Exoprimal was consistently not quite the game I thought it would be going in. From the reveal trailer, I thought it might play like a semi-open world team-based action game. Subsequent trailers then showed cooldowns and ultimates, like those in arena shooters. In the end, I got neither of these options and that feels like it was for the best.
Exoprimal constantly lulls you into thinking you have it mastered, only for it to shake up the formula a little and give you something else. It is both a slow burn and incredibly fast-paced. For this reason, it’s one of the most interesting releases of the year.
This being said, it still takes after modern multiplayer games, with tonnes of microtransactions available on launch and a day-one battle pass - an awfully strange move that puts it forward as a game it isn't really trying to be.
Unlike many multiplayer games, Exoprimal really cares about its story. In 2040, Vortexes start to appear on Earth, which shoot out genetically modified dinosaurs. Then, a company named Aibius send in private troops to tackle the Vortexes and keep the dinosaurs at bay.
When your player character crash lands on an Island, all that's left is your team and ‘Leviathan’, a rogue AI from Aibius that generates ‘War Games’, which see you constantly fight dinosaurs and other teams for resources. You’re left wondering how to get off the island and how to end the onslaught of battles you’re being subjected to.
In this sense, the story is simultaneously a personal drama, a time loop narrative, and an action film. You have to regularly engage in War Games, in order to research why you’ve been sent here and how you can finally escape.
This is honestly a great setup for a multiplayer game as it justifies playing the same modes over and over again. As well as upgrading your level, exosuits, and the battle pass, by competing in these modes, you acquire pieces of data that help solve the mystery at the centre of the story. Your online opponents in each map are other mercenaries, aiming to get to that intel before you do.
Teams are made up of five players and you have to pick out your exosuit from a handful of class archetypes. These are Assault, Tank, and Support. The Assault class is all about damage, but can't take much in return. They will be wiped out quickly if you don't have someone taking all the fire. The tanks have a lot of health and focus on crowd control, via taunts and AOE damage. Finally, support players are responsible for healing and reviving, providing backup at a distance.
As you rely on your teammates to get you through each encounter, you generally need one of each type of unit, with voice comms and a small wheel ping allowing you to communicate effectively on the go.
The game only has one mode, called ‘Dino Survival’, but this is split up into a handful of different maps, which then have PvE or PvP. I always chose random here, as you get bonus experience points for doing so, but both versions are well thought out and reward you for how you play. There are two rounds to each of them. In the first round, you are commanded to gain ground as fast as possible, capturing certain points or killing enough Dinosaurs. You will not face any other enemies at this point.
When PvP is enabled, your second round will allow you to directly attack another team of players, while also taking on standard objectives. This could mean standing on a moving point, sort of like the Payload from Overwatch, or taking part in a simple Capture the Flag mode. Both work excellently and every map feels balanced, thanks to the game giving the teams a dinosaur each to control and new buffs to unlock.
When you’re in PvE mode, you’re still operating alongside an enemy team, but you can both achieve a victory if you complete the full two rounds within 15 seconds of each other. No matter how you play, there is a friendly sense of competition in each game.
Combat feels excellent in Exoprimal. Many of the weaker dinosaurs go down in a hit or two, so you can wipe out entire waves with a single well-timed attack. This being said, big dinosaurs are incredibly tough if you’re uncoordinated and that is only amplified if there are any other enemies around.
There are 10 total classes in the game and I managed to get every one of them to level 10. In this time, I didn't feel a single one lag behind - an impressive feat. Each, assault, tank, and support, feel viable in their own way and interesting to take on. Not only this, but there's a depth to them that only started to come out as I watched better players handle them.
Classes are easy to pick up, but feel like they take hours to really master. This is a great balance that makes trying out new roles feel rewarding. That being said, within hours, I spotted a meta forming that wouldn’t go away. This may have something to do with the shooting.
Up Close and Personal
Exoprimal’s combat feels better when you get close to foes. Though shooting classes do exactly what they should, they don't feel quite as accurate and fun as the melee classes or even the grenade flingers. Firing controls on console feel a little bit finicky. This would likely go unnoticed if the melee classes didn't feel so good to use.
This is not the only downside to the game. As it is a multiplayer title that ties in story to game modes, you have to play an awful lot of matches to see what it really has to offer. You can play upwards of ten Dino Survival games before you see your first real cutscene and it takes even longer to get better than that.
Near the end of the game, Dino Survival becomes a mode you can never quite predict. One match may have you fight a huge poisonous T-Rex in an arena containing ten people at one time, whereas another has you protect a bridge from 1000 raptors that all arrive simultaneously. This combines story and gameplay in ways that make the match feel like a real event that all ten players in the lobby are equally involved in.
A bitter start
The game you get at the start of Exoprimal is much more boring and safe than this. With the launch on Xbox Game Pass, I worry many players won't bother to get past this stage. There's also a rather jarring amount of DLC packs you can buy on the store that essentially equate to a £5 skin for one of the ten classes.
By the end of Exoprimal, you earn quite a lot of the game's currency and you can't purchase it with real money, so I don't see any point in buying the premium skins. These skins can't be unlocked for free, but they are mostly recolours of other legendary skins. Ultimately, it's just a shame to see so many microtransactions immediately pop up.
Exoprimal often feels like a game from 2008, in a really great way. Bashing dinosaurs as part of a team and upgrading exosuits is fun, but the strange pacing of the story and many ways it’s been monetised certainly leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
A copy of Exoprimal was provided by the publisher for coverage purposes.