Far Cry Primal is the First Must-Play of 2016

“Far Cry Primal” takes the basic structure of an open-world shooter (like the amazing “Far Cry 3,” fun spin-off “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon,” and pretty-good “Far Cry 4”) and applies it to a different era than we typically see in a video game. Instead of stealing a car, you’ll jump on a mammoth. Instead of making allies with fellow gang members to fight alongside you, you’ll tame a cave lion. Instead of an AK-47, you’ll master your bow and arrow.

It’s like “Grand Theft 10,000 BC” or “Far Cry: The Revenant.” And it’s incredibly fun. Yes, the story is almost nonexistent—almost as if the developers were so entranced by their concept that they forgot to create characters and narrative—but the world of “Far Cry: Primal” is so entrancing that I found myself increasingly excited to explore it.

When the map expanded at one point to include a region covered in snow—in which you regularly have to find fire to stay alive—I knew I was hooked. “Primal” gets increasingly addictive as the developers brilliantly keep it fresh by not only increasing the game’s difficulty but giving you new skill sets with which to play. Most of all, it’s designed to be an immersive experience, one in which you are constantly aware that there are animals out there who want to have you for breakfast and in which the elements can be as deadly as the bears.

“Far Cry Primal” takes place in 10,000 BCE at the beginning of the Mesolithic period. You are a Wenja tribesman named Takkar, one of the few remaining members of the Wenja tribe in the valley of Oros.

Your people have been destroyed by the violent, possibly cannibalistic Udam, and it’s up to you to reunite the remaining Wenja and take back your land. Believe it or not, in one of the game’s most ambitious moves, the entire thing is spoken in an ancient language, meaning that the game is subtitled.

It’s the first major AA “foreign language” game.

Like most modern, multi-hour, sorta-RPG games, you start off relatively weak. You don’t even have a weapon at the open of the game and have to craft one by finding wood and reeds to build a bow. Everything you create in “Primal” comes from Mother Nature. Want to build a new hut? You’ll need some animal skin to do so. A lot of “Primal” requires hunting with your bow, club or spear, and you’ll eventually learn how to tame animals to fight alongside you. I personally have a rare black lion who I’ve kind of come to love. You can order your animal companion to strike against enemies or hunt other animals for supplies or food. Yes, to heal, you’ll need a backpack full of meat. You’ll find yourself just killing a goat to survive. And you’ll get “Reward Packs” at outposts and villages you save that help in the supply process.

Much of the land of Oros has been overrun by the evil Udam, and so just as you liberated radio towers in past “Far Cry” games to reclaim them from the enemy, you have to liberate outposts to build the Wenja population to a point where you can lead them to take back their land. There’s strategy to the combat in “Primal.” Outposts in which you are notably outmanned demand a bit of stealth (hint: while most of the rest of the land of Oros becomes much deadlier at night, outposts are actually easier to take as much of the enemy sleeps and you can kill them where they lay) and you’ll have to employ a blend of animal attacks, melee combat and bow-and-arrow mastery. As the game progresses, you’ll get stronger, find more techniques, and your enemy will get smarter. You’ll also travel lands overrun with animals like jaguars and tigers who want to eat your face. And I haven’t even mentioned the bears. Bears are terrifying.

What’s great about “Far Cry Primal” is how often it surprised me. Like all games of this ilk, it’s undeniably repetitive, but never in a way that’s annoying. Yes, I wish there was more depth to the story and more of an interesting protagonist, but that’s the only real flaw. The gameplay, the action, and, most of all, the world of this game are captivating. Don’t miss it.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a review copy of this game.

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