Released: July 14, 2023
Systems: PC, PS4/5 (reviewed), Xbox One/XS
Exoprimal is what happens when Earth Defense Force tries to be Overwatch via dinosaurs and ends up being better than it has any right to be.
A stupid concept for a stupid game, Exoprimal is an absurd mashup of existing ideas that works shockingly well. The sheer dumbassery is very much a positive point, though sadly Capcom's marketing, presentation, and general structuring of the game make it appear much more generic than any media about blasting hordes of dinosaurs with robot suits ought to.
Make no mistake, the bandwagoning image hides an arcadey shooter/slasher with its own distinct flavor. It's a flavor I very much appreciate.
The very premise is a load of nonsense - you’re a fighter in a mech repeatedly going back in time to when dinosaurs started going forward in time. Yup. A rogue A.I. is pulling teams of fellow “Exofighters” from alternate dimensions to compete in live combat exercises against the dinosaurs, because apparently the straightforward concept of “shoot massive reptiles” wasn’t high minded enough. The lack of conceptual simplicity is actually a damn shame in this particular case, because it could have done a lot more with a lot less.
Exoprimal’s introductory cutscene is a propagandistic corporate video extolling the badass virtues of Exofighters with satirical silliness reminiscent of a Paul Verhoeven film. The idea of company-owned soldiers questionably defending humanity is quickly ditched in favor of wholly unnecessary sci-if contrivances with very little humor and dreary characters who talk so much about “collecting data” they all sound like an off-brand David Xanatos.
I’d much rather play in the world I’ve emphatically been torn away from.
As a multiplayer game, Exoprimal is a weird little thing that works surprisingly well, and I’ve been thoroughly hooked from the start. Two teams compete in a race to complete objectives involving the slaughter of thousands of dinosaurs before a final mission. The finale will either be a huge PVE battle in which both teams cooperate against dino swarms and bosses, or a straightforward PVP mission such as escorting an object or holding territory while surrounded by aggressive dinosaurs.
Players choose from a bunch of specialized Exosuits broadly categorized between Assault, Tank, and Support roles, with teams forever facing swarms of velociraptors backed up by their larger cousins. Raptors are treated essentially like the zombies from World War Z's movie and videogame adaptations, forming an ocean of mindless creatures that flow over the environment to overwhelm their prey. Larger dinosaurs are almost universally dickheads, from the disruptively charging Triceratops to the HP-chomping Carnotaurus. Just a bunch of reptilian twats, the lot of them.
Oh, and the Sniper Neosaurs - modified dilophosauruses that hurl huge damage at range - can especially fuck off.
You can’t help but think of Earth Defense Force or Dynasty Warriors while endlessly shooting and hacking at hordes of brainless critters. Of course, you’re also in a mech suit with abilities and cooldowns that belong in games like Overwatch or Paladins, and the blend is genuinely incredible fun.
Victory and defeat is so dependent on the final mission that the ten minutes of gameplay beforehand can feel like a waste. Sure, you use that time to get a head start but it’s rare such an advantage means much. If you’re racing ahead in the PVE stages but the enemy team is way better at PVP, you’ll be crushingly disheartened to learn how all your previous success meant jack shit. Then again, having been on the other side and turned trailing failures into sudden victories, I can’t say that feels bad.
Toward the end of a match, each team will get a Dominator, with the side lagging behind obtaining theirs first. The Dominator allows a player to control their own Triceratops or Carnotaurus, essentially the equivalent to the Tank in Left 4 Dead. They’re quite fun to play as and hell to fight, and timing their use to be as inconvenient to the enemy as possible can make a huge difference.
The ten currently available Exosuits are all enjoyable to play as, and I’ve had a great time with pretty much all of them. My favorites include Nimbus, a skater girl whose guns switch between Rend and Mend mode for damage or healing, Roadblock, a glorified Big Daddy who can shove swarms back with its gigantic shield, and Witchdoctor, the dedicated healer who drops large repair fields and leaps around like a frog.
There’s a robot for everyone - a damage sponge with a minigun, a sniper that can freeze enemies, a samurai who turns incoming damage into vicious counterattacks, a witch that flies and debuffs enemies, a swift melee-focused assaulter, a grenadier designed for AOE attacks, and the obligatory jack-of-all soldier boy with an assault rifle.
I’ve found myself getting quite good at practically every single suit because I’ve happily spent time in all of them - all except the sniper, just because I suck at sniping. Each one is both well suited for their role and satisfying to use, plus they’re all pleasantly easy to get to grips with.
Not every individual ability on these suits is a winner, but no character feels useless because they can all do at least one cool thing. Up to three upgradable mods can be fitted to a suit, either tweaking abilities or conferring generalized passive benefits. Some of these can provide notable improvements, though a lot of them are also quite worthless. Not sure who’s gonna trade in faster reloads or more HP for a higher chance of picking up situational consumables.
