Exoprimal review: T-Rex vs mechs in a bombastic online brawl
It’s what John Hammond would have wanted
In the best possible way, Capcom’s new PvPvE shooter feels like what might happen if you commissioned a twelve-year-old to devise a blockbuster title. There are dinosaurs, right, and they’re falling from the sky in massive hordes. And you’ve got to shoot them, except there’s this rogue AI running endless combat trials on the island you’ve been transported to via a time-space tear. Oh and you’re all in big mech suits. All it’s missing is the bit where Logan Paul scores the winning penalty in the World Cup final.
Exoprimal has a freewheeling kind of exuberance about it, something that elevates the act of shooting at tides of Jurassic Park extras above mere number-crunching. Mechanically it’s blending Destiny 2’s Gambit mode with some Overwatch-y elements, but it does so while turning every possible absurdity metric up to maximum. And then bellows an unhinged sci-fi tale about interdimensional rifts and sinister corporations at the top of its excited lungs. We should probably all listen to the 12-year-old creative directors inside us more often.
It’s a good job the concept’s so likeable too, because if you stopped smiling at its preposterousness for long enough you’d start to notice that there isn’t actually much content here. It’s launching with just one mode, Dino Warfare, in which two teams of five players race about on a map culling waves of dinosaurs as quickly as possible so that they can be the first to advance to the PvP showdown - usually a payload map à la TF2 or Overwatch where you escort the payload along a track to the endzone.
There are variations - cull minibosses faster than the other team, assemble a digital doohickey quicker than your opponents, harvest data points scattered around the map - but the rhythm is consistent. You start by leathering extinct lizards in two parallel instances, and end on a shared instance where PvP rules apply.
Derivative and ridiculous as it may be, it’s irrepressible, incorrigible fun stepping into a mech and going Full Metal Jacket on some velociraptors. It’s also very tightly structured however, and there’s not much else to do right now except watch the odd cutscene and sit stupefied by the ludicrous accents you were just subjected to.
No, actually, let’s be fair: Dino Warfare mode does slowly evolve over time. It lulls you into a steady grind for the first ten matches or so, the same map, the same batches of identical velociraptors. And then at the exact point you think you’ve seen all the game has to offer, it throws in a narrative wildcard and Dino Warfare gains an unfamiliar dimension. New dinosaurs great and small to pummel, new objectives, new maps. And it keeps expanding too, only in subtle ways, but it’s enough to repay your time investment, if only for the final raid boss showdown against… the Behemoth.
It’s a high-risk storytelling technique, though. A lot of players, one suspects, will depart before discovering there are hidden depths.
But a game like this lives and dies on how enjoyable its heroes are to strut around the battlefield with. Every role should feel distinct, and crucial. You want to make a direct impact on the combat, and also the ability to be pulling strings in subtle ways that only other expert players would appreciate. Judicious use of support abilities and specials. Tangible rewards for smart positioning. Only the classiest deployment of your crotch-grab emote. That type of thing.
Exoprimal teeters on ticking these boxes, but it has formidable genre rivals in Destiny 2, Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, and it comes off second best by contrast. The 10-strong roster of exofighters is divided into assault, tank, and support classes and although they’re not as sharply defined as they could be, within that modest number each character does just about discern itself in the dino melee.
There are moments when they combine really nicely, too. Krieger the MG-toting tank has a shield dome that keeps smaller dinos at bay, and it’s just big enough for Witchdoctor to pop off their AoE healing radius within. Murasame’s melee attacks throw the horde into the air, where ranged specialist Vigilant can pick them off.
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All 10 exofighters succeed in being unfussy fun. But their roles don’t differ dramatically - you’re basically stepping out into the dino-infested battlefield with a gameplan that amounts to “I’ll stand here and shoot them, you stand over there and do some shooting too. And if we remember, let’s hit our other abilities periodically.” Even the support exofighters are capable of walking off with a hefty body count.
There are more exofighters on the way as part of Capcom’s post-launch roadmap, along with a new mode and map within a couple of months, but we wonder if what’s actually here at launch will be sufficient to hold the community’s attention long enough for the content reinforcements to arrive later.
In that way, it’s the sort of game that would have been perfect for an Early Access release. Throw out a rough sketch of the intended experience, take the community’s temperature on it, and refine accordingly. But given that Capcom’s asking full price for it, this can’t be considered a testing of the waters. If you’re playing the game right now at launch, you’re committed to it. You’re expecting an ROI.
A week into launch, we're surprised to find ourselves rooting for Exoprimal in the hope it sustains a big enough community to incentivise further content from the devs. Because sometimes Overwatch 2 is a bit too loot box-y, TF2 is a bit too 2007, and Destiny 2 a bit too ‘have you collected all 45 pieces of space-nonsense for the daily chore?’ Sometimes all you want to do is absolutely leather a big cloud of velociraptors, tumbling down from the sky as if rushing for a casting call to the next Jurassic World.
For those (admittedly very specific) times, Exoprimal is there. But it has gaps that need filling very soon, and if the incoming batch of exosuits don’t bring new tactical wrinkles to explore this could be one short-lived dino crisis.