Beggars and Choosers
There’s a rather frustrating trend that continually happens year after year. Especially around various gaming shows, such as Summerfest and The Game Awards. The internet will be full of folks claiming that the game industry is bland now. That everything feels by the numbers and safe. And that we only ever get remakes or rehashed sequels to existing games.
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Yet, every time something different is announced or released. It gets completely ignored and ends up selling poorly. I may not be a smart man, but I can connect the dots. If unique games sell poorly, while established ideas sell boatloads, guess which one is going to get made more often?
After diving into Exoprimal’s open beta, I can’t help but feel I’m going to watch this happen again. Exoprimal is a damn fun game with a pretty unique concept. It borrows a lot of existing ideas but molds them into something that feels really novel. Sadly, people just don’t seem to care.
A Stupid Idea Made Brilliantly
Exoprimal is a bunch of silly ideas executed brilliantly. You compete in a series of interdimensional wargames run by a rogue AI. The wargames themselves pit you against hordes of dinosaurs using high-tech Exosuits. The story is, of course, outlandishly goofy, but that’s fine. It simply serves as a foundational excuse to take on a T-Rex as Iron Man.
Exoprimal borrows numerous aspects of other games and blends them into something entirely unique that’s also an utter joy to play. The ten Exosuits have unique roles and abilities like a hero shooter. However, the core gameplay involves battling hordes of dinosaurs while the suits themselves control like a much more polished Anthem, without the flight mechanics.
The game is match based and you’re competing against another team, but for most of the round, the conflict isn’t direct. You’re racing to complete objectives faster than the other team in order to gain a headstart in the finale. However, you can be granted a dominator that allows you to control a dinosaur and invade the enemy team in a way that’s reminiscent of the Gambit mode in Destiny 2.
In the finale, both teams are brought to the same map and can battle directly while trying to complete the last objective. You’re still fighting hordes of dinosaurs but must also contend with Exo-on-Exo combat that feels like a stellar combination of Anthem and Overwatch. Sometimes the game will even throw you a curveball and place all 10 players on the same team against an epic boss dinosaur.
It’s not any one piece that makes Exoprimal stand out. It’s a combination of elements that come together and work in perfect unison that make the game feel as great as it does. The end result is something that feels familiar in places, but the overall experience is unlike anything I’ve played before.
Every Gear Turns With Purpose
Exoprimal executes a specific idea around the type of game it wants to be and makes nearly all of its mechanics center on that focal point. That focal point is a competitive game where PvE meets PvP.
For example. When you go down, your teammates have 15 seconds to pick you up before you respawn. In most cases, there’s no limit to respawning, you just lose some time. If you were just fighting dinosaurs, that wouldn’t work because you could never fail.
However, since you are racing against another team, every second matters. It allows Exoprimal to have this respawn system where players get to keep playing and are never eliminated from the game. But there’s also a ton of incentive to not go down, and for your teammates to pick you up.
Teamwork is a really big part of the game, but the way the Exosuits and objectives are designed makes utilizing teamwork straightforward, even when playing with randoms. Each Exosuit is unique but falls into one of three categories between Assault, Tank, and Support. A well-balanced team is obviously ideal, and the game alerts you when you’re missing a role.
You can, however, switch between suits in the middle of the game as needed, and you can equip rigs to help fill weak spots. For example, a melee tank can equip a long-range laser, or you could throw a healing beacon onto an assault. It helps that all Exosuits are fun to play regardless of role and have their own strengths, weaknesses, and counters.
A tank Exo called Roadblock can protect the team with a shield. Since you can shoot through the shield, common sense dictates that the assault Exosuits can fire from behind him. At the same time, Roadblock is no slouch. In addition to having a strong melee attack, he can do a shield bash that will destroy weaker dinosaurs that have piled up on him, or shove back others, such as the exploding Gas Neosaurs.
