Let’s just start with a really basic question that kind of sums up how amazing this game is:
HOW has no one thought of making a Stone Age game before?
Experiencing it on the screen it seems crazy that it wasn’t just the most obvious concept of a game, because it works brilliantly in most ways. Even kind of metaphorically! Much like the real Neanderthals, (though over a space of a few hours rather than millennia) you start with nothing and trade tasks for knowledge, new weapons and skills. Beginning with a lowly club you work your way up to bow and arrows, spears, slings, “sting bombs” made from beehives, and loads more. It might have just been me not reading the pop up instructions but it took me a really long time to learn the controls, like crafting and igniting/extinguishing weapons. It took literally like 8 hours to figure out Y is for a quick weapon switch. But moving on...
I did wonder how they would have the map/inventory/interface all mesh in with the Stone Age theme of the game and I think that actually the result is pretty lazy. I’d have preferred to start off with a shitty cave wall map and earned a more detailed hand-sketched one from one of the NPCs, like you have to with everything else. The map they’ve settled on isn’t even that great either, it’s so pixellated and at times so glitchy, it’s like something from the 90s. However I appreciate the general interface being all in the realm of one button press with map, inventory, skills, crafting etc. all being clumped together, similar to Fallout’s pip boy but without any in-game context regarding its existence. I guess in Primal you just have a really impressive man bag (“It’s a satchel. Indiana Jones wears one.”*) with all the survival essentials you’d ever need stowed away. It’s neat, easy to access and simple to understand.
Speaking of simple to understand (paragraph links on point), the storyline isn’t inspired but it is highly enjoyable. The basic premise is a developing tribe pitted against another tribe with you as the sole defender of the Wenjas. You are literally explorer/gatherer/hunter/bitch of the tribe all rolled up into one. Your tribes people snap their fingers and tell you to do something for them, just little things like, you know, making them a huge, intricate hut with elk horns as decoration. No biggie. It’s a basic good vs evil story where you’re good because you don’t eat other people and the others aren’t because they do. It’s linear but not basic, kind of like, “kill all the baddies but here’s some cool missions to keep you entertained... And unquestioningly accept these hallucinatory tasks as enlightening, not a misguided attempt at refining the Shangri-La sequences from Far Cry 4.” Give it up, bitches. You made hallucination missions your thing but that doesn’t make them good. MOST PEOPLE HATE THEM. Another issue I have is you don’t get many choices within the game. You choose what order you will do the missions but not much else. You have to be good, you have to save the tribe. With this game especially I’d have loved the option to sack off my tribe to be nomad, or side with the cannibals for the craic, or start my own tribe of sabre tooth tigers in the mountains. Like an old school crazy cat lady.
Let me just gush a moment. My god! The free roam! I’ll carve down my emotional speech about how amazing it is just exploring and just say this is hands down why the game is as great, immersive, involving, beautiful, insanely playable, stunning, just a plethora of complimentary words that still don’t do it justice. The map is insanely diverse, with mountainous regions, areas of forestry, icy districts, rocky and barren areas, it’s just immense! It’s huge! Infinitely explorable. Especially when you get your animal. I love the animals so much. Cats for stealthy village missions, dogs for hunting, and huge, scary animals for maintaining your reputation as the Stone Age’s coolest and most fearless renegade. Such a good feature, much better than some annoying hanger-on for company (not you, Lydia from Skyrim, you can stay). I keep finding myself eschewing missions to just have a run around and hunt or see if I can find any hidden areas. Just perfect.
However while you’re busy exploring there isn’t a great amount of different items to be collected throughout the world, because it is set in the Stone Age era where life was pretty basic. It’s just annoying to find a treasure bag or a fallen village and to be rewarded with a few shards of bone, or like some flint. OR, even better, to be rewarded with that shit to find out your bag’s already full of it. Very tedious and annoying. Collecting rare resources can also have the opposite effect, of being so rare that wandering around and around in vain looking for an elusive rare white yak can be monotonous too.
Because we’re Neanderthal the dialogue in-game can be hard work, you can’t have a lapse in concentration, as they’re speaking whatever language has been invented for the purposes of the game, and it’s all subtitled for us. ALL subtitled. It’s good for the realism, poor in terms of immersion. The Far Cry series has a notoriously large amount of cut scenes that already take the player out of the game at really vital moments, because it doesn’t trust us to do the things that need to be done for the story to progress. So it’s kind of annoying to read an essay for five minutes while you’re just itching to progress and help another character. They’ve made an attempt in Primal to make sure the women aren’t shit, or overly sexualised (though obviously they could easily have been, scantily clad in well-placed mouse furs or something) which is a hell of a lot better than the slave woman from Far Cry 4 that ends up *spoiler* throwing herself off a ledge in a Victorian-era style woman’ guilt suicide. Because woman who sin must die! I appreciated that the women were heavily scarred because they’re bad ass hunters, or had bad teeth, or weird shaved hair that was actually quite punk. None were perfect or flawless and it’s as much a representation of Neanderthal people as it is today’s women. Furthermore, during a time where diversity in society, the media, and on-screen is being given the spotlight it deserves and requires, it is so nice to play a game without a single white playable character or NPC or side character. In theory it sounds unthinkable, unimaginable! But it’s great! Progressive video games are something we can all root for.
I know this has been a bit of a harsh review for the score I’m going to give but I really would recommend it to everyone if only for the free roam aspect. A different, diverse experience with ignorable flaws, and the best AAA game I’ve played in a long time.
* Here’s to hoping anyone else has an appreciation for 7 year old The Hangover quotes.