Far Cry Primal falls victim to, and benefits from, the tropes that plague most open world games. The map is large and sprawling and is very well designed. There is always something just around the corner, and the overall map is littered with various icons and objectives. Part of the fun comes in simply reaching those objectives; the spawn rate of the animals is almost absurd, and there is always some natural adversary in your path. Some of the animals are docile, but the fiercer predators can be totally devastating. Bears are ridiculously sturdy, while mountain lions are lithe and aggressive. Some of the animals even use hit and run tactics, and I found the only way to escape these stronger animals was to remove to higher ground. It works, but not always. The A.I. for the animals is logical, as they scurry away if death is imminent. The highlight for me in the game so far is related to an animation I witnessed. I had just been fighting a cave lion and retreated away. I think he lost sight of me, so he moved on over towards a cliff face. There were steps or plateaus on the bluff so that the player character can ascend. As I observed this animal, he leapt from ridge to ridge, until reaching the top of the cliff. The animation was very smooth and reflects the attention to detail present all throughout the game. There are specific instances of linearity in the world design, despite the fact that it is a totally open world. Say you’re advancing on an outpost, a feature retained from previous games. There are vines and grappling points and climbable ledges to increases options and maneuverability. It has all been deliberately crafted, and with this detail and diversity of the world and its varied landscapes, it again comes alive as a character. It is very logically designed and is compelling even as your actions in the game world are anything but compelling.
And that’s the problem: there is that expected open world bloat. Not all of the activities you encounter are exactly engaging. There are hunting missions, hostage rescues, and other, smaller, randomly generated events. The gameplay is enjoyable, so it is fun to observe from a distance, plot a course of action, and then advance into the fray, bow and club in hand. But even victory in these encounters means little. The expected experience is acquired, steadily accumulating over time until a skill point is achieved. Some of the skills are very useful, like the increased crouch speed I regard as a necessity. But the gameplay loop of levelling isn’t so enticing. Hunting, with its varied, well-developed mechanics, is more intriguing and entertaining, even as the rewards aren’t exceedingly useful, at least not initially. Still, finding enough crafting materials to increase the size of, say, my quiver was exciting. The developers tried to compensate for these lacks by trying something new: the village.
There is a lot of complexity here. It is similarly upgradable – through crafting – and there is a certain tangibility, as the swelling size is reflected in the construction of new huts and the arrival of different new villagers. Some of the actions, even if they are lesser in terms of difficulty or enjoyment, feed directly back to the village, increasing the population size. True, there is something exciting about seeing the world grow and develop, but at this early stage, the connection is not there. The gatherer woman you encounter early on is interesting as a character, with great modelling, while the eccentric shaman is expectantly weird. But other than that, the other inhabitants are nameless, meaningless NPC’s. When the village is attacked by the rival tribe, I wasn’t particularly affected by it, because of this lack of connection. To refer back to Assassin’s Creed II, I felt empathy for Ezio’s family, despite the fact that I knew very little of them. The brief tutorial established interest, while this cannot be said of Primal. With regards to the main plot, I stopped after the mission. I noticed on the map that there are several other primary villagers spread around, people you can coerce somehow into finding their way to the village. Hopefully, these characters will be interesting in their personalities and motivations. If they are, the investment will only increase. Conversely, though, they can become exaggerated stereotypes, which often happens in video games, and the Far Cry series in particular. I truly hope that it is the former.
While I don’t feel I have accomplished too much in the three or so hours I played last night, I had a great deal of fun. I’ve adjusted to the mechanics, to the point where I have a grasp on the stealth – what I can and can’t do – and also on the basic melee combat. Crafting truly is a necessity in this game, so I’ve learned to never pass up a slate deposit or a sprig of wood for the construction of arrows. The animation for these gatherings is thankfully very brief and non-intrusive, as is the skinning animation for the defeated animals. I have been playing on hard mode, and I find the difficulty to be spot on. Enemies are fierce, while animals are decidedly fiercer. At nightfall, the difficulty spikes even further; removing to a campfire is almost a necessity. I haven’t been out in the dark too much, but when I have ventured out, I have been totally destroyed. The glowing eyes of the numerically increased predators is frightening. I am excited, though, when I obtain a superior bow so that I can explore in the night, reap the spoils. One another thing to note: the taming mechanics. Besides the owl, in the main plot you are forced to tame one other animal. Additionally, while I was exploring, I managed to tame another animal. I haven’t fiddled around with this mechanic too much, but I’m sure it will inevitably become a larger part of the game. I had a great deal of fun in this latest session, and am excited to dive back in again.