Review: Far Cry Primal, the queens of the drone age go back to the Stone Age

In this world the drones are owls

With the endless amounts of futuristic, fantasy, and modern weapon driven games that are available to buy right now, I found myself excited by the idea of Far Cry Primal. It takes players back to 10,000 BCE, a time without semi-automatic rifles and cars, a time where character motivations would have to be something a bit different, a time where I could touch a mammoth. So, how did my trip to the Stone Age go? Well, I enjoyed it but I didn’t desperately want to stay.

Far Cry Primal is the story of Takkar, that’s you, and his quest to reunite his disbanded tribe, the Wenja. Unfortunately, there are other tribes in the land of Oros, Izila and Udam, who would really rather the Wenja didn’t pull a Take That and return bigger and better than ever so they’re out to stop you. It’s your goal to work with a series of allies and lead the Wenja people to victory as the dominant tribe. As far as story goes, that’s pretty much all you’re going to get out of Far Cry Primal. If you think it seems rather basic and not particularly exciting, you’d be right.

Story is a big part of gaming for me and I found Primal’s attempt to be disappointing; it doesn’t invest you at all and it demands that you engage with it by limiting your exploration if you don’t. The game tells you that you need to do ‘this’ to have an animal companion, or you need to do ‘this’ to get the grappling hook and get to all those locations that require it. I really wouldn’t have minded this so much if I actually felt any kind of interest in the main story but I didn’t, and overall it felt more like a forced attempt to put directional tracks in the game world rather than actually engage the player and say something interesting.

I think my lack of interest in the main story stemmed largely from the fact that the characters in the game didn’t have very engaging personalities, particularly the leaders of the enemy tribes. As a first person series that aims to immerse, Far Cry has never really been able to pull you in with an engaging protagonist whose story you want to complete. What it does do to keep your attention on the main story is provide you with interesting antagonist. Far Cry Primal, unfortunately, doesn’t really provide either. Of course I want to stop the enemy tribes because when playing a game stopping enemies is what you do but I never found myself particularly excited to engage with the tribe leaders because they were interesting and frightening people like Vaas or Pagan Min.

A character that did hold my interest, though, was the world of Far Cry Primal itself. The land of Oros is huge, beautiful and it genuinely feels alive. Walking across the map could see you encounter dozens of events or enemies and pass through several days and nights. There’s definitely a sense that you always have to be alert in this game. This is partly because of some wonderful sound effects that really immerse you in the nature around you as well as keep you alert and on the lookout for dangerous animals or enemies. But it’s also because of an effectively utilised day and night cycle that changes how dangerous exploring is; being out in the open at night is a much more harrowing and difficult experience than exploring during the day is. More than once I felt myself sighing in dread as the sun began to set and I wondered if I’d managed to collect enough animal fat to keep my weapons alight and the wolves at bay.

I liked the changes enforced by the change in time period – the limited weapons, the travelling by foot or on the back of an animal. They made it feel like you were more exposed, more in danger – they’re changes that add an extra challenge without ever making the game too difficult which is a difficult balance to strike but Ubisoft have done it well and it gives the formula a much needed shake-up.

Your weapons cache is much smaller than in other Far Cry games – you get a bow and arrow, a club, a spear, and the ability to set all of these weapons alight. There’s something distinctly more satisfying about surviving with such a limited amount of weapons. Some will hate not having the ability to reach for a gun, but I enjoyed relying on my bow and arrow for stealth and pulling out my club when I wanted to take a more aggressive approach. That said, for a game that forces you into hand to hand combat quite often, its melee combat is surprisingly simplistic; you can’t even block, so you feel like you’re just doing the Stone Age version of wildly firing a semi-automatic rifle and hoping the bullets catch someone.

The biggest change by far is the beast master skill tree which you get access to when you gain the ability to tame animals. You can tame a large number of wild animals in the game and take them with you on your adventure; they’re almost like an extra weapon. Only one at a time, mind you, you’re not a travelling menagerie. Calling one of your tamed animals to help you requires a simple press of the D-Pad so it’s not difficult to keep changing things up. Maybe you need your owl to scout the world ahead of you and drop missiles, or your wolf to tear apart some enemy tribesman, or maybe you just need to take a load off and want to jump on the back of your saber-toothed tiger (it makes up in speed what it lacks in good radio stations). One animal I will tell you to not immediately dismiss is the badger; these vicious little bastards should not be underestimated.

That said I sometimes felt that the game didn’t really know what it wanted to say about the relationship between animals and men and I imagine it wants to say something because Far Cry Primal seems to take itself quite seriously, what with its creation of a whole new language. I found myself at odds sometimes because although hunting animals does make sense considering you can use their skins to craft items and there is absolutely a sense of kill or be killed, it often felt wrong to be unapologetically skinning a wolf with no show of respect to the animal or its spirit I apparently have the capacity to magically engage with, whilst my own tamed wolf stood by me and watched. How the hell did that wolf sleep beside me at night, knowing that if I suddenly decided I’d quite like a white fur rim on my quiver, he could wave his back goodbye? I found this confused relationship especially stark given the fact that you don’t just have your animals fight alongside you, you can actually engage them with affectionate pets making creatures seem more like companions than tools of war.

Aside from these changes necessitated by the game’s time setting, though, Far Cry isn’t actually all that different from its predecessors and despite going back 10,000 years the spirit of the series remains intact. As in previous games you’ll find yourself in an open world taking over outposts, building your skill tree, crafting, upgrading, and taking on side missions and as familiar as these elements are if you’ve played any of the previous Far Cry games, I found their reliability comforting rather than grating. It did, however, mean that I was ready to put the controller down much sooner than if Ubisoft had maybe taken more chances and made a few more changes.

I was expecting a more memorable experience from what seemed like such a massive setting change, but despite a shallow story and disappointing villains, Fry Cry Primal is still a game worth picking up. You’ll never experience any doubts that you’re playing a Far Cry game but there are enough changes and novelty with the prehistoric weapons and the beast taming elements, as well as some interesting and enjoyable side quests to uncover, to ensure that you won’t fall quickly into a state of stone cold boredom.

Far Cry Primal is available to buy now on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

We played a copy of Far Cry Primal provided by Ubisoft on Playstation 4.

Main image © Ubisoft