The objectives shuffle you into ideal spots to work together, utilizing choke points, and situations where different team members shine. Yet, there is also a higher skill ceiling for players teaming up with friends to execute more precise tactics. It works so well that the Exoprimal beta was one of few class-based games where I got to play Assault an equal amount of time that I played Tank or Support.
The game makes playing those classes attractive enough that randoms often choose them independently, whereas I normally have to fill in the holes when match-making. Some idiot can always do something dumb that makes your team perform worse. But the tight-knit design of the gameplay loop made that a pretty rare occurrence, that itself is an incredible achievement.
I also never felt shorted when a player left and a bot had to take over. The bots knew how to play their roles really well, which is something you rarely encounter in a competitive setting.
It helps that the entire game just feels good in your hands. The way the dinosaurs move looks incredible, and the game will pile an absurd number of raptors on you at one time. I played the beta on Xbox Series X, and never ran into even a bit of slowdown despite the amount of stuff happening on screen.
The bigger dinosaurs feel like miniature Monster Hunter fights, as they can be staggered, or knocked over. There are a lot of small details I wouldn’t have expected. Going back to Road Block, you get a real physical sense of his shield. Smaller dinosaurs literally pile physically up against it, shoving you back as the Exosuit digs his heels into the dirt. A charging Triceratops can temporarily get its horns stuck inside the shield as the two struggle against each other.
The competitive element mixed with the dinosaur hordes feels great. The Exo on Exo combat is excellent, and you get a real sense of which Exosuits counter each other and the types of tactics you can utilize just by playing.
The balance actually seemed really great. Every second matters. So doing better than the other team during the lead-up is important, at the same time the game features some anti-snowball mechanisms that can let you turn a bad game around if you play well and play smart. Most of the matches I played were intense clinchers rather than complete blowouts. That might seem like it invalidates the PvE lead-up, but in practice that’s not true. You really feel those effects in your victories and defeats. Each post-game loss is a flurry of what-ifs.
“We would have won if we did the objectives faster” or “We would have won had we tackled the healer or used our dominator at this point” etc. The ability to lose a game without feeling hopeless at the loss is impressive. It’s just another victory notch on Exoprimal’s tight gameplay design.
I’m not without my own concerns about the game. Balance issues may crop up post-release, for example. I’m also worried that Capcom may break the game by shying away from their own vision. There has been a rather vocal part of the community that hates PvP altogether. Capcom has already made some concessions toward that crowd. Unfortunately, I think that’s the wrong move.
Exoprimal works precisely because it’s designed with a specific vision, and altering it too far would be disastrous. While I get the desire to avoid PvP, the game won’t have longevity without it. Not because the gameplay isn’t compelling, but because the gameplay is designed to perform a specific trick in a specific way.
Even in the beta, the game threw me into the 10-player team-up against the Neo T-Rex around five times. The first time was incredibly epic, the second time was still interesting. The third, fourth, and fifth times I just wanted to get the mission done, so I could go back to playing the real game.
My biggest concern of them all, however, is whether or not I’ll have people to play with a month after release. It’s the type of game I could see myself playing for a long time. I seriously can’t wait to play with the module system in the full game where you can customize the playstyle of individual Exosuits as well as the additional types of objectives the AI can customize each match with.
If the game does well, I have no doubt the game will be supported with new Exosuits, dinosaurs, and more. But no matter how great the game is, people just don’t seem to care. There’s almost no hype for Exoprimal.
It’s not a new Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, or other established IP. So people just seem to be writing it off completely. That’s disappointing because I’m sure I’m still going to see complaint after complaint about the game industry releasing the same thing over and over again. But you can’t continue to snub your nose at the Midnight Suns, Shipbreakers, and Exoprimals of the world and expect anything different.
At the end of the day, like it or not, the game industry is a business. Money decides what games get made. I’m worried that Exoprimal will be another notch on the list of games that die too soon, and not because it actually does anything wrong. But simply because it’s not a clone of every other popular game. Who knows though, being a day-one Game Pass release might help this awesome dinosaur avoid extinction.