In some ways, Far Cry Primal is a different beast (pun intended) than its predecessors. The new setting of Oros in 10,000 BC was the most obvious difference, and that also brought changes to combat, survival and crafting mechanics. Considering that the past two installments had similar traits in the gameplay experience, Far Cry Primal seems to be Ubisoft Montreal's idea of a refresh on the series. After playing a preview version of the game for a few hours, the developers' plan somewhat worked, even with a few issues.
The Promised Land
Players take on the role of Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe. Takkar and his comrades are on their way to the land of Oros, where the rest of the tribe has set up camp for their new home. However, Oros also has two other tribes that could pose danger to the Wenjas' way of life. The Udam people are savage and aggressive beings as a result of surviving the Ice Age, which forced its members to incestuate and cannibalize each other to survive. The Izila tribe is considered to be the most technologically advanced of the three groups due to its large villages and a reputation for harnessing the power of fire.
In between these tribes is a land teeming with wildlife, such as goats and boars, as well as more dangerous beasts like wolves and the saber-toothed tiger. Humanity is not the most-feared predator around. You can fall prey to a small pack of wolves or get ambushed by a large bear. The lack of vehicles means you have to be on your guard at all times as you move throughout the world. Enemies, whether human or animal, are on the prowl, and you have to survive Oros before the tribe can live in peace.
Taming The Beast
At the center of Far Cry Primal’s unique features is the Beast Master ability. You have the gift to control various enemies in the wild and use them as a sidekick in combat. Once tamed, you can order the animal to assist you in combat. As part of the game's introduction to the mechanic, you "recruit" a large, white wolf (throughout the game, I referred to it as "Fluffy") to take on a few enemies.
There's also an owl at your disposal that is mainly used to scout ahead and mark enemies for you and your animal companion, but it can also -- I kid you not -- drop crudely-made bombs on foes (think of it as a prehistoric and organic version of a drone).
Only a few animals can be controlled, and each one provides considerable offense. But the fact that you can use these ferocious animals at any time makes enemy encounters a walk in the park.
You can sneak up on enemy guards two at a time as you take one by surprise while your pet takes another guard down. If you're outnumbered in a fight, it can quickly downsize a group of enemies or even provide a considerable distraction for foes. The only limitation is that the animals can die. Even then, it can take a significant amount of damage, and you can always feed it meat to regain health. Your animal companion, in the end, is one of the most (if not the most), powerful weapon in your limited arsenal.
Weapons, Crafting And Your Village
Obviously, you won't have a gun-heavy loadout in 10,000 BC. Instead, you have a series of melee and ranged weapons: the club, bow and arrow, spear, a sling, a knife made out of stone and some throwable projectiles. In order to use each one, you will need to craft them from materials throughout the world such as wood, reeds and flint. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock more room in your inventory to carry more bows, spears and clubs, so collecting resources has never been more important in a Far Cry game.
In previous games, money enabled you to buy more guns and ammo at any friendly outpost. Resources from plants and animals were utilized only to craft syringe boosts, for additional weapons slots, and to create more room for ammo and even a bigger wallet to hold your growing funds. With the idea of currency virtually nonexistent in 10,000 BC, crafting becomes even more crucial to your survival.
But crafting extends to more than just restoring your health, creating weapons or upgrading your inventory. As you play through the game, members of the Wenja clan will join you and create a small village. Certain characters will have special huts of their own and you have to upgrade them with resources. In turn, you get access to more missions and skills to use throughout the game.
So in addition to missions and combat, you now have to keep an eye out for plants, wildlife and even certain rocks for crafting. To make finding these items easier, the game also includes a special Hunter's Vision, which highlights these resources in bright yellow. It's also useful in tracking down animals (based on their scent) and enemy routes (based on footprints).
Some Of The Old
Even with the new features, there are times when it felt like an unoriginal Far Cry game. There were certain elements that were rehashed from past titles and incorporated into this game with a prehistoric twist.
Instead of revealing more of the map through radio towers, you now ignite a large pyre located in enemy outposts. The side missions also have some repeated scenarios from previous games, such as protecting four villagers from waves of animals, escorting groups to a new location, and rescuing captured allies. There were even small camps that you could take over from the opposing tribes. These felt mundane, especially after doing it over and over again not just in Primal, but also in Far Cry 3 and 4.
However, the story missions did provide some excitement. It was interesting to see the Wenja tribe tackle various survival tactics, and the conflict between the other two tribes was also interesting to see, even if the preview only scratched the surface of the conflict.
Give It A Chance
Far Cry Primal has some unique aspects that are appealing to the series' veteran players. The change from easily being the dominant species to fighting for your life in the prehistoric food chain makes for exciting gameplay, especially with the limited weapons on hand. The Beast Tamer feature could be interesting, but it will be difficult to convince players to try out all the animal companions when certain selections are more powerful than others.
Out of the entire session, survival and crafting proved to be the highlights of the game. These resources are everywhere in Oros, and if you want to continually upgrade items and improve your village, it's important to take your time and look for all the crafting ingredients instead of running through the wilderness or fast-traveling from one area to another. In a way, it lets you appreciate the world even more.
Still, it will be difficult for some to see past the idea of the game as similar to the the old Far Cry in terms of the experience, except with a prehistoric setting. There are many parts of your journey through Oros that harken back to previous Far Cry features, and it could be enough to turn away fans. However, it's worth giving Far Cry Primal a chance before dismissing it completely. It might have the bones of a Far Cry game, but its new offerings are not to be missed.
Update, 1/26/2016, 10:32 a.m. PST: Added gameplay footage.