There are certain core pillars that can be safely assumed when it comes to the Far Cry franchise. An expansive, upgradeable arsenal. A range of vehicles for making your way across an epic landscape. Scalable towers that unlock local points of interest, alongside a streak of madness in the main narrative.
Except for Far Cry Primal, Ubisoft has shattered a lot of these pillars to facilitate a Stone Age setting, some 12,000 years before the usually contemporary-set series. Chatting with key Far Cry Primal developers, there’s some confusion as to which came first: the desire for a Stone Age setting, no matter the franchise, or whether it was the urge for a Stone Age-posited Far Cry game.
It’s an important question because the answers would doubtlessly help to make sense of why certain Far Cry features make the cut, while others did not. Obviously, the setting immediately excludes particular mainstays. Vehicles and a ballistic arsenal, for instance, have no place in the Stone Age. But there are ways around this.
Although only teased at in our hands-on preview, players will be able to unlock an ability that allows them to turn tamed beasts into rideable mounts for faster traversal. Hopefully, this particular ability isn’t relegated to too late in the game, as most of our time was spent sprinting across the ancient Oros landscape. The addition of mountable beasts brings with it the prospect of a ride that has bite, as Far Cry’s history with vehicles tended towards the unarmed variety (even if you could shoot from them with a single-handed weapon).
The closest thing you’ll get to a firearm in Primal is a flaming club or spear, and it’s a risky gamble for series diehards who are used to Far Cry games embracing the ‘shooter’ part of their first-person-shooter genre classification. You can still throw a spear, but it doesn’t have the range of a gun. The only other ranged option in your arsenal is the bow, which will already be familiar to Far Cry 4 veterans.
These weapons can’t be bought from conveniently located vendors, either. Instead, Ubisoft is putting a greater emphasis on crafting this time around, even if it was a somewhat simplified system in what we played. Once unlocked, the player’s weapons and ammunition can be crafted from within the weapons wheel.
Opening the weapons wheel brings time to a crawl, but it’s ill advised to run into an enemy encampment without first spending time reconstruction your arsenal. Crafting is as simple as holding down a button, as long as you have the requisite components, but this simplicity also ties over to taming the predators of Primal.
Simply throw out bait, then approach the gorging soon-to-be tamed pet and hold down a button for a few seconds to call them your own. From there, the beast is permanently added to your list of predators to call on (one at a time). Considering the beasts act as the best weapon in Primal, complete with personalised passive abilities, it’s a shame that the lack of complexity in taming isn’t befitting their crucial role in the gameplay formula.
Similarly, the removal of the tower jumping puzzles (at least, in what we saw) is a step in the right direction, but the ancient context doesn’t allow for the memorable dominance of man-made fortresses that weren’t a part of the Stone Age.
The dedication to creating a historically believable setting has also led to the creation of new dialects, with help from scholarly linguists. It’s admirable in its intent, but removes an all-important layer of accessibility as players are reliant on subtitles to make sense of what’s being said around them, both during cutscenes and in gameplay.
By transporting Far Cry to the Stone Age with Primal, Ubisoft is having a punt, which risks alienating fervent contemporary-shooter fans, but also has the possibility of redefining the expectations of the series and attracting a range of newcomers keen to play an accessible caveman simulator experience.