In a departure from the usual guns, vehicles and mayhem we’d find in this open world action adventure series, Ubisoft have pulled it back a notch for Far Cry Primal. Well, back to 10,000 BC years actually. If you’ve ever fancied stepping into the animal hide straps that serve as boots for cavemen, then this is probably just the experience you’ve been looking for. If you’re not sold on swapping 9 mm parabellum for bees, owls and spears, read on and we’ll see if we can change your mind.
Takkar is the last surviving member of his small band of Wenja hunters, losing his friends and way when they get ambushed by a particularly mean sabertooth tiger. Stumbling into the land of Oros whilst escaping the attack, Takkar finds another Wenja survivor, Sayla, and between the two of them they start to form a new village, bringing in lost Wenja tribe members and fighting off the local warring Udam and Izila. This is your lot in life – finding your kin, foraging for food, and stopping everyone from being eaten by the local wildlife. Hope you never expected an easy time of it.
This being from the Far Cry stable, looking like it’s in the Dunia engine that powered Far Cry 4, and coming out in a reduced development cycle time, you’d expect a few familiar things. So here we go:
- Unique characters that you do missions for to unlock abilities
- Tonnes of collectibles
- XP levelling to earn skill points
- Hurk… sorry Urki
- Stealth and takedowns
- Huge open map
Yes, there’s a lot that’s recognisable if you’ve played the last three games and that instant “at home” feeling might make you think that it’s lazy development. Don’t be fooled by that, there’s quite a lot of effort that’s gone into Far Cry Primal.
Firstly there’s the map. It does share features with Far Cry 4, the overall geography is the same, but I defy anyone who’s played both to spot this until it’s pointed out. The environment ranges from lush fields, dense forests, rocky outcroppings and snow covered mountains, and looks gorgeous with every step. Because there’s a lack of vehicles (or the wheel for that matter), you’re able to appreciate the mostly uninhabited countryside as you walk casually to your next waypoint, or run at speed from a rampaging woolly rhino. A few design tweaks have been made to accommodate the increased amount of trekking – there are a lot of fast travel locations and an increase in grapple hook points for scaling cliffs – but largely you’re expected to deal with the terrain when you hit it.
You’re not entirely without transport though. During the Pokemon missions (gotta collect all your villagers) you’ll come across Tenshay the shaman that teaches you to become the Beast Master. Being able to tame animals gives you two advantages, the first is moving faster through Oros as you ride the larger animals, the second is in combat. With a variety of tamable animals – all subdued with a bait distraction followed by a waving hand and making a shushing sound, obviously – comes a range of combat options because each has its own unique skills. With a heavy emphasis on big cats the stealth option is forefront, though getting a bear on side means attacking outposts and camps can become full frontal assault. Wolves, dholes and badges feature too, and your owl is invaluable as a scout and eventually an ammo laden UAV. You should be able to keep your companion with you as long as you’re on the spot with healing, though they can get killed off and it’s a bit of a shock when you lose the first one. Not on the same level as the companions from Far Cry 2, but a nod towards that at least.
Far Cry Primal wouldn’t be worthy of the moniker if it didn’t have weapons, and it’s the wood and stone variety available for Takkar to earn and craft. The staple is the bow to keep your distance, then there’s a spear to still keep some air between you and those trying to cave your head in, or for close up it’s a club. Each are upgradeable with several versions to select from the weapon wheel, and that’s before you get to throwable fire, poison and bees. The lack of firearms ends up being liberating rather than restricting, with the balancing of the primitive weapons pretty much spot on so there’s flexibility in their use, yet you know which situations to use each in. Auto-targeting helps with loosed arrows, as long as the target is within range, with the same applying to thrown clubs and spears. Don’t forget there’s the close up takedowns as well, which can be executed from any side of the enemy now and not just the back, for a limited window of opportunity at least.
In the early combat encounters it can all feel a bit scrappy, I suppose it’s how it would really have been with people running at each other swinging wildly. As with the rest of the series though, Far Cry Primal turns you into a practiced killer as you progress through the skill trees and before long it becomes much more fluid and you more efficient. Levelling up is spread over eight skill trees this time, each focussing on different abilities, but linked nicely so that to fully upgrade one area you’ll need to spend points across all of them. For example, max health can’t be achieved until you’ve recruited nearly all the key villagers and worked on most of the unlocks. You’ll need that too because the Udam and Izila tribes can be brutal. Health is only a button press away, and that button is also the swap weapon one so expect to switch to something useless each time you heal (not by accident, you can’t avoid it)… or have them randomly switch when you climb a vine… or grapple a cliff. It’s very annoying. Enemies are crack shots too, and thrown rocks do far more damage than they should, so prioritise those buggers when you’re in battle.
A key difference in Primal is a higher focus on the hunter-gatherer behaviour, especially poignant here given the time period. Building the village needs raw materials that are scattered across the whole of Oros, and refilling your weapons need wood, hide and flint; so scavenging is crucial. Useful items are also crafted from the different animal skins so hunting these down is worthwhile early on. The logic behind the location of each of the natural resources helps track them down – clay is usually near a water source, hardwood found more often in forests, and flint abundant in the more mountainous areas. If you can’t spot what you’re after easily, hunter vision highlights most of these around you, and works as a tracking mode as well for some of the missions.
Storywise, Far Cry Primal is pared back and basic, as it should be given the almost mono-syllabic characters, but it works well. With little in the way of complexity it conveys the simplest of human instincts and focusses on what the series is really about… surviving against the odds. There’s an awful lot to do outside the main missions, and the steady reveal of the huge area keeps on giving you new things to look at and chase after right up to the final boss fights. It’s not Far Cry 3 by any means in terms of defining the genre, but I’ve enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than the last iteration with the personality deficient Ajay Ghale. This isn’t just a half baked reskin, it’s a detailed game that’s had a serious amount of effort put in to make it feel the part, including creating three languages. Plus, you get to ride a mammoth, who can resist that?
Far Cry Primal is available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC now.