The Far Cry franchise is well-known for its exotic locations, vast sandbox exploration and of course it’s hunting and crafting systems. It makes logical sense that eventually the series would take a step back to the origins of hunting and crafting with Far Cry Primal. Surely, with a series that just keeps getting more wild, having a setting that allows you to connect with your most primitive instincts would be a perfect fit, but when it comes with a full games price tag, you might find yourself wondering if discovering fire was really worth it for your wallet.
In Far Cry Primal you take on the role of an ancient hunter named Takkar who is leading his tribe, the Wenja, into the land of Oros in the hopes of a better life. However, aside from dealing with the everyday troubles of wild beasts, there are two other tribes contesting the area, all of them hoping to make a new home in this land. Takkar must lead his people against the cannibalistic Udam and the pyromaniac Izila in order to secure prosperity for the Wenja.
Beyond that, there isn’t much story to tell. Pretty much the only reason you’re fighting the other two tribes is because they had the audacity to try and find a home for their people in your neighbourhood and clearly they need to die for it. If you see a human, it’s probably an enemy, so run at it with a spear and lament your choices later. If you see an animal, turn it into a new rug, that’s all you need to know. Not to mention that while previous installments of the franchise had iconic villains to face such as Pagan Min or Vaas, Primal only seems to have the two tribal leaders, who only show up at the halfway point to the game, and one particularly mean sabertooth who kills your hunting party, whom you take revenge on by taming him and riding him around for the rest of the game. The amount of quests you’ll receive are numerous but none of them have much flavor beyond “This thing killed some Wenja, go kill it.” There are a few characters scattered around your tribe with personality but honestly you’ll interact with them only a few times before all of their missions have dried up and they have no more dialogue. Add to this the fact that the dialogue comes delivered in prehistoric tongues and the language barrier pretty much cuts off any chance you had of forming a connection to these characters. The Wenja could probably die out and I wouldn’t bat an eye beyond thanking God I don’t have to craft any more huts for them.
Believe me, you’ll be thankful when you don’t have to craft any more. While crafting is a huge part of the Far Cry franchise and in previous instalments it’s been a fun addition that requires you to dip your toes in being a murderous psychopathic hunter who has a fine fur coat for every occasion, in Primal the system just seems to work against you. Don’t get me wrong, some of the upgrades were handy, but overall I found myself wishing for more. The majority of the time I was either laden with materials I didn’t need or hungering for specific ones I couldn’t find, making the trek between locations into more of an annoying grind where I had to avoid pissing off as many predators as possible, who would murder me as soon as looking at me, or batting off insignificant animals such as wolves or dholes with single swipes.
Of course there is the new possibility of taming these creatures, which was an interesting mechanic working in Primal‘s favour. As a beast master, you can use an owl to scout for enemies and call upon creatures of the wild to aid you in battle. I had a great deal of fun running around capturing beasts like a prehistoric Pokémon trainer and giving them cute little nicknames, but towards the end of the game I found myself using them less and less because they either made fights too damn easy or ruined any chance I had at stealth.
Speaking of which, the stealth approach I had used in previous games seemed a lot less effective in Primal as without your usual arsenal of AK’s and Sniper Rifles, you’re pretty much left with melee as your only option in most cases. This isn’t to say that’s a bad thing, but it does make getting perfect finishes on enemy outposts a tad more frustrating. The melee combat was actually done fairly well in my opinion. Hitting an enemy with a spear or club feels quite visceral and fittingly primal. Perhaps I’ve been playing too much, but I did find myself connecting with my inner cave woman and gaining a great deal of satisfaction whenever I heard the thump of my club on the enemies skull and saw their bodies flying off to the side. Combine that feeling with the exploration and constant danger of the wilderness and it does install a primitive feeling in the player much fitting with the game’s theme.
All in all, there is a certain primitive charm about Far Cry Primal, one which can keep you going back because, let’s face it, riding a sabertooth tiger or a mammoth into battle is pretty damn cool no matter what! But in the end, this is just a tag along game to the series rather than a stand alone installment. It’s either a more primitive version of Far Cry 4 or a bigger, higher priced version of Blood Dragon, without the same comedy or visual charm, depending on how you look at it. It was even discovered, albeit a week after release, that Ubisoft had essentially recycled the Far Cry 4 map to create Oros, and that definitely isn’t the only thing recycled for Primal. So in the end, while Oros is a vast and beautiful world with lots to do and explore, I can’t really justify it as a choice over another Far Cry title. It doesn’t have the comedic value of Blood Dragon or the story and intrigue of Far Cry 3 or Far Cry 4. In short, it’s a fun little romp around the forest on the back of a mammoth, but nothing I’d get overly excited about.