Primeval: Early Access Review

Primeval is currently in Steam Early Access.

You can find a video version of this review here: Primeval Early Access Review [Digital Wargame] – YouTube

Overview

Primeval is an original board/wargame with a unique persistent progression system. Every player pieces together a domain from which they draw power.

From there, they are pitted together in battle where opposing players’ domains are merged to form the game board. They wage war by summoning units and casting spells in an attempt to take each other’s castles.

All participants receive currency in the form of essence, but the winner’s domain grows in size, while the losers could lose a piece of land, or even their entire domain leaving them to re-forge it with a brand new plan.

Prime Power

At its core, Primeval is a digitized miniatures war game. But Primeval takes advantage of its video game nature to implement cool mechanics that would be clunky as a physical tabletop game.

Every player builds a domain by buying random hexes. Each hex has its own element and bonuses, and these directly dictate how you may build your army. Most lands have a colored resource, oceans give blue resources, while lava gives red, for example.

Once you have the starting lands of your realm, you purchase your loadout. Preferably picking up units and spells matching the colored resources you have available. Finally, you outfit your domain with various buildings.

The land types of your domain dictate what resources you can generate.

An interesting twist with Primeval, is its half about developing a strategy, and half about adapting with what you are given. You don’t choose the type of lands you get or how they are placed, even when winning matches. You need to adapt to the situation, and it’s actually pretty clever.

On your turn, the game picks a few random lands in your domain, and you gain the resources they grant to summon units and cast spells. This is where your building choices come in. You need to make seriously difficult decisions about how to layout your buildings because you never know how the battlefield will look once your domain is merged with enemies.

Your castle is your most important piece because if it’s destroyed, you lose. But other buildings are the key to helping you defend it. You might place a farm that increases the number of resources a land generates, or a market to pull resources from every adjacent land if the game happens to pick its hex.

How you choose to layout your resource generation will depend on your needs. How much your units and spells cost, what colors they require, and what your domain looks like. Each hex can only have one building, and resource buildings are only part of your choices.

You can place towers that block enemy movement and allow your units to attack from far away. Forges or Dojos can increase their stats or a temple can aid in healing.

Some hexes, like Wasteland don’t provide resources, so growing can have a downside.

An important facet to keep in mind, is while you can destroy buildings to refund some essence, every other choice is permanent. You can’t remove or change lands, units, or spells from your loadout. You will, of course, lose lands. Which means you may also lose some of your loadout that you can then replace. But that’s the fundamental concept of Primeval, adapting your strategy with the hand you’re dealt.

It can be frustrating, but also satisfying at the same time. The players you face are dealing with the same limitation, it’s survival of the fittest implemented in wargame form, and it’s pretty cool.

This Means War

Combat is turned based, and matches can have 2 to 8 players. The majority of this review was conducted by playing against my partner 1 on 1 and a few games against the developer.

Each turn you receive random resources based on your domain and the buildings you have placed which allow you to cast spells and summon units. Each unit has stats like attack, health, and a defense stat that sort of functions like armor. The lands themselves influence all of it. With different lands requiring various amount of movement points and granting defense bonuses to units standing on them.

Most units have some type of special ability as well, and you need to balance your resource spending between them and your spells. It has a nice tug of war feel, as you have to strike a careful balance between protecting your own castle, and attacking the enemies.

The wargame portion is solid.

There is a lot of strategy to be had in the moment-to-moment battles, especially given the wild combinations that any two armies might have. You might have sea focused creatures and giant insects, while your foe is slinging Treants and Dragons at you.

The environment shifts as the battle rages. New hexes pop up altering the map, and random events might occur. Some tiles may flood, or a lava beast might emerge behind your front line. It’s nice that the battle scape always evolves and shifts around.

However, the domains can combine in a way where there is a single path between realms. This can be somewhat of a drag, as it then becomes a slugfest until one side breaks through. The bottleneck may change as the terrain shifts, but that’s random, and those kinds of meat grinders can make the game go on much longer than it probably should.

Rough & Jagged Edges

While Primeval’s core concept and gameplay are unique, interesting, and a lot of fun, its surrounding layer is extremely rough, perhaps the most jagged game I’ve ever been willing to review.

As I mentioned before, your domain building decisions are permanent, and you can’t undo them. The game doesn’t only fail to tell you this, it gives no indication of what any of the buttons on the interface do. There’s no tutorial at all. The game expects you to make irreversible decisions in a strategy war game before you even know how to play.

My initial domain was incredibly flawed because I wasn’t aware of any of it. I had resources I couldn’t really use, my sands granted me yellow resources, and the only yellow spell I had…created more yellow resources. I spent many games getting pummeled by my partner until I lost enough that my domain fell apart and I could remake it.

Lands also can affect movement and a units defense.

By that point I ran into a power imbalance. My partner had grown while my new domain was wimpy, so I got pummeled some more. Then she went up against the developer, lost and got extremely unlucky. She lost her whole domain in a single stroke. Then we were on even ground again.

The game’s lack of instruction continues into the actual battles, with no instruction on how to play. I eventually watched a YouTube tutorial, which the developer then linked inside the game. Certainly helpful, but a band-aid at best.

Even now I have no idea what some of the status effects do, like burn. The tooltips don’t provide that information. I don’t always know what environmental disaster does when they occur. At one point a pyramid popped up and I was able to deliver a scepter to it, and I have no idea what it did.

A drought! Pity I have no idea what it did.

This massive lack of information would be a huge flaw in any strategy game, but it’s twice as painful in Primeval due to the irreversible nature it wants you to adapt to.

The framerate was always choppy, it largely didn’t matter because it’s a board game, but still worth mentioning. Finally, the game has no single-player component. One is in development, but at this time you need other people to play against, which can be quite difficult.

Verdict

Primeval needs some serious smoothing and user interface work. The state it’s in will never retain any player less stubborn than me, and let me tell you, I’d send a minotaur packing in a bull-headed contest.

That said, it’s a game I want to see succeed because the framework is there. It’s fun and I have a strong urge to play it. I love the concept of combining adaption with custom strategy, combining domains, the varied lands, and the whole war game itself.

I have chatted with the developer personally while I was reviewing the game. They seem dedicated, eager, and willing to address the complaints I’ve voiced, and I really hope they follow through. If it gets cleaned up so players can learn the game in a productive manner, I’ll have no problem recommending it.

If you have the patience to check out the developer’s YouTube tutorial, you could even give it a shot now. Assuming you have a friend you can reliably play with as the player base is currently very small.

Until then, Wishlist it, follow it, and watch the updates closely. Primeval has real potential.

Two copies of Primeval were provided for Gideon’s Gaming by RivStyx Games Studio for the purpose of review.

You might also enjoy my review of Age of Wonders: Planetfall

Pros

  • Clever domain building mechanic that combines players realms to form the game board
  • Plenty of strategy during domain building and in battle
  • Interesting adaptation mechanic that forces you to come up with strategies with what you’re dealt
  • Solid war game with lots of units, spells and tactical fun

Cons

  • You must make irreversible choices without knowing how to play
  • No tutorial and very low game information, many buttons don’t even have tool tips
  • No single player component means playing relies on a very tiny multiplayer community
  • Choppy Frame rate
  • Power imbalances between winners and losers can occur