Far Cry Primal – Final Review

            The best thing that Far Cry Primal has going for it is its game world. Sprawling and seemingly unending, this massiveness is complemented by a rich diversity in landscapes, beautiful graphics, and an almost exaggerated, creative interpretation of the world of 10,000 B.C. From the cold, snowy, glacier-filled mountains of the north through to the steamy, river heavy south, and the dense, flowery fields connecting them, there is always something to see and marvel at. But beyond mere graphics, the wonders of this world are so resonant precisely because of the people, creatures, and things that inhabit it.

            Before obtaining free rein to explore this world, there is the obligatory introduction sequence, establishing who you are, what your motivations are, a brief bit of lore on this world and your precise place in it. The main character, Takkar, is rescued at the beginning of the narrative from a mammoth hunt that has gone astray. Seemingly a mere hunting mission, the complete destruction of the party only serves to establish the hostility of that world. Takkar is strong, sure, is the mythical beast master – but he is not superhuman, has certain weaknesses. His savior instructs him to build up their village, a haven for their tribe, the Wenja. There are a pair of rival tribes who enter the picture later, but before their arrival, the main task is to gather resources for the improvement of the village, constructing new huts and gradually increasing the population through encounters surrounded around the world. These smaller encounters are never riveting, but bigger leaps are made when recruiting certain key characters, roughly six or seven in total.

            The characters are all suitably distinct from one another. You have the expectantly weird shaman, Tensay, the brutal, one-eyed warrior Karoosh, the mentioned woman from the introductory sequence, and a few others, like a hunter and a man with but one arm. Not all of these characters are exactly compelling in their motivations, but they are diverse and are all somewhat interesting. They are first discovered while exploring the game world; doing a few missions prompts their relocation to the village, where further construction of the huts can begin. It is a satisfying loop. Some of the resource costs for these upgrades can be pretty steep; rare flowers and animal skins are common requirements, though more common things such as cedar wood and stone also have a strong presence. Sadly, with regards to these huts, the awards are hit or miss. Upgrading one hut to the maximum might award a double bow, for instance, which fires a pair of arrows per shot rather than just one. This is good. This is satisfying. Unfortunately, not all of the huts are like this, some only awarding an increase in population size and a rather large heap of experiences. It is kind of anti-climactic, especially considering the sometimes-lengthy search for ingredients and crafting components. But in addition to the world, the crafting system is also compelling. Very fleshed out and developed, the moment to moment gameplay spent exploring the world and gathering these items provides some of the best experiences offered by the entire game – even more so, I think, than some of the main missions.

            In addition to being large and diverse, the overall world, Oros, seems lived in. While dominated heavily by animals – all of which serve an individual purpose, not unlike the crafting components – there is also a human presence, manifested in the challenging, returning outposts, and the new bonfires, though enemies do arise organically, too. It is not uncommon to roam around, hunting and taking in the sights, and then running across a Wenja prisoner, restrained by either the Udam or the Izili, the two rival factions. The animals are very fun to hunt, and in their own way play as much of a part in the story as do those mentioned foes. There is something exciting about seeing a rare beast in the world, aware, too, of its necessity in the crafting of some upgrade back in the village. Finally taking the beast down, especially if it is a large one, such as a cave bear or a saber-tooth tiger, is very rewarding. But beyond merely slaying and skinning the beasts, perhaps the biggest innovation of the game upon its predecessors is the taming mechanic, which truly changes the game into something more original.

            There are roughly a dozen or so tamable creatures, including the owl companion, who serves as eyes in the sky, tagging enemies and, eventually, incapacitating them. There are the mentioned bears and tigers who willingly fall under Takkar’s control, but there are also more subtle animals, like the jaguar or cave lion, who help incredibly in the stealth sections. The animals are surprisingly easy to control: merely look at a location, press one button, and they will leap into action. They can be recalled with but another press of a button. The oath-finding for the animals is also impressive; no matter the distance between the creature and a marked target, they almost always find a way to get there. It’s not perfect, though. The game world has admirable verticality, which is very emphasized and permitted by the grappling hook. The pathfinding kind of fails here, especially considering the sudden increase in distance between Takkar and his pets. But furthering the ease of the controls, they can be dismissed and recalled nearly seamlessly. The animals truly change the game, and while I was initially hesitant to use them, when I began to fool around with the mechanics, their usefulness is easily apparent.

