Originally published on GameInformer.com March 16, 2016, at 2:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 3/17/16.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter, 3/19/16.
4,622 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
There's a fine line between hunter and prey when your prey are predators, and walking that line is what makes Far Cry Primal so enjoyable. Forget what you know about the game, what you're expected to spend your time doing, and what the franchise has trained you to focus on. Primal is best enjoyed when playing cat and mouse with prehistoric beasts on their home turf.
Of course you'd be forgiven for thinking that this practice is a means to an end, as Far Cry wildlife always has represented an opportunity to amass skill points or resources that can help secure your survival and dominance in a hostile and alien world where your main foes are people, But the experience has become so refined in Primal as to become an end in and of itself.
In an intriguing, if unintentional, twist, the rival tribes of your Wenja warrior Takkar are incidental to his journey. Indeed his destiny is to become the Beast Master, a role that is not only paramount in reuniting and settling his tribe but, as it turns out, key to Primal's entertainment value. In fact, gameplay in general is less in service of the story than it is a boon to hunting and taming your prey.
Don't get me wrong. Gamers can choose to play Primal like past titles in the franchise and still be rewarded with fun and compelling action, which in itself is quite an accomplishment for a game with such a dramatic departure in setting. However, it is the fascinating world of Oros, the cohesive gameplay, and the Beast Master role that combine to create an immersive kind of prehistoric hunting simulator.
Takkar's journey starts with the map (above). You can search explored areas for the kind of animal you want to hunt, then find the nearest settlement/bonfire you've taken in order to fast travel there and begin the pursuit. In that regard, the more settlements/bonfires and campfires (spawn points) you can secure, the more accessible the land of Oros -- and its wildlife -- become.
Note that the HUD minimap (below) is helpful for spotting predators (red pointers) that might be preying on you. It's especially useful against fast, and persistent, predators like bears and sabretooth tigers. When the former was chasing me, I could gauge its proximity and react accordingly. Interestingly, the latter seemed to spawn beside me, which explains how it often took me by surprise (though it could have been lag).
The Beast Master ability is unlocked after Wenja shaman Tensay sends Takkar after a white wolf (see my previous Primal blog). However, not all tamable animals are unlocked at once, much to my chagrin when I tried to tame a brown bear too early! Other unlocks include cats (lions, leopards, jaguars, etc.), apex predators (i.e. brown bears, sabretooth tigers) and clever creatures (badgers and cave bears).
The challenge of hunting and taming predators is a large part of the appeal. If your prey realizes you're on its trail, then the tables turn and your options are mostly limited to survival. So stalking predators is a rewarding if risky endeavor, made more alluring by the inclusion of rare animals like the black lion. After GIO member Uesugi shared his experience, that beast became my next prey.
Too bad that cat had other plans. I was attacked and killed twice, though the second time I did let it win. When you respawn, you do so with full health and your prey with the same health it had prior to your death, but your degradable arsenal likewise is the same condition as when you died. Sacrificing yourself without a fight is sometimes the better choice, to conserve both your inventory and your prey.
And you do want to keep your quarry alive, since taming is your ultimate goal when hunting predators. Also, killing a rare animal makes your job as a hunter more difficult, as you have to start your search for the elusive foe from scratch (note that their habitats don't appear on the map). All this is part of the reason that, when on the hunt, it's often best to dismiss any tamed predator accompanying you.
That brings me to the cave lion (above). Cats, like bears, are usually heard before they're seen. That gives the hunter a strategic advantage. I came across two cave lions fighting and stalked the victor until I was in range to throw bait. Once distracted by the meal, I was able to sneak up from behind and tame it. The end game might be a foregone conclusion once prompted, but the pursuit is always tense and engaging.
The motivation for taming predators is to help ensure your survival in the wild and your domination over rival tribes. And while hunting and taming has become an entertaining pursuit in its own right, attacking other predators and Wenja foes is made much more dynamic and thrilling with a sharp toothed pet at your beck and call. The jaguar above took the initiative against these knuckle-dragging brutes.
Note how the cat flanked this spear thrower (top) while I distracted him. Sometimes you need to target an enemy and command your companion to attack, but other times (as above) your furry friend might detect a threat before you do and eliminate it on its own. Either way, this tag team approach is enjoyable and also productive as it can yield pickups, unlock upgrades and award points.
