Exoprimal: First Look, First Thoughts

Look out, y’all, there’s a new contender for team/hero shooter out there, Exoprimal… and it has dinosaurs! I remain notoriously bad for knowing when new games are coming out, so I only realized this had been released when I saw Twitch streamers I follow playing it. Then, as a bonus, I saw that it’s currently on Game Pass, so I gave it a shot!

Exoprimal key art showing several of the game's exofighter mech suits against a background of varying types of dinosaurs.
Not gonna lie, it’s giving Power Ranger Dino: Charge, Thunder and/or Fury, right? Is it just me?

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Exoprimal as I hadn’t heard anything about it, and all the visuals were about dinosaurs, but it’s a 5-person PvP / PvE team shooter. Set in a futuristic sci-fi world where human exofighters don exosuits to fight against the most dangerous game.

No, not man, I was thinking it too. But in this case, it’s dinosaurs!

To get the obvious thing out of the way, Exoprimal doesn’t seem to be striving to bring anything completely new to the team shooter genre. You have different types of named exosuits, each with their own specialty: Assault, Tank, or Support. To get the other obvious thing out of the way… yes, it’s like a lot of other games out there and because of that, you’ll be able to hop in without too much onboarding.

* I should note that I have never played Dino Crisis, but I have read articles about how fans were expecting this might be a new version of that game and how it’s not that game–or even a revisit–at all.

The games this has reminded me of, so far, and that I’ll try not to mention again in this article: Anthem, Destiny, Outriders, Overwatch, Battleborn, Paladins, Apex Legends, Valorant, etc. so it’s very much a recommendations-based, “If you liked these games, you might like Exoprimal.” Which served me well once I got past the tutorial. You’re always given one of the easier-to-use shooty DPS type characters to start with to give you a good understanding of how things work. From then you decide to try tanking, healing, damage-dealing, the usual… and prepare for the gameplay loop.

What has pulled me in so far, isn’t the gameplay loop, but the narrative one.

Screenshot from Exoprimal. Our character looks at a HUD-like digital screen. At the top of the screen are gameplay options, with our player currency in the upper right. On the left is a panel to get into a game or go to the training room.
Ace, the protagonist AKA us. You can make them look however you want, but like many games, we don’t speak.

Quick summary: You start out working as an exofighter with a squad, all working for a benevolent over-corporation (the game makes sure to show you a “our company cares” commercial that is so over the top, you know they’re evil) in the year 2043. The company has been using an A.I. to direct squads like yours to deal with unexplained dinosaur outbreaks via unexplained vortexes that started 3 years ago.

Then something happens to throw your squad back in time, 3-years prior, into a series of everlasting wargames where you team up with other exofighters, all deemed to be from alternate timelines, against dinosaurs. Over and over again, so that the A.I. can collect “combat data” for reasons that aren’t made clear since the most important thing your squad has to do is survive.

The gameplay itself is fun! You’re in a responsive souped up sci-fi mech suit, armed with weapons and special abilities, and you’re facing off against waves upon waves of dinosaurs determined to tear your team limb from limb. And while it is fun, it would quickly get tiresome if you don’t like team shooters, if you don’t care for teaming up and chatting with randos (you can turn voice chat off), if the repetitive gameplay just isn’t your thing. I get it.

Screenshot from Exoprimal showing the Analysis Map, piecing together various bits of data into a whole picture to solve the mystery of why our squad is here.
I would like to file a petition that string theory boards get a style upgrade. Maybe there’s a Canva template for that?

The thing is… there’s a mystery. And the game is really good at feeding you a little bit at a time. Every time you complete a match, you’re given another piece of the puzzle, usually involving more images, audio or a video cutscene that shows your squad talking and piecing together information. It’s essentially a digital “red-thread” evidence board. And it keeps me coming back.

I have already put an embarrassing number of hours into a game that I thought I was kinda meh about. However, I will say that playing it first on stream with live reactions in my own chat, then seeing it on other streams… it wasn’t the right game for me. I worry enough about repetitive content, which is why I generally don’t go for team shooters, Destiny 2 notwithstanding.

