When I first saw Exoprimal, I groaned because it looked like yet another game in which an interesting premise (fighting dinosaurs!) would be swallowed by the soul-sucking banality of being a third-person live-service multiplayer game in an era that sees such games released for a hot six months before they’re shut down. But word of mouth from friends and colleagues I trust was enough to get me to try it, and from the first handful of moments — none of which had anything to do with dinosaurs — I was all in.
At the very beginning of the game, before you even make your character, there’s a female android who infodumps all the information needed to set the stage. She’s wearing a “Danger! High Voltage” sticker, but it’s not on her chest or forehead or any conspicuous place you’d expect for such an important warning. It’s on her pelvis, right above where a panty line would be. That subtle bit of humor sold me immediately. I love campy games — not games with the quippy, relentless humor of, say, Borderlands or High on Life — but something like a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. Exoprimal is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously and leans into its own absurdity just enough to be actually funny without beating you over the head with how funny it’s trying to be.
There are lots of little jokes like that that have kept me interested in the story Exoprimal is trying to tell, which, so far, is kinda weird and confusing. There’s a long plot introduction that involves time travel, mysterious industrial accidents, and a rogue AI, the details of which I won’t bother you with. Suffice it to say, Exoprimal’s main gameplay loop is centered on you getting ferried back and forth in time to fight dinosaurs in simulated war games that feel like the different multiplayer modes of an Overwatch or Call of Duty.
Though I’m still not sure what’s going on with Exoprimal’s story, I’m really impressed with how that story is delivered. For a long time, I’ve had beaucoup Destiny 2 envy because it looks like that game is so fun with lots of interesting lore to dig into, but every time I play, I’m just ferried from firefight to firefight wondering where the hell all the story happens.
But Exoprimal melds multiplayer progression with a single-player story extremely well. At the end of every match, you’re rewarded with story files that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The game has an analysis board with nodes that light up with each file you collect. Files range from text to read and audio logs to small cutscenes that expound upon the world and mystery at the heart of the game that you can peruse at your discretion. Then, after each handful of matches, you’re treated to a cutscene that progresses the story — no digging down into item descriptions required.
I love that seamlessness; it’s something a lot of multiplayer games could take inspiration from.
Though I’m all in on the story, the gameplay loses me a bit. Exoprimal has a nigh impenetrable on-ramp that does not do enough to explain to you the different mechs and their powers. The tutorial only covers the abilities of three of the 10 suits you can pick from, and it took a couple of hours of trial and error trying to figure out the different powers of the various exosuits.
Early in my time with Exoprimal, I chose the Skywave suit because it could fly, and I thought it’d give me a leg up in fighting the pteranodons that occasionally crop up. But as I was fighting, I noticed I wasn’t doing too much damage before realizing way, way too late that Skywave was a support suit primarily meant to heal my teammates. So while I was fiddling about in the sky, using abilities and randomly wondering, “Well, what happens when I press this button?” my poor teammates were dying on the ground possibly wondering what my ass was doing up there.
Finally, after so much frustration, I discovered you could hit down on the D-pad to bring up a screen that explains the abilities of each suit in detail. There is no tutorial or settings message that tells you this information.
Once I knew what each of the suits did, Exoprimal got a lot easier and a lot more fun. There are three classes of suits — assault, tank, and support — and each suit within each class has its own unique approach to its role. In the assault class, Deadeye fights with its rifle, Barrage uses grenades, while Valiant uses a sniper rifle. Not to be all “girl who only plays Overwatch plays her second class-based multiplayer game,” but Exoprimal reminds me a lot of what initially drew me to Overwatch: the different exosuits are unique and well-crafted, giving you lots of options of how to play.
I gave each class a shot, believing I’d settle somewhere in the assault family, but somehow, I found myself gravitating toward support. I don’t like healing in games in general, but I’ve made exceptions, and now, Exoprimal is another one of those exceptions — the classes are just that fun.
There seems to be a theme with Exoprimal and withholding information because the game doesn’t let on that there’s more to it. To start, you play the same kind of match over and over. Follow the HUD to a location, and either kill all the dinosaurs or protect a position while killing all the dinosaurs. Toward the end of the match, you push a payload, and at the end of that, you fight the other team while your payload uploads itself — whichever team can do that the fastest, wins. The format doesn’t make for the smoothest experience and, at times, feels more like marking off a to-do list rather than playing a game for fun.
For a while, I thought that was all there was to the game, which would have made it an interesting but ultimately boring experience, before hearing from others that the game actually does switch up the formula to great effect.
I don’t yet know what that great effect is, but it seems like Exoprimal is preoccupied with surprising its players without giving them enough to do so that they stick around to actually experience the surprise. Had I not been advised to keep playing, I would have dismissed the game outright. As it stands, it’s taking far too long to get to what I hope are the good bits, and there’s only so much I can be charmed by the game’s unique sense of humor and novel storytelling before I get bored.
When Exoprimal was announced, a lot of fans were upset that Capcom chose a live-service multiplayer model for its dinosaur game instead of digging through its pile of neglected IPs to fish out a Dino Crisis remake.
I am not one of those fans and am therefore unburdened by the baggage of wondering what Exoprimal could have been. I am, however, burdened by what Exoprimal is: a campy but very clunky game that is only worth the expense if you get it free on Game Pass. But hey, at least my Michael Crichton-reading ass finally knows how to pronounce pachycephalosaurus.
(Writer’s note: I want the record to reflect that I spelled this correctly on the first try without looking it up.)
Exoprimal is out now on Xbox, Game Pass, PlayStation, and PC.