And this is where game design, which the Beast Master role is meant to support, ends up supporting hunting and taming. Abilities in different Wenja skill trees improve the role, whether Tensay's various tiers of tamable animals or numerous owl commands, gatherer Sayla's Beast Reviver skill, or fighter Karoosh's Beast Rider ability. Others' skills in hunting/gathering help progression overall.
As mentioned, one can progress in the story and game in general by scoring points when completing objectives, earning skill points when increasing rank, unlocking skill trees by helping or rescuing Wenja and building their village huts, and accumulating resources by regular hunting and gathering. But all activity likewise contributes to upgrading one's hunting and taming prowess in a way that feels deliberate and organic.
Speaking of, the jaguar above turned out to be one of the simpler taming challenges by virtue of its presence in a cave during a Wenja mission. Already cautious as I expect predators in any Oros cave, I was able to approach this cat without being detected, fed it my best cut of bait, and earned its unwavering loyalty. Isn't the way to a man's heart through his stomach? If only rival tribes were likewise tamed.
Now to the fun part. Still in search of the elusive black lion, and therefore sans any predator companion, I was scouring the hills of Oros when I discovered a Wenja held by rival tribesmen. I dispatched a charging captor by hurling my club at his head, then felled the second with arrows. But when searching their bodies for loot, I heard a distinctive bellow from the ridge below and saw a bear emerge from its cave (above).
I should note that predators appear to detect and track you by scent. Earlier I'd followed instructions to hide in brush and break foes' line of sight before I was mauled by wolves (apparently that instruction only applied to rival tribes LOL). In the above scenario, even though I was on the ridge overlooking the cave, the bear inside came out and raced up the hill along a path to where I stood.
Bears are tough to begin with, and take multiple shots of flaming pointy weapons to eventually bring down. But I knew better than to stand my ground against a cave bear, having lasted only seconds against one I encountered earlier during a mission. Worse yet, you won't outlast one in a footrace. So I quickly freed the Wenja and ran the only place where the bear couldn't follow -- over the ledge.
This cave bear, however, was so fast and persistent that it wound its way to me in no time. Keeping one eye on the HUD minimap and watching as it quickly closed in on me, I leaped off a second ledge with the beast still in hot pursuit. I was forced to leap off a third ledge before the cave bear gave up the chase, which is a good thing as my health at that point was reduced to near zero.
The bad news was that I seemed to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire as another predator was only feet away from where I landed. Still it was at least a mixed blessing as I found the rare black lion I'd been searching for. Though it was distracted by its takedown of a boar (above, top/middle), it made quick work of its prey and before long was growling at me and positioned to pounce at a moment's notice.
I reached into my goody bag and quickly tossed bait nearby, but the lion only took a cursory glance at it. I knew throwing bait was a long shot to begin with since, ideally, predators should be approached for taming while still undetected. But of course I lost the element of surprise when I fell nearby, and I was desperate both to survive and to tame the black lion, so I tossed a second bait.
Here's where it gets interesting. The second bait did attract the lion's interest, enough so that he approached it and appeared to begin eating. Unfortunately, at that moment his attention was broken by a cave lion that approached from the side. Once he leaped at the interloper and chased him off (above, bottom), his interest in the bait had waned and he turned his attention back to me.
So naturally I tossed another bait. The lion did glance at it, but over its shoulder while it charged me! Before I could react it leaped up and swatted me in the face (above, top/middle). Then, instead of standing its ground and trying to finish me off, he retreated to his previous position. I thought maybe it was just a hit and run, but the lion did turn its attention to the bait, at which point I was finally able to tame him (above, bottom).
If I recall, taming the rare black lion not only fulfilled a personal goal but likewise unlocked the next tier of tamable animals. This allowed me to pursue my ultimate objective of hunting and taming a sabretooth tiger. I'd already crossed paths with it before, usually resulting in my own demise. The only way I avoided certain death was leaping into a river (and hoping crocodiles or bitefish don't attack me instead).
This time, I started out with my rare black lion in tow to first locate my quarry in its own habitat (after first fast traveling to a nearby settlement/bonfire). Part of the challenge posed by these tigers is that they're fast and relatively quiet. No telltale roars or careless gait sometimes characteristic of other big cats to give it away. By the time you know it's there, it's often too late for you.
Armed with my own big cat, I ventured in to tiger territory and soon found myself face to whiskered face with my prey (above). Or was it the other way around? This sabretooth quickly attacked though at least this time I wasn't alone in defending myself. My black lion did damage with each swing of its claws while I pummeled it with heavy club attacks (above, middle). With myself near death, we managed to chase it away.
