Exoprimal Impressions: Dinos, dinos, and more dinos
We've played some of Capcom's dino-slaying multiplayer game.
When I first saw Exoprimal and got a glimpse of its dino-slaying action, I was pretty taken by it. I never had the impression that it would blow me away or even have me enthralled for hours on end, but I thought it looked like a good bit of fun, in the same way that slaying hordes of Xenomorphs every now and then in Aliens: Fireteam Elite is. However, that impression changed quite significantly when I realised that Exorpimal was actually a team-vs-team multiplayer game, as this made me concerned about what exactly this game is trying to be. Jump to the present and I've had the chance to check out a snippet of Exoprimal as part of the recent Closed Network Tests, and I have various thoughts about it.
First and foremost, I'd like to make it fundamentally clear that on PC, Exoprimal plays incredibly well. I feel like I should mention this right off the bat as there are occasions where there are what feels like thousands of dinosaurs on the screen at once, and yet the game still plays smoothly and the shooter systems feel fluid. However, just because the game plays well, doesn't necessarily mean that I was sold on the concept.
And this is because the idea of Exoprimal (in the Dino Survival mode that was available to check out) is to race against another team to complete a batch of predetermined objectives as quickly as possible. As the game is about killing dinosaurs, this pretty much solely revolves around shooting giant carnivorous lizards in the face, but there is a degree of uniqueness to this, as sometimes an objective might be simply to hold off a raptor horde incursion, whereas other times might ask you to take down a vastly more powerful triceratops or an ankylosaurus. Whatever the objective is, you have to work as a unit to complete the task at hand, whilst doing so faster than the opposing team.
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Which brings me to an immediate problem that I've noticed within Exoprimal, which is the class system. Multiplayer games with classes that are defined by damage, tank, and support always have an issue with people not wanting to play anything other than damage. This means you're either forced to take up one of those roles yourself, or instead be part of a team that is lacking in healing or a frontline presence, which will pretty much be a nail in the coffin, especially during rounds where opposing teams come into contact with one another, and the vicious dinosaurs become the least of your problems. Certain games have got around this problem with queue systems, meaning you are locked into one of the class types, however Exoprimal gives you the option to change exosuits (which are each tied to a specific class and do a specific thing) whenever you want, meaning a good and balanced team can be turned on its head in an instant.
It should be said that in this Network Test, only five exosuits were available, meaning this impression was skewed slightly as there were three damage suits, one tank, and one support suit to try out, despite the fact that the game revealed that this won't be the case come launch. But either way, it's hard to see this system as anything other than an immediate bad omen for an online multiplayer team game.
Before leaving this topic, I will add that the different exosuits felt generally fun to play, and each had their own benefit and design style that highlights the suit itself as a personality and not necessarily the player/pilot operating them, almost like a hero-shooter in some ways. What I mean by this is that despite each suit having unique abilities and weapons, the suits themselves seem to communicate in different ways, even though your pilot doesn't change. For example, the supportive Witchdoctor was quite kooky and wacky, whereas the tanky Roadblock was a bit more stern and mature.
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But back to the gameplay, after a few matches of Exoprimal, another one of my biggest concerns stood out. Which is that anyone who has been specifically asking for this type of game will likely be satisfied, but the majority of other players will likely find themselves a little bit bored after a few hours. I'm sure Capcom has plenty lined up to alleviate this, but if the developer is really hoping that just hip-firing a rifle into a conglomerated mass of dinosaur bodies will keep players occupied for hours upon end, they might have another thing coming.
Similarly, as this is an online multiplayer game, I found myself left with more questions about the story than answers, as the game starts by simply telling you that dinosaur incursions are happening and that you, an exosuit pilot, are being assigned to a team to combat them. How the dino incursions came about and why teams are competing against one another is something that is never really explained, rather it's implied that this is more of a bloodsport type deal than a planetary defence initiative.
Also, sometimes the game will completely throw its PvP aspect and its multiple objective design out of the window in favour of bringing both teams together to fight a massively powerful foe. I faced a Neo T-Rex as part of this system, which essentially meant that the 10-player lobby grouped up to take down this hugely tanky adversary within a predetermined time, and without dying more than 30 times as a team. It was an interesting change, but it completely eliminated a way for either team to beat the other, which was very unusual for a PvP game and made me further question what exactly Exoprimal is trying to be. And this is highlighted by an occasional ability that becomes available where players are able to control a powerful dinosaur like a T-Rex to cause tons of havoc. For a game about killing dinosaurs with massively advanced and cool exosuits, this felt a little bit out of place and unnecessary to me.
I'm not saying that Exoprimal was a bad game in any sense, in fact it was quite fun for the few hours I played. But there are so many similar horde-like games out there today - all of which launch pretty well but then seem to just fade into the background - that I can't help but think that Exoprimal is on a collision course for a similar fate. Hopefully extra game modes and more suits will change my opinion on this.