But playing it offline? With some music and comfort food and cocktails. While lurking in other streams, or a movie or TV series on another screen? It’s perfect. I’ve learned how to play well enough to be an effective team member. Matches don’t take that much time to play through, and at the end, I get shinies, in-game currency, and most important… another piece of the puzzle. That much has me utterly hooked.

Now, for the fair to middling things about the game. If you don’t have Game Pass, it’s currently $60 USD on all platforms, which is a lot, especially for a game that still has in-game transactions to buy skins, stickers, emblems and the like.

Exoprimal is using a “season pass” model, which seems to be the new thing for free-to-play and live service. And you’re also rewarded for staying faithful to an exosuit with an additional track of goodies for each one. Encouraging players to either specialize, or make sure they’re spending plenty of time in each and every suit.

Some suits, however, do have to be earned with player milestones, or you can buy access to them directly. The game is clever here, because in the training area, you can practice with any available exosuit, unlocked or not. So you can try before you buy, and obviously they’d like you to get hooked.

The game does a great job at giving your character a wonderful supporting cast, which you also learn about via the doled-out data fragments, but that’s all they’re there for. They don’t actively join you in matches, and are mostly there as pillars for the narrative, holding the game up around the gameplay loop.

As for your character… you’re the silent protagonist. Like other games, they make jokes about you being the strong silent type, but it puts you in that weird place of watching a movie while also sort of starring in the movie. And while character creation is nice, it’s limited in body types, and it feels like the exosuit call outs don’t respect the “masculine/feminine” option available.

Screenshot from Exoprimal. Post-match results showing the 5 best players from the previous game standing next to their exosuits. urbanbohemian has a commendation for repairing the most allies' health.
A match commendation? Not bad for a casual player, huh?

I also feel a weird way about their calling the Support/repair exosuit “Witchdoctor“. It’s a term I wish games would get away from, period, since they’re mostly steeped in racist stereotypes. And rather than the exosuits feeling gender-neutral–because they’re non-sentient exosuits, there’s a definite lean-in towards two models being pink and purple. It was giving shades of G1 Transformers “Female Autobots” to me, while the Tank and Assault exosuits were clearly a boys’ club. (The sniper class looks to be more femme coded as well, but it’s one of the exosuits that you have to earn and/or buy.)

I turned off voice chat, both outgoing and incoming, but I found that the game supplies some auto callouts from other players’ exosuits. So while playing as the support/healing class, I was getting automated messages of “thanks” or “I needed that” from the other exosuits, each in their own voice style. So that was at least nice and a lot easier to deal with than probably being shouted at by randos that they needed healing.

Cross platform play, so far, isn’t possible beyond being matched up with players from other platforms. If all of your friends are on the same platform, you can team up, but if not, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll be put on a team with them.

A game mode that lets you play together with your friends on other platforms is currently under consideration. However, this may take some time, and will be considered for future title updates.

— Capcom, Exoprimal site

I’d watch some gameplay first, and if you have Game Pass, try it out before going all in. Me? I’m gonna keep on playing, one match at a time until I learn more about what’s going on. I confess that this carrot is keeping my interest. One thing I love with games is when the narrative supports the “silly” gameplay. Especially in team shooters, because why are you always on a team in constantly repeating matches where you might see your duplicate on the other team? Clones? Experiment? Mirror universe? Alternate timelines?

At the least, Exoprimal has a slow IV drip of content to hold my attention. Otherwise, earning skins and buying exosuit mods, and fighting dinosaurs is fun, but that doesn’t set it apart from many others in the genre.

It won’t be a forever game, and I’m curious to see what’s in its future as far as content updates. But for something that I can grab four friends and we can all be extremely silly, chaotic and fight dinosaurs while not stressing too much about “beating” the other team? I’m in.

Besides, now I just have to know how the story ends! 💖

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