Thankfully, my lion was persistent and chased the tiger down. At that point, the two had a pretty epic one-on-one battle where I stood by engrossed by the sheer spectacle of it all (above). After exchanging blows, the lion outlasted our prey and exhausted the tiger's nine lives. Of course, I failed at taming a sabretooth tiger, but achieved my immediate goal of locating a possible hunting ground within its habitat.
At that point, I dismissed the black lion and hunted alone, hoping to stalk my quarry undetected. That wish was short-lived, as another sabretooth found me first (above) and was determined not to become my new pet. I think I didn't put up a fight so I could preserve my arsenal and return to this tiger's stomping grounds. After all, at this point I really wasn't a match for it and likely would die anyway. But dying to this big cat again still hurt.
I did learn from my miscues and this time remembered to enlist my owl companion to survey my surroundings. Using hunter vision, the owl can see animals among other things, just like Takkar can when I have him use it. In this case, watching for fleeing herds can suggest a predator in pursuit (above, top), while a closer inspection likewise can reveal the sabretooth tiger roaming its habitat (above, bottom), in one instance with prey in its jaws!
The advantage of using the owl's hunter vision is that observing your prey (or foes) locates it in relation to you on the HUD minimap. I couldn't track the tiger the first time I found him with my owl, but the second time I was able to find him with Takkar (above, top) and track him until he stopped to eat his catch. At that point, I distracted him with bait (above, middle) before creeping up and at long last taming this fearsome foe (above, bottom).
A short time later and only a few feet away was another example of why the Beast Master role is the perfect motivation for hunting and taming predators in Oros. During my pursuit of the sabretooth tiger, I noticed a human settlement I wanted to explore so headed to it after taming my tiger. However, a rare two-horned rhinoceros found it first and was busy making souffle of the people in its vicinity.
It was exciting to make this discovery as I had no idea such a creature even exited in Oros. I began to follow, not sure how it would react to me, but soon enough it charged though, thankfully, it only brushed past me. I think it was attacking my tiger, though in that case it's debatable who initiated the prehistorical brawl. In any event, the two fought tooth and nail, or claw and horn, until the tiger fell (above).
If a sabretooth tiger was no match for this rhino, a scrawny little warrior probably wouldn't last very long, especially to judge by its previous victims, one of whom appeared to have been tossed when I first arrived. Still, my alternatives were limited so I readied a flaming spear and impaled the wooly side of my quarry (above, top) before it charged headlong at my precarious position in its path (above, middle).
Thank goodness it can't alter course on a dime. I quickly sidestepped the angry beast and sprinted to the side of my ailing tiger, reviving it before I ran to a nearby tree in order to put some distance, and a stout object, between me and the rhino. When I turned around, the rhino and tiger were again engaged in ferocious combat, only this time the rhino was now engulfed in flame. Another flaming spear brought it down.
The encounters I've described here help illustrate what is one of the strengths of Primal, namely, the animal artificial intelligence. Like Radiant AI in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the beasts of Oros and, to an extent, the human inhabitants all demonstrate impressive reactions to each other. There is joy in just being a spectator, though real reward in being an active participant to this prehistoric circus.
No circus is complete without animal rides, and riding my sabretooth tiger was my next goal. Commanding one's tiger is great fun and makes hunting and taming it worthwhile, but riding it into battle against one's enemies is the ultimate reward. I can say that in retrospect because it proved even more fun than I could have anticipated. After securing Karoosh, unlocking his Beast Rider skill and acquiring it, I rode into danger.
Much like flying one's owl, Beast Masters can steer grounded predators. Riding them thereby takes on a kind of third person perspective even though one's view is still that of Takkar's. What I mean is that the rider becomes a spectator of sorts as your predator attacks foes. In my case, I rode my tiger into rival tribesmen, who were quickly overcome by repeat clawing and even biting, I think (above).
Attacks are appropriately vicious as my tiger hit, grabbed and shook its prey while I watched from over its shoulder. Not to be outdone, or left out, Takkar likewise can strike at enemies while riding. I did swing my club, and can only assume that using bow and arrow, which might be a better choice when in the saddle, so to speak, is also an option. Whatever the case, riding predators into combat is definitely cool.
In conclusion, I appreciate anyone who managed the long read to this point and hope it was enlightening. For myself, I was eager to share my experience as it's proven one of my favorites of this generation. I look forward to resuming Takkar's role as Beast Master, hunting and taming all the other predators, and combating enemies whether on foot or the back of predators. Though, yeah, preferably the latter.
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