One consistent criticism I have is that I feel most evasive abilities should allow for chaining into a sprint - for example, Nimbus’ ability to send holograms ahead of her and warp to them would be more useful if she maintained top speed out of it. Relatedly, mods pertaining to evasive abilities often feel like a wasted slot, and most of the fancy evades (such as Nimbus’) would honestly be more useful if they were just mundanely practical dodge rolls.
Whether slicing into dinosaurs with melee classes or firing into them with the ranged suits’ diverse array of projectiles, there’s an immediate sense of power and impact when slaughtering thousands of likely frightened animals that were doing nobody any harm before they were dragged into a confusing and hostile future. Melee suits, while enjoyable, can be uncomfortable to play with controllers at times due to their attacks being mapped to a trigger that will require nearly 15 full minutes of squeezing. It’s a bit much, and they could’ve optionally mapped melee to the reload buttons for characters that literally don’t reload.
Speaking of things being a bit much, Exoprimal’s got to sort out how its PVE missions work. Right now, the game uses PVE to tell its trainwreck of a story with obscenely lengthy and unskippable cutscenes that play out every time you’re in such missions. Considering the game is structured to be nothing but replayable, having cutscenes of this length - ones that can’t be stopped because the game always assumes someone’s watching for the first time - is honestly shit.
They really are bloody long, too - I’ve been able to comfortably take toilet breaks while the game prattled for minutes during what’s meant to be an online match.
Exoprimal seems to know most players will ditch PVE as quick as they can, since you get an XP bonus for selecting “random” when picking what kind of final mission you get. Sticking only to PVP will cost you that bonus, but the alternative is sitting through the same short films over and over again. Nothing ever happens in the cutscenes either, it’s just people talking, which they could do while you fucking play. It’s not like the game’s averse to it, either - Leviathan, the antagonistic artificial intelligence, never shuts his annoying mouth.
There is an entire menu section full of optional cutscenes, which is where the repetitive in-game ones should be relegated to. At the very least, offer a vote to skip option! I’m baffled by the absence of voting no matter how obvious it is that Exoprimal is in love with its own bad writing.
Another big problem, and this is sadly true of most online games these days, is the lack of content at launch. After a long weekend I’d unlocked everything I wanted while playing the same few objectives across the same tiny smattering of maps in the one single game mode currently available. Now, I’ve been loving this game enough to where I’ve not minded playing the same stuff (cutscenes notwithstanding), but things do get repetitive quickly. At least it’s not broken, and online play runs really smoothly, which is more than can be said for most so-called “service” games.
This feature-poor launch reflects the game industry’s distasteful practice of releasing games with minimal features to squirt them out quickly and finish them after they’ve been sold.
Speaking of distasteful practices, I doubt you’ll be shocked to learn this thing’s been monetized with the usual suite of cash grabs - an obligatory battle pass, obligatory cosmetics that come with obligatory rarities, obligatory early unlocks, all the garbage you know and loathe.
As a point in its favor, Exoprimal isn’t a remarkably grindy game - its “Bikcoin” currency is awarded quite regularly - and at least it’s lootboxes are purely distributed as match rewards… for now, at least. There’s also no premium currency bullshit so technically it’s not been stuffed with microtransactions, just a bunch of DLC “packs” with cosmetic fluff. Games of this ilk regularly turn the screws later down the line, so it’s worth staying aware that any of this could potentially get worse.
Its monetization may be on the less harmful end of the spectrum, but the shamelessness of it all is nonetheless embarrassing and undermining.
Aesthetically, Exoprimal follows the generally colorful and exaggerated style seen in most hero shooters, with Exosuits designed for broad appeal and cutting very distinct figures. I largely enjoy the visual designs for each suit, though a few get too close to Michael Bay’s overdesigned Transformers for my liking. Each suit is also voiced, which is… fine. They all sound fine. None of the long cutscenes have explained how Exosuits have their own unique personalities and lines when your shittily created avatar is meant to be piloting them, but maybe I just missed that.
Oh right, yeah, there’s a character creator at the beginning, and I won’t say it’s limited, but I will say that everyone shown on the match results screen always resembles the same three people.
Exoprimal suffers from being an online “AAA” game, one that can’t hide how much of it was made simply to check boxes on the marketing department’s spreadsheets. The thick skin of gaudy publisher trappings hides a genuinely engrossing, supremely fun game. It’s a delightfully silly arcade-style affair with a unique offering of competitive co-op action, featuring a range of wonderfully designed playable botsuits and dinosaurs that prove highly amusing to battle.
If it could learn to shut the fuck up and just offer its frightfully moreish gameplay, Exoprimal could be a truly fantastic experience… at least when the developers get around to properly finishing it. I nonetheless think it says a lot that, for all my caveats, I kinda fell in love with this weird hybridized freak of a game.
It’s Jurassic Earth Defense Overwatch War Z and it looks like it should be bad but it isn’t. I can’t be anything but impressed by that.