I thought Exoprimal somehow managed to make dinosaurs versus mechs, aka the coolest concept ever, boring in my review-in-progress. I held out hope it would improve, though, as lots of commenters assured me it's fun side would finally surface. "Just play several more hours and things really open up! Variety in the dinos, in the modes, in just about everything!". To some extent, they were right. There are fun moments to be had as you queue up for Dino Survival and suddenly, remarkably, things have changed a bit.
But the game doesn't respect your time. It forces you to sit through hours of repetitive dino-slaying and then only offers you the chance, the chance to slay dinos in a way that isn't excruciatingly samey. Even as someone who finds the fun in mindless carnage, I'd much rather ditch my mech suit and let the dinosaurs run rampant. The dinosaurs don't deserve this.
As a competitive, team based shooter Exoprimal is an outlier. Where most have you battling each other for control of a large ring or leaderboard supremacy, Exoprimal has teams of five slay waves of dinosaurs in a race to the finish line. Dino Survival is the only mode at the moment, where matches are split into two phases. The majority of the race is bashing hordes as quickly as you can, with the aim of getting to a "final encounter" where the race is still on, but the objective switches to like, escorting a cube, charging a hammer, or sometimes: taking on a radioactive T-Rex covered in purple blisters. Points go to Exoprimal for being, at least, different from the usual live service fodder. Extra points are awarded for allowing you to select whether you'd like to queue for a match which involves PVP or none at all, the main difference being zero fights between teams in final encounters if you opt for PVE only.
The game's more traditional leanings lie in its classes: Tank, DPS, and Support. Some are fairly predictable, aka guy-with-big-shield, while others like the Witch Doctor have a cattle prod and the ability to do a spinny leap to get into the action. At any point during a match, you can swap between classes to suit the mood, although I rarely found myself doing this unless another teammate just decided they didn't want to heal people anymore. Also, one time our entire team decided to go with a guy who's basically Overwatch's Junkrat and we did really well, so make of that what you will.
As with any race, it does unlock some primal urge to be first. This is helped by red phantoms of the opposing team popping up between waves and regular announcements telling you whether you're faster or slower than them. What's not so good is the game's baffling decision to ensure the earliest races are about as engaging as that harrowing Marc Jacob's advert which featured three girls saying "Daisy Daisy Daisy'' over and over and over as they rolled about in some grass.
Seriously, your first match of Dino Survival will be your only match of Dino Survival for five or six hours. I cannot tell you how hard I struggled to power through those 'early' hours. I got up frequently to stare out the window or make myself a big glass of orange and mango squash. I contemplated what pleasant European old town I could've travelled to in that time, and the laminated menu I could've ordered an iced coffee and a little cake from. If you manage to stay strong and cross the ten hour mark, most of your matches feature a greater mixture of lizards or final encounters which aren't just escort missions. Although, there's always a chance you queue up for a game and you're taken back to Daisy Daisy Daisy.
That's not to say there isn't any fun in swatting away waves of dinosaurs. Fun just means different things to different people, and Exoprimal better suits those who'd rather switch off and toast some scaley lads in low stakes competition. I can't deny the satisfaction that lies in raising an energy barrier and buffeting a horde of raptors into a wall, or snapping my fingers and triggering a wall of fire to grill a Triceratops. But if you're someone like me who enjoys mastery of a map or the grit your teeth thrill of a comeback, the game rarely inspires anything more than minimal effort if you're lagging behind the enemy.
And I think the game's lack of competitiveness lies in how detached you can feel from the opposing team as you race. For some, the PVE option is built for minimal interaction. Some players want a chill experience - I get it. But even if PVP is popped towards the finish line as teams enter the same universe and do battle, fights end up being sloppy affairs as everyone's shuttled into an awkward chokepoint or a large open space bathed in dinosaur distractions. Rarely is there room to coordinate, either, as most abilities aren't fully tuned to PVP because they're forced to co-exist with PVE. Some classes have abilities which mesh nicely, but don't expect clever interactions between allies or creative setups.
The game's best moments lie in those unpredictable story beats where you're suddenly taking on the T-Rex equivalent of a raid boss in a pulsing purple arena, or staring out at the horizon as a portal swells and expels a swirling mass of Pterodons so thick it's like they're painting the sky black. Yet, these scenarios are doomed to repeat themselves as the wildness of - let me remind you - literal swarms of dinosaurs are reduced from an overwhelming barrage into predictable deposits.
Honestly, I think there's a tension here between Exoprimal as a singleplayer experience and a multiplayer one, as the story, which revolves around the mystery of a dangerous AI who pits you against these dinos, ticks along mysteriously in the background and occasionally rears its head. On the one hand it doesn't want to intrude, and on the other, it forces you to clock in a certain number of games to shift the timeline forwards and unlock the coolest things. While I think it's neat how they've tried to be a touch more transparent with the story, where live service games and especially hero shooters often just let fans fill in the blanks. I just think it's a piss take how they've buried so much variety behind a story that purposely inches along.
As for Exoprimal's dreaded live service elements, they are exactly what you'd expect: a battle pass filled with coins and dangly bits for your guns and zebra skins and dance emotes. A cash shop. All aggressively vanilla, but at least it's not pay-to-win, I suppose. Otherwise, there isn't all that much to chase aside from a couple of new mech suits or some fairly dull upgrades. If you're after a team based shooter where you zone out for a bit and don't care for much else, then you'll have a lot of fun here. Anyone else who's after a serious new hero shooter? Eh, it's not going to inspire anything other than mostly frustration. Here's hoping the devs at least remove the early story grind, then maybe, just maybe, it might be a path to something better... if it hasn't gone extinct by then.
This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the publisher Capcom.