I thought Exoprimal succeeded in creating dinosaurs against mechs, which is to say the coolest concept ever, boring in my current review. I held out hope that it would improve, however, as many reviewers assured me that its fun side would finally surface. “Just play several more hours and things really open up! Variety in dinos, in modes, in just about everything!”. To some extent, they were right. There are some fun times to be had when queuing for Dino Survival and suddenly, remarkably, things have changed a bit.
But the game does not respect your time. It forces you to spend hours killing repetitive dinosaurs and then only gives you luck, chance to kill dinos in ways that aren’t excruciatingly identical. Even as someone having fun in senseless carnage, I’d much rather ditch my robot costume and let the dinosaurs run wild. Dinosaurs don’t deserve this.
As a team-based competitive shooter, Exoprimal is an outlier. Where you fight more for control of a large ring or leaderboard supremacy, Exoprimal has teams of five waves of dinos slaying in a race to the finish line. Dino Survival is the only mode at the moment, where matches are split into two phases. The majority of the race defeats hordes as quickly as possible, with the goal of getting to a “final encounter” where the race is still on, but the objective switches to loving, escorting a cube, charging a hammer, or sometimes: taking on a radioactive T-Rex covered in purple blisters. Points go to Exoprimal for being, at least, different from the usual live service fodder. Extra points are awarded for you to choose if you want to queue for a match that involves PVP or not at all, with the main difference being zero fights between teams in final encounters if you opt for PVE only.
The game’s more traditional leanings lie in its classes: Tank, DPS, and Support. Some are pretty predictable, aka guy-with-big-shield, while others like the Witch Doctor have a cattle prod and the ability to sky-jump into the action. At any time during a match, you can switch between classes depending on your mood, though I’ve rarely found myself doing this unless another teammate decides they don’t want to heal people anymore. Also, once our whole team decided to go with a guy who is basically Junkrat from Overwatch and we did really well, so do what you want with it.
As with any race, this releases a primal urge to be first. This is helped by red ghosts of the opposing team appearing between waves and regular announcements letting you know if you’re faster or slower than them. What’s not so good is the game’s baffling decision to make sure the early races are about as engaging as that heartbreaking Marc Jacob ad that featured three girls saying “Daisy Daisy Daisy” over and over and over as they rolled through the grass.
Seriously, your first Dino Survival match will be your only Dino Survival match for five or six hours. I can’t tell you how much I struggled to get through those “early” hours. I often got up to look out the window or make myself a big glass of orange mango squash. I contemplated what a pleasant old European city I could have traveled to in those days, and the flaky menu from which I could have ordered an iced coffee and a cupcake. If you manage to stay strong and break through the ten hour mark, most of your matches feature a bigger mix of lizards or endgame encounters that aren’t just escort missions. However, there is always a chance that you will queue for a game and be taken back to Daisy Daisy Daisy.
That’s not to say there’s no fun in smashing waves of dinosaurs. Fun just means different things to different people, and Exoprimal is best suited for those who prefer to switch off and toast scaly guys in low-stakes competition. I can’t deny the satisfaction of raising an energy barrier and pushing a horde of raptors against a wall, or snapping your fingers and setting off a wall of fire to roast a Triceratops. But if you’re someone like me who loves the mastery of a map or the toothy thrill of a comeback, the game rarely inspires anything more than minimal effort if you’re trailing the enemy.
And I think the game’s lack of competitiveness is how detached you can feel from the opposing team while you’re running. For some, the PVE option is designed for minimal interaction. Some players want a relaxing experience – I get it. But even if the PVP is pushed towards the finish line as the teams enter the same universe and fight each other, the fights end up being sloppy affairs as everyone is transported to an awkward choke point or wide open space bathed in dinosaur distractions. There’s rarely room to coordinate either, as most abilities aren’t entirely suitable for PVP as they’re forced to co-exist with PVE. Some classes have abilities that integrate well, but don’t expect clever ally interactions or creative setups.
The game’s best moments lie in those unpredictable story beats where you suddenly face off against the T-Rex equivalent of a raid boss in a pulsating purple arena, or gaze at the horizon as a portal swells and expels a swirling mass of Pterodons so thick it’s as if they’re painting the sky black. Yet these scenarios are bound to repeat themselves because the savagery of – let me remind you – literal swarms of dinosaurs are reduced from a crushing barrage to predictable deposits.
Honestly, I think there’s a tension here between Exoprimal as a single-player and multiplayer experience, as the story, which revolves around the mystery of a dangerous AI pitting you against these dinos, mysteriously spins in the background and occasionally rears its head. On the one hand, it doesn’t want to interfere, and on the other hand, it forces you to time a certain number of games to advance the timeline and unlock the coolest things. Although I think it’s good to see how they’ve tried to be a bit more transparent with the story, where live service games and especially hero shooters often leave fans to fill in the blanks. I just think it’s crazy how they buried so much variety behind a purposefully moving story.
As for Exoprimal’s dreaded live-service items, they’re exactly what you’d expect: a battle pass filled with coins and dangling coins for your guns, zebra skins, and dance emotes. The cash register. All aggressively vanilla, but at least it doesn’t pay off, I guess. Otherwise, there’s not much to chase other than a few new mech suits or some pretty boring upgrades. If you’re looking for a team-based shooter where you drift off for a bit and don’t care about much else, then you’ll have a lot of fun here. Anyone else out there looking for a serious new hero shooter? Hey, that’s not going to inspire anything other than mostly frustration. Here’s hoping the devs at least scrap the story grind early on, so maybe, just maybe, this could be a path to something better… if it’s not gone by then.
This review is based on a review version of the game provided by publisher Capcom.