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Ever since Far Cry 2, the Far Cry games have stuck pretty closely to a specific formula: The player takes control of a random dude that gets placed in a hostile environment that straddles the border of reality and fantasy, encounters some eccentric villain with a penchant for philosophical monologues, joins some sort of rebel faction to fight against the big bad, captures a bunch of enemy outposts, kills a bunch of animals, crafts a bunch of upgrades and climbs a multitude of towers.

While Far Cry Primal still adheres to much of that same Far Cry formula, the ways in which it does deviate are quite interesting, and especially surprising coming from a developer in Ubisoft Montreal, that has grown notorious for playing it very safe when it comes to sequels for their most popular series.

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As the name suggests, Far Cry Primal takes place at the start of the mesolithic era, a time when beasts still ruled the land, and mankind was just as often the hunted as they were the hunters. One of the first things I noticed in my one hour of playtime with Far Cry Primal was how alive the world of Oros felt. Animals are everywhere, and there’s a feeling of an actual ecosystem at play in the world. A grazing pack of yaks might suddenly get attacked by a jaguar, causing the pack to sprint away in a panic; further down you might find a hunting party of a rival tribe looking to secure some meat; and when night rolls around, off in the distance you might be able to spot the glowing eyes of a wolf pack staring you down. Animals have always played a large part in previous Far Cry games, but in Far Cry Primal they’re front and center of the experience.

Even more so when you take into consideration the fact that Takkar, our lead character in Primal, is a Beast Master, which gives him the unique ability to tame many of the most vicious predators of Oros. To tame a beast, you must first throw out some bait to get its attention. Once the beast starts eating the bait, you move up to it and press the tame button. There’s a great moment while taming a beast when the animal notices your presence. It immediately starts snarling and goes into defense mode. But Takkar holds up his hands, calms the animal down, and just like that, the vicious lion that looked like it was about to tear you limb from limb now looks like an adorable kitty cat, purring as you pet its head.

In my hands-on time, I counted at least 15 tamable beasts on the menu screen, with each one having their own stats and specialties. The jaguar, for example, excels at sneaking up on unsuspecting foes and has the unique perk of being able to kill enemies from stealth without alerting any of their nearby allies. The brown bear on the other hand, is basically a tank, capable of withstanding a huge amount of punishment and is able to draw the attention of nearby enemies, allowing you to sneak behind them and execute your own instakilling executions. You’re able to swap out beasts on the fly, which offers a great deal of variety in terms of how you can approach any given combat scenario.

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Tamed animals can die, but once you’ve tamed them for the first time, reviving them is a simple matter of collecting a particular herb in the wild and spending it on the beast menu. Animals that have taken damage can also be healed by feeding them meat.

In addition to your pet that always follows you around, you can also call upon the help of an owl that gives players a bird’s eye view in order to tag all of the enemies in the area, like you’d expect from a Far Cry game. That’s not all though. Players can also issue commands to their pet beast while in control of the owl, drop a variety of different types of bombs from overhead, and even have the owl itself perform a divebomb attack to take out an unsuspecting enemy.

In one of my favorite moments of the demo, I was able to clear out an outpost without ever stepping foot inside by dropping a poison bomb from overhead with my owl that caused enemies to go berserk and fight each other, then sending in my bear while I simply watched the ensuing carnage.

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Crafting, scavenging, and upgrading your character all seem relatively unchanged from previous Far Cry titles. Most of your weapon and item upgrades are obtained by hunting specific animals and skinning their hides, while new skills are learned by spending skill points obtained through leveling up. Skills are separated into six different primary categories: Survival, gathering, beast master, hunting, fighting and crafting. There were also two other skill trees that were completely locked off for the demo, but seemed to be tied to specific NPCs.

Map exploration on the other hand is handled a little bit differently in that there are no towers in Far Cry Primal! Hooray! Points of interests on the map are revealed simply by wandering into uncharted territory, with certain beasts even granting a bonus to the amount of fog of war that they reveal, making them the most suitable companions for when you’re simply exploring. Capturing outposts grants you fast travel points, and while I wasn’t able to experience it myself, I was told that you’ll even be able to ride certain tamable beasts.

Not much information was provided regarding the game’s story, but one of the more interesting aspects of the game’s presentation was the fact that all of the characters speak Proto-Indo-European, which is an actual reconstructed prehistoric language, lending a nice sense of authenticity to the Stone Age setting. It also should be noted that Far Cry Primal will be an entirely single player focused game, with no co op or competitive multiplayer to speak of.

All in all, I had a great time with the Far Cry Primal, but I didn’t walk away concern free. The melee combat, while appropriately brutal, lacked depth and amounted to little more than rushing forward and mashing the attack button. With a lack of guns, and a reliance on just bows, bombs, and your beasts for ranged combat, I personally hoped that melee combat would be a little more satisfying.

Still, Far Cry Primal is the most refreshing Far Cry has been since Blood Dragon, and I’m eager to see if it can maintain the momentum in had in the hour of playtime I had throughout the entire game. We’ll find out when Far Cry Primal releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on March 1, 2016.

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