It's raining dinosaurs. It's literally raining dinosaurs.
What is it? A PvPvE hero shooter with all the dinosaurs
Release date: July 13, 2023
Expect to pay: £50, $60
Reviewed on: i7 9700K, RTX 2080 TI, 16GB RAM
Steam Deck: Playable
I've absorbed a lot of gaming elevator pitches in my time, and Exoprimal's preposterous conceit is about as strong as they get—at least on a primal level. You look at a purple miasma forming in the sky, you watch a tide of velociraptors pour forth from it, and you say to yourself: I am absolutely going to be shooting at that.
I got a bit more conflicted after scratching that itch. Capcom's five-person PvPvE hero shooter is irrepressibly enjoyable. It has some fantastic ideas. And almost all of them carry frustrating limitations around their neck. In short, Exoprimal's launch state feels more like an early access phase than a finished game.
Before any extinct hides can be perforated, there's a surprising amount of narrative setup: It's 2043, and space-time rifts are popping up all over, spilling dinosaurs into the civilised world and stranding a crack team of gun-toting types with absolutely wild accents on Bikitoa Island where an AI named Leviathan runs endless combat experiments for an unknown purpose. Luckily for us all, the Aibius corporation has sunk huge amounts of cash into developing exosuits to help organisations like our ragtag Hammerheads fight back against the hordes.
I didn't need this much detail to incentivise the shooting of dino tides, but we have it anyway and it doesn't hurt (unless you count the actual physical pain of those accents hitting your ears). As you progress new text logs and cutscenes are added to the archive, a giant radial menu that slowly uncovers the mystery behind the dino-thunderstorms, the rifts, Aibius and the AI. It brings to mind Dead Rising's piece-by-piece exposition mechanic, rewarding your game time with the next piece of the jigsaw. Gamifying even the way the story is told works surprisingly well: I found my lizard brain stimulated by each new chunk of information even though I had little emotional connection with the characters.
Beyond the cutscenes, down at ground level what we've got is a hybrid of co-op horde survival and the payload maps from Overwatch and TF2. Your squad of five heroes in mech suits is working together to clear each wave of dinosaurs as quickly as possible, because there's an opposing human team doing the exact same task in a live, parallel instance. You only see them between horde stages in a match, as red silhouettes. If they finished the stage before you, you can see them running off to the next stage ahead of you. That's a really effective carrot dangling in front of you.
Conversely, if you smashed that triceratops miniboss faster than the opposing human team, as you're moving to the next area you'll see the silhouettes of the other team, still fighting their own triceratops. I've never felt more smug in my life than I did the first time I saw that. Good luck with that health bar, suckers! I'm just gonna go chill in the next section for a bit. Peace.
There's a big payoff to this early-game racing; the first team to clear every objective and make it to the final mode gets an actual head start, moving their payload along the track before you're even in the same dimension to contest their progress.
If that sounds a bit like Destiny 2's Gambit mode, that's only because it absolutely is. But after a handful of games, Exoprimal's esoteric rhythms make themselves known and I started to appreciate what Leviathan's endless combat trials are actually about: a focus on ruthless efficiency.
Combat isn't just about survival but also time management. It really matters how you combine heroes and abilities. This is Exoprimal's chance to assert its own identity beyond that of a Gambit clone, and your chance to play 4D chess with the roster of exosuits available to swap between mid-combat.
And it almost comes together as something brilliant, if you catch it in the right light, in a good mood, during a vernal equinox. Most of the component parts are there—escalating jeopardy, room for experimentation, a roster of assault, tank and support characters whose abilities can interlace nicely if they're deployed thoughtfully. Witchdoctor's AoE healing ability covers the same radius as Krieger's shield dome, for example, so the two can create a circle of OP if they work together. Murasame's right-click attack throws enemies up in the air where they're vulnerable to Vigilant's ranged attacks, and…
Well, truthfully it doesn't get much more tactical than that. At least not right now at launch.
There is some inherent joy in controlling these superpowered exosuits. When I play Krieger the tanky machine-gunner, deploying shield domes big enough for the full squad to hunker down inside, I feel like quite the pro gamer. Blasting away at throngs of raptors, throwing up hit points everywhere and even doing a bit of teamwork with those shields