re-learn a whole lot of new things in order to survive a particularly harsh environment.
Coming from the tropical jungles of Far Cry 3 and the Himalayan mountains of Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal takes players back to 10,000 BCE, a time period where mankind was still at its most savage and primal state. After his tribe and people are wiped out in a devastating attack, the player character Takkar embarks on a journey through the land of Oros to find the remaining members of his Wenja tribe and rebuild the group.
From there, players are driven through by Primal‘s core gameplay loop of completing missions for various characters you’ll meet throughout the journey, completing secondary objectives/side missions, and hunting animals/gathering resources.
However, Primal also adds to the core series’ experience with an expanded focus on crafting and resources, while also bringing some new features to the table by adding all sorts of abilities that truly make Takkar (and the player) into a prehistoric beast master –such as being able to tame and command beasts to your will.
While players of a more devoted survival experience to something like ARK: Survival Evolved or Rust won’t be given the same level of freedom as they might hope, the title is still enough of a refreshing experience with its more primitive and methodical take on the series than we’ve seen before, and in particular with some of its new gameplay mechanics that make it a surprisingly fresher feeling experience, even compared to what veterans may have seen before.
The roots of Far Cry‘s gameplay are all still present in Primal — players will explore a huge open-world environment, hunt animals and gather resources to craft items and new equipment, light tribal bonfires to uncover new areas of the map, and barge in to tribal “strongholds” to unlock new equipment and ability trees for Takkar. Yet, Primal differentiates itself a bit by making the experience feel more like a struggle to survive, thanks to its change of time and setting.
And make no mistake, the game doesn’t try to pull any Assassin’s Creed-esque, meta-narrative twists between the past and present: there’s no shred of the modern age to be found in the latest Far Cry.
Gone are the days of the assault rifle and the grenade, and instead players will wield spears and clubs to take on both enemy tribes and wild beasts, while also using more inventive (yet still primitive) tools such as a makeshift grappling hook, and a sting bomb to unleash a swarm of bees on unsuspecting enemies.
For all the familiarity that Primal brings back from Far Cry games of the past — an emphasis on sneaking/stealth and using multi-takedowns for efficient, brutal kills, etc. — it also made me play Far Cry in ways I wasn’t quite expecting.
Where in previous games I opted for a stealthy approach and (mostly) using bows and sniper rifles to do most of my tasks, Primal‘s weapon set exchanges a wide variety of weapons like previous games for weapons that feel more useful in this world.
The main trio of weapons — the club, bow, and spear — might feel a bit limiting compared to the vast range of guns and armaments that players had in Far Cry 4, though each weapon has a variety of uses that make them feel distinct (and useful) from one another. The club excels at close-range combat while also doubling as a torch to light up bonfires to explore pitch-black caves, while the spear makes for a handy close range weapon while also providing an effective (and pretty powerful) mid-range projectile.
Even the bow (a Far Cry staple) retains its status as the go-to weapon for stealthy long-ranged kills, but fire can also be applied to arrows for effective kills and some of the new variants, such as an unlockable longbow for added power (but slower draw/reload speed).
The most effective weapon, however, comes down to the player’s ability to tame and control beasts, and what easily stands out as the highlight of the game. After the game’s first few hours, it soon sets players on the path of becoming a “Beast Master,” where bait and meat can be used to lure wild animals and used to your bidding.
With further upgrades and trees, Primal opens up other options for players to expand their “Beast Master” abilities such as being able to ride mammoths and sabertooth tigers into battle.
As much as being sneaky is usually the way to go in the franchise, few things are as satisfying as mounting a sabertooth tiger into battle like a blood-crazed version of The Beastmaster.
All that aside, Far Cry Primal‘s taming system feels like a natural evolution of the series’ focus on the wild and utilizing the world around the player to their advantage.
Where in previous games players could use animals as a distraction (or an effective way to take out enemies), Primal takes things a step further by having players command beasts of a wide variety, such as wolves and bears, to sabertooth tigers, and even down to the (hilariously violent) honey badger.
Building on the format of the past titles, itoften feels like one of the best playing entries in the series to date by building on its strengths in some interesting, dynamic ways. However, Primal will also likely give returning players from the series a sense of deja vu, by not expanding far enough in some ways from the open world “kitchen sink” approach that the series has been known for.
Primal gives plenty of players to do between completing missions and gathering resources, hunting, and crafting, though most of the grind between hunting animals and having to wander far and wide to gather resources has (largely) remained the same.
The crafting system feels like a nice expansion on the ideas of the previous games in being able to easily (and quickly) craft arrows and other weaponry on the fly without the clunkiness of digging into menus — but it still comes down to a repetitive cycle of gathering plants, wood, and other items in the world to craft with.
In pure content, Far Cry Primal straddles the line somewhere between Far Cry 3: Blood Dragonand the mainline Far Cry games, offering a fairly hefty number of hours in comparison to the brief Blood Dragon but lacking some of the mission variety and duration as Far Cry 3 or 4.
Though the main storyline doesn’t feature a big, charismatic villain in the vein of Vaas or Pagan Min, Primal‘s story doesn’t come off quite as memorably as the previous installments, with portions of the game feeling a big padded by its big emphasis on giving players tons of things to do, but more in the way of giving players lots of “busywork” rather than more meaningful, compelling quests or content.
Despite some of the familiarity in its structure and gameplay, the title certainly takes on the role of being more of an evolutionary take on the series — both literally and metaphorically. While its bones are one in the same from what we’ve seen of the series since Far Cry 3, going back to 10,000 BCE would ordinarily seem like a step back for most franchises, while Far Cry Primal instead proves it was possibly one of the the best decisions yet for its blend of open-world, action, and (light) RPG elements.
While playing leaves players at the mercy of its time period due to the lack of firearms and weapons we’ve come to know in recent installments, instead players are treated to a leaner, and thrilling take on the series that works perfectly in its Stone Age setting. In any case, Far Cry Primal proves that looking back to the past can reveal an experience that’s crazy and brutally fun.