Primed for Success?
Exoprimal, Capcom’s latest squad-based shooter where you kill a bunch of dinosaurs falling out of portals because a corrupted AI tells you to, is fairly well-crafted. The sharp textures and industrial-yet-brightly-hued graphical style pair nicely with action-packed third-person gameplay, with everything running at a smooth and consistent 60 frames per second (I’m playing on Xbox Series X via Game Pass). The different exosuits allow for several diverse styles of play, with mechs separated into assault, tank, and support options, all of which are fitted with unique abilities and designs. I’ve had no issues with online connectivity and matchmaking, and both the PvE and PvP modes seem fairly well-balanced.
There’s just one problem: Exoprimal is just flat-out boring. Everything works just fine, nothing feels out of place or under-baked, but it just isn’t that fun or engaging in any meaningful way.
Not a Lot to See in Exoprimal, and It’s All Online
Within roughly two hours of play, the player sees all they really need to see: there’s a story about parallel universes, an AI that forces the player to compete in dinosaur-killing simulations for some reason, and a crew of wise-cracking badasses who only refer to the player as “Ace.” Every second of gameplay is online, and the only way to unlock more cutscenes is to play more matches.
Each online match, known as “Wargames,” involves players squading up to complete a linear set of “dinosaur culling” tasks, until there’s a final showdown event that rotates between various challenges, such as moving a payload or defending a base. In each Wargame, there’s an option for PvP or PvE. However, the only difference I’ve noticed between PvP and PvE is that the opposing team can attack you during the final event.
Dino Culling Somehow Not a Blast
Conceptually, the Wargames are fine enough on their own. Assuming your squad balanced out their mech choices, each dino culling event presents just enough challenge to make things interesting, though for the most part it just feels like a musou game (e.g., Dynasty Warriors) with guns.
The combat mechanics work well enough, but there’s really not much depth (or even flare) to them. The waves of dinosaurs can be fun to mow down, but there are no surprises after a certain point, and nothing to really aspire to beyond seeing more cutscenes. Sure, you can upgrade or buff your mech in between Wargames, but the changes feel marginal for the most part. Even the clunkiest of musou experiences contain fun and flashy combos, and even the most paint-by-numbers online shooters offer some gravitas to their gunplay. Exoprimal’s combat, though perfectly competent, contains nothing particularly exciting, satisfying, or weighty.
Is This Anything?
I understand that even good online multiplayer games can feel stale after a while, especially dozens of hours in. With Exoprimal, though, I felt that malaise sink in after four or five matches. Even after trying different exosuits, the experience never amounted to more than pressing the same three or four buttons over and over again. It doesn’t take long to learn and understand the game itself and how each exosuit works, but I didn’t feel as though I was getting better at the game, since the outcome most of the time seemed fairly random.
On the narrative side, the plot contains traces of intrigue, though the fact that you have to engage in the same kind of gameplay over and over again to progress through it kills any momentum. Just two days after starting the story, I barely remembered any characters’ names or motivations because I’ve spent all my time killing waves of dinosaurs in a variety of boring, uninspired environments. Cool, another abandoned city. Wow, a cliffside base. Incredible stuff. Maybe if each map contained levels of environmental storytelling beyond basic pre- and post-apocalyptic tropes, I’d feel more compelled to play through all of them, but alas.
This, ultimately, is the most disappointing part of Exoprimal: I don’t even really see the there, there. I see the result of one of the most prestigious video game publishers on the planet deciding to make a cool-sounding multiplayer game but without a hook stronger than “but what if you were aimlessly shooting at dinosaurs?” Even if Capcom added new game modes, a greater variety of maps, and new exosuits, what’s the point? Even by the standards of mindless kill fests in gaming (of which there are many), Exoprimal feels heartless as well, almost as though the goal behind it was to make the most by-the-book, uninteresting dinosaur shooter possible. There just isn’t much of a creative vision at play, even if occasionally it looks like there is.
No Style, No Substance
A major focus of games discourse in recent years has been the number of notable titles that released in an unfinished, unpolished state. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor doesn’t have a reliable performance mode. Halo Infinite launched with a paucity of features. Pokémon Scarlet/Violet barely worked on day one. Even with the added context of changing labor trends, unfairly high standards from players, and an industry grappling with longer development cycles, there’s an uneasy feeling around big AAA releases that they’ll rarely deliver on day one, and the ones that do will take nearly a decade to come to fruition.
Exoprimal presents the inverse of this fear, where players get a fully-polished title that fails to elicit even a modicum of delight or exhilaration. There’s nothing wrong with a campy, silly backdrop for a multiplayer title, but you have to actually make the case that shooting these MacGuffins is a better use of time than shooting a different set of MacGuffins. In the current environment for multiplayer experiences—which is far more competitive than it’s ever been for new entrants—simply working as intended can’t be enough.