Life used to have a different flavour to the high-speed, tech-based, frequently-petty existences we lead today. Back in the Mesolithic Period you might find yourself leading a high-speed existence but that’s because something was chasing you with the express intention of eating all your bits. It’s this place that Far Cry Primal will let you visit, in the dead-animal boots of Takkar, a member of the Wenja people. Takkar has seen his hunting party wiped out by a freaking huge sabre-toothed tiger, survived a massive fall and dropped into Oros.
Oros is the promised land, fertile and full of wildlife. Unfortunately it’s also home to predators both animal and human, with the Udam being the large, nasty (cannibal) opposition in the latter case. There’s also the technologically-advanced pyromanics, the Izila, to contend with. But players, as Takkar, have the advantage of being the world’s first pet whisperer. Long story short: You’re going hunting, with a pet owl and a range of the nastier predators at your command. Once you tame them, that is.
That’s about the sum of the game, actually. Far Cry Primal borrows a lot of elements from previous Far Cry titles, including outpost capture, collectible-collecting, random encounters and pissed-off honey badgers but there isn’t a major emphasis on narrative. That’s happened for a variety of reasons.
First, we don’t really know much about human society back then and Ubisoft do like their accuracy. At least, as far as it works within a game context. We never saw pirates in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag with scurvy, after all. Second, the experience of the Stone Age world and the exploration of it are reason enough to want to traipse around in Primal. Leading a virtual hunter-gatherer existence is strangely calming, until the wolves show up at night and you’re far from a source of fire. It speaks to something ancient inside of you.
Instead, players will spend their time helping scattered members of the Wenja out in the world and undertaking tasks for a few named characters while building the strength of their tribe. There’s a young herbalist with a thing for Udam ears (on a string), a shaman with a penchant for blood-soaked spirit journeys as well as a hunter, warrior and a ‘thinker’ who is about 12,000 years ahead of his time. Poor Urki. There’s a common thread to all of it, with the conquest of the Udam and Izila being a major factor but it’s all still secondary. It’s the world that is important.
Not Much Has Changed
Primal takes place in a prehistoric version of Kyrat, the setting for Far Cry 4. It’s a very different location, populated by mammoths, jaguar, wolves and Stone Age humanity. The terrain is also noticeably younger but the game overall hasn’t altered much. While you’re dodging predators, gathering plans and trees and buses and killing anything that looks at you
the wrong way (aside from the other Wenja), you’re also going to be collecting Wenja bracelets, looking for packs of resources, destroying enemy faction items and looking for hidden caches. If you want to. Unlike other Ubisoft games, these feel much more optional. There might be a reward tucked away for the conscientious but your weapon upgrades don’t hinge on how well you can play Find The Collectible. Which is good, because you’ve got some neat toys to play with.
Takkar, for all of his beast-management skills, is also the smartest tool-user in the tribe. Players will start with a large stick, and a bow, but soon they’ll find themselves upgrading to things like a bigger stick and a stronger bow.
Also: a spear (love that spear), a longbow, a two-handed club, a dual-bow (which is utterly useless for hunting), bombs made from plants, bees and, eventually, fire as well as a grappling hook. Hey, cavemen climbed mountains somehow, right?
The items, as well as upgrades to your pack and clothing – the snowy Northern climate can kill you until you learn how to craft winter gear – don’t seem that implausible. Okay, the grappling hook is a stretch but so is riding around on the back of a bear or a sabre-toothed tiger – which we completely recommend. They don’t have the stomping power of mammoths but they’re fun all the same. The point is, the gear upgrades eventually make you something to be feared and soon the night and the wilds hold no terrors for players. We’re have preferred a Dark Souls-like difficulty spike or two. Just saying.
Speaking of… er… speaking, Ubisoft have taken their Stone Age society quite seriously. The Wenja, Udam and Izila all speak languages based on something called Proto-Indo-European, which is where, you know, most European languages come from.
Wenja and Udam are quite similar, sharing most word sets and with pronunciations being the differentiator. They’re based around Hittite, if you can believe that, as far as their language’s structure goes. Izila shares some words with the fabricated Wenja tongue but the pronunciations are are very different to the first two. Even so, they all seem to understand each other. A spear to the shoulder is also considered fairly universal.
Players might also find themselves understanding some of the lingo, eventually. This detailed creation is an indicator of how deep Ubisoft could have gone with Primal. They could have turned this Stone Age journey into a more serious experience than we eventually got and we would have been fine with that. It’s still pretty serious, aside from Urki, but they had the means to take it further.
A sustained serious tone and more of a challenge in the world of Oros would have made Far Cry Primal a very different game. It wouldn’t have been Far Cry, for one. But an almost accurate hunter-gatherer simulator is something that we never knew we wanted and it’s almost what we got. Exploring Primal is still worth your time and effort, even if you ignore most of the story, such as it is. You’ll get your money’s worth from it but now we want something that is about as tough an experience as living in the Mesolithic was. You listening, Ubi?