Most people know Far Cry for its almost over-the-top, one-man army-style gameplay. So, when I heard prehistory was going to be the setting for the next game in the series, I did a double-take. Above all else, a game's setting has to be engaging; otherwise, it doesn't really matter what the characters are doing. The Stone Age isn't represented often in video games, and it was with trepidation that I began reviewing Far Cry Primal.
Oddly enough, the setting is by far one of the best moves Ubisoft could have made. Because of such a unique backdrop, Far Cry Primal is largely free of the typecasting and cliches that made Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 feel a lot more generic and boring than they could have been. For the first time in the series, Far Cry Primal forsakes the modern world for the Central Europe of 10,000 BC. Instead of an American tourist or a dour Kyrati, you take the role of Takkar, who is searching for his people, the Wenja tribe. Rival tribes scattered the Wenja people across the Oros Valley, and upon arriving Takkar starts the process of bringing them together and building a village that can repel the advances of the cannibalistic Udam.
Ubisoft went all out with their prehistoric setting. Each tribe, Wenja, Odom, and Izila, has its own language. This means that there is not a word of English in the game, but somehow this feels just as it should. Instead of a bunch of cavemen inexplicably screaming English at each other, their languages bring them to life as characters in ways I wouldn't have thought imaginable. Though you'll be stuck reading subtitles, it seems as even though you can't understand them, the stiff acting that sometimes plagues games is absent here. Instead, you get the translation and the emotional urgency of voices, and that made Takkar and his fellow tribesmen much more dynamic in my mind.
Far Cry Primal manages to avoid the thing that can make open-world games tiring by mid-game, overpowering the player. A lot of sandbox games, previous Far Cry games included, tend to fall prey to the "carrot on a fishing pole" routine. They string players along with the promise a new weapon or vehicle, and by the time, the game's half over you end up with so much gear that the second half ends up being boring since you're so overpowered. In Far Cry Primal, you start with a club, a spear, and a bow, and when you reach the end, you have a club, a spear, and a bow. You can upgrade those weapons, and there are items you can use to supplement them, but you're not going to receive anything that makes anything you're doing a walk in the park.
The land of Oros is foreboding and deadly, and it stays that way throughout your adventure there. Though you become better at dealing with the multitude of threats, they remain. While the rival tribesman is a big part of your problems, the wildlife is just as concerning. Jaguar, wolves, sabertooth tigers, mammoths, and bears fill Prehistoric Central Europe, but your biggest threats can be your most powerful ally.
Thakkar can tame these animals and command them in battle. As you proceed through the game, you'll be able to bend even the most powerful animals, and even ride some of them. The dynamic between using stealth to sneak up on rival tribesmen and animals, and the need to sometimes attack head-on with a wolf or a bear at your side is exhilarating. For having a relatively low variety of weapons at your disposal, combat in Far Cry Primal is the most fulfilling of any title in the series.
The visuals are stunning as well, each animal and tribesman has highly detailed textures, and they're actually dirty! People in Oros bleed, the animals actually urinate, and it's great to see characters who aren't crystal clean, or even particularly healthy. One loves collecting ears; another is missing an arm, and although I hate to say those are beautiful things, it is wonderful to have a cast that reflects their environment.
Far Cry Primal is an absolutely thrilling experience and a huge surprise. For a franchise that has spanned five main titles, it's great to see that Ubisoft isn't afraid to switch things up even though they had a proven formula they could have gone with. While the Stone Age wouldn't have been a setting I would have though I'd be interested in; Far Cry Primal somehow makes the whole experience a no-brainer. If games like Far Cry Primal is any indicator, Ubisoft is heading down a path that may just keep their games fresh for years to come.