Visually, Far Cry Primal is striking. The colors are crisp and vibrant, and the vegetation modelling is especially impressive. The draw distance is also noteworthy, though the textures for distant objects are lacking. But beyond colors the world excels because of how fantastical it seems. Even from the first, the world is established as a main character. This is commonplace in an open-world game, but in basing the game around such a unique premise, the developers are given opportunities for originality. It’s like with the Assassin’s Creed games; part of the reason they excel and are so memorable is because of the intrigue of that world. Renaissance Italy and Revolutionary America really helped to distinguish those games from others in the genre. It works to similar effect in Far Cry Primal. In the end, it is still a first person open-world game, falling just in line with the previous games in the series. But this game is different solely because of its world; everything positive and novel is connected to the setting. And what a setting!
Even from the first, a somber tone is established. The rapid ticking back of the clock from the present to the prehistoric setting of the game is clever way of illustrating the temporal gap between our world and that world, as the numbers keep revolving and revolving. A brief cutscene plays out, and we are further immersed in that world due to the intricate, clever imaginary language. This was a bold move, but it was a successful one; it only serves to further the game’s originality. The first controllable scene stands in stark contrast to, say, the opening of Far Cry 3. Rather than escaping from prison and a madman, running away frightfully from a hail of gunfire, here you are merely stalking through some underbrush, heavy steam rising from the earth, in search of a young mammoth, separated from the herd. It is an impressive opening. The fact that your party is destroyed by nature early on establishes it as a viable, damaging enemy, which is only reinforced as the plot progresses. Also, through the cave paintings and narration, you’re actually given a clear motivation as to your objective. True, being an open-world game there are endless diversions along the snaking narrative. But being told early on, to find “Orros” only serves to establish a purpose. It’s not the most compelling thing in the world – you’re not avenging a wrongfully hanged father and brother – but it is done cleverly enough, and in not going into excessive detail on that land and what it represents, a certain intrigue is maintained.
That opening encounter amongst the mammoth herd serves as a tutorial of sorts. The gameplay is in many ways identical to the systems to be found in the prior games. Stealth is present as an option, thrilling and rewarding to employ, though not viable in every situation. Having just come from Black Flag, the stealth system is rather irritating. If you walk to sprint to close the distance on your target, you will be detected before reaching striking range. Walking while crouching is painfully slow, so the takedowns become difficult to execute. I know there is likely a skill early on which increases crouch speed, but it is frustrating and the fact that such a feature is bound to a skill tree illustrates some flaws in these games, which force in roleplaying elements. But beyond stealth, the gameplay is satisfying. With how far I progressed in my first sitting, I unlocked only a club and a bow. I would expect there to be less diversity in the armory, giving the setting. But this doesn’t upset me, especially considering how good the bow feels to shoot. I haven’t engaged in too much melee combat, but it seems very clunky. The club is useful in combat solely because of its stunning capabilities, hurling it at an opponent, bringing them to a daze, then rushing in for a clean kill. There’s definitely potential in the combat, and I am excited to see whatever other new tools I might acquire.
But going beyond combat and stealth, hunting and gathering have taken on a central core in terms of mechanics. In another tutorial, you are encouraged to gather herbs and materials for an injured woman. This mechanic was present in the previous games, but it seems to be more fleshed out. Not only are you crafting the equivalents of the syringes to be found in the other games, but you firmly rely on crafting for even the most basic of things: you use wood to craft arrows, slate to craft clubs, use acquired animal fat to ignite your weapon. It is wonderful and is never intrusive. It is seamless, in fact. There is a radial menu and you can craft arrows at the push of a button. It actually gives a purpose to this side of the gameplay; seeing a branch of alder wood means seeing another arrow for the quiver; gathering is tied directly to the gameplay. Your resources become your weapons. But beyond the resource gathering, hunting has taken on an increased role. Objectively more important in the long run than alder wood, animal spoils do, as in the past, permit the construction of character upgrades. Opening the map, seeing an icon which represents the creatures to be found in that area, then promptly travelling there, bow in hand, ready for the chase – it can be thrilling. But it is even more fun when it arises organically. Travelling around the map, performing various side quests and then running across a much sought-for animal naturally, without a deliberate search, is gratifying. The more predatory animals actually pose a threat. Seeing a bear and then accidentally agitating him quickly leads to death. I look forward to the expected progression where this is not the case; as I inevitably develop a newer, stronger bow, that encounter might be reduced to the trivial. But for the present, it is horrifying.
The story looks promising. The fictional language is compelling, the cutscenes are well acted and voiced, and the characters look believable. There is the expected Far Cry absurdity in the character of the shaman, but he doesn’t seem as out of place as do the eccentric characters from the other games. His drug-induced revelry is entertaining and arresting because of the visual effects and art direction, as you pursue an owl through the sky, flanked on all sides by other spectral animals. This done, you are given the owl as friend and companion. This serves the expected function of the camera from the previous games, though keeping with the prehistoric tones. I stopped shortly after this mission and acquisition. Given the opportunity to tame a wolf, I gained some exposure to that mechanic, which looks to have a great deal of depth. In the first three or so hours of the game, I was most taken by the world. Deliberately turning off the mini-map, the immersion is only heightened. My greatest highlight from this early stage relates to cavern exploration. With the mini-map disabled, I was simply roaming over the map, gathering herbs, shooting prey, until coming across a small cave. Dark and damp, I proceeded through its labyrinths. True, while the reward at the end of the tunnel was some pointless, arbitrary collectible, the journey is more important than the destination. That’s how the entirety of this game may play out. The quest for Orros and redemption may stall, may become dull and uninteresting. But beyond the plot, the world building, exploration, and thrilling gameplay will ensure the journey is not a fruitless one.