            If the A.I. for the animals is solid, how is it for the humans? It’s hit or miss. Just as in the prior games, detection by one enemy means detection by virtually ever enemy in the vicinity, who will engage in relentless, violent pursuit. Some even call in backup, which only increasing the throng of opponents. It is very frustrating, as the enemies are almost hyper aware. It is possible to ghost outposts – and it is very satisfying to do so – but it requires great patience and a bit of luck. I fell into the habit of using my owl’s dive bomb attack in combination with one of the stealthy predators to soften the outposts, specifically taking out the horned enemies, who call in reinforcements. There are scattered around these outposts further alarms, but later in the game there destruction does become a bit easier; one skills permits the owl to drop bombs and such onto the enemies – and the reinforcement alerters. Once these most threatening items are subdued, it is quite enjoyable to remove from some hillside vantage point and proceed into the outpost proper, mopping up the remaining enemies, and claiming the post for the Wenja. So, the principles of combat are retained from the previous games, as is the A.I. behavior. What is different, though, are the tools given for combat.

            Rather than an endless assortment of customizable guns and explosives, the arsenal of weapons on offer here is far more limited and restrained. There are a trio of unlockable bows, which, with the offered range, become perhaps the most commonly used weapons. There are also upgradable spears, which inflict massive damage when thrown, and are visceral and satisfying to use, with the great impact they have on struck enemies. Beyond that, the other key weapons are the clubs, one which single handed and a larger, two-handed club which is acquired later and which is more powerful and lethal. The bow is very fun to use, as are the spears. The melee combat with the clubs, though, is very lacking. There is some physical impact, but it is very simplistic, and not exactly engaging. Usually, though, at such a short striking range the takedown option is available, which ends the conflict instantly – and violently, with the animations here being noticeably savage, especially in compassion to the animations from the previous games. Beyond this core trio, there are the strong but situational traps, throwing shards, and a few other throwables, like a sting bomb, which is loaded down with deadly bees. There’s not a lot on offer here, but what is here is well implemented, save for the overly basic club combat.

            There is some solid progression present within the game. All of the skill trees are tied directly with the core recruitable villagers. Karoosh’s presence unlocks takedown skills, while the Shaman furthers the owl’s capabilities. It is very logical and is good incentive to explore and redirect these characters to the village. So, while the progression is good in theory – this is a solid, unique blueprint – many of the skills are uninspired and unimaginative, while others have the capability to be broken. There are the expected health upgrades and the takedown techniques, which are godsends, but which are included in the trees almost arbitrarily. In addition to these upgrades, there are the core skills of quitter and infinite sprinting, and a decrease in fall damage, which is especially useful given the verticality of the world. But beyond these skills, most of the others simply involve cutting down the need for crafting, really simplifying the process, and taking the fun out of it. In a game which is focused so strongly on resource gathering, why decrease that emphasis? Once one skill tree is followed through to the end, eight arrows can be crafted using the number of resources one arrow originally costed. This completely changes the dynamic of the game and makes late game decidedly different from the introductory sequences. True, I could have ignored them, and while accepting some of these skills, there were others I deliberately ignored, as they had the potential to be broken, as I had mentioned. This includes decreased melee damage, and increased damage to animals. I was playing on hard mode, and found the challenge to be about right – I failed a few times is some particularly challenging missions and died a few times to some particularly deadly animals – and I felt is I accepted these skills, all remaining sense of challenge would completely evaporate. It is weird to complain about being over-powered, but that is honestly how I felt.  

            Aside from the side objectives of hunting, outpost seizing, gathering, and the myriad other diversions, there are the central missions. Just as the Wenja village begins hitting its stride, an attack is made by the rival Udam, who dwell far away in the bitterly cold north. Leading the assault is a savage known as Ull, who takes great delight in the violence. Carelessly killing many villagers, he then retreats away and becomes, seemingly, the main antagonist. Takkar’s main objective is not only to expand the village and haven, but also to destroy this man. He isn’t developed too well, and occupies the role of cliched villain, but his voice acting is impressive; all of the voice acting is impressive, considering they took the bold step of creating a fictional language for the characters to speak. This language only serves to ground that world, and it is a wonderful addition. Despite the fact that he emerges that the key nemesis, there is no sense of urgency there. I explored the map, doing the side diversions, exploring for exploring sake, and ultimately forgot about Ull, though his face had a very visible presence on the overworld map. Indeed, the growth of the village seems to be of a greater importance than Ull’s vanquishing. It would have been an interesting mechanic to have periodic raids on the village, which would only increase the lacking urgency. Mechanics like that have been done many times before, and they can become tedious, but I think they would work well here. There is somewhat of a surprise, though. As further key members are recruited, a second antagonist emerges: Batari. She is a female of the Izili tribe of the South. Visually, she is interesting, being of very dark complexion with blue body pain covering her person, but she is even less developed than Ull is. There is no savage attack on the village; Takkar learns of her from the Shaman and learns that she is a threat who must be pacified. The fact that there are three warring tribes rather than two contributes to the apparent largeness of the world, but I still wish the other two tribes were better developed. As it is, they each pose a threat to the Wenja, and are thus do be disdained. The cavern entrance into the Udam homeland is protected by a debilitating poison, and it is satisfying to gather the ingredients for the antidote, but once the barrier has been passed, the actual combat with Ull is unimpressive. I’m not always against boss fights – I think they can work well in certain games – but it just felt out of place here. There is a semi-open environment, permitting some maneuverability, while baser enemies spawn at regular intervals. You’re intended to pepper Ull with arrows and spears, and then finish him off with an environmental kill, dropping with an arrow an ice shard onto his head. It’s frustrating, but victory is gratifying, and despite Takkar’s brutality here, he displays kindness in welcoming into the village Ull’s children. And then he’s gone. Despite a brief cutscene upon his passing, there is very little fanfare accompanying his death, despite the fact that he is one of the two leading antagonists.

            Batari’s death is similarly ungratifying. There is a brief assault into her homeland in the South, with many grunts and a few heavy enemies, who do remain a challenge even as Takkar grows somewhat in strength. Her final encounter and boss fight also seem rather forced. Occupying the high ground, she has a bow with flaming, terribly high damage, one or two arrows spelling death. There is a wide variety of cover, though, and as her silhouette, once tagged, can be seemed through walls, it becomes like a cover shooter, notching an arrow, standing, shooting, then crouching again into cover. It is a slow process and is rather boring, but I do prefer it to Ull’s encounter, he who can survive an endless barrage of spears and must be defeated in a contextual manner. They could have been more creative here, and I think if they had integrated some stealth components in the fight, it would have been more exciting. Neither fight required much strategy, requiring only a bit of patience. Her death is similarly lackluster, accompanied by a brief cutscene. That’s it. The two main foes are vanquished, and there are no end credits or some great reward than the satisfaction of freedom for the Wenja village. The developers spent a lot of time and a lot of care on the crafting of these main missions; many of them are exciting, though there are expectantly flops. But in not providing some satisfying conclusion, it is almost like there acknowledgment that the side activities are of greater value than the destruction of the Udam and the Izili. In this gorgeous world, it is more about the journey than the destination. I understand that. Ubisoft created a wonderful world, with the possibilities for many wonderful journeys. The world, with its towering trees, arresting flora and fauna, diversity and dangers, really steals the show. This is a common expectation these days – create a compelling world, and in Far Cry Primal, Ubisoft have succeeded. Many players will likely never reach the unfulfilling encounters with Batari or Ull, but they can find endless fulfilment in the open world, with solid progression systems and geographic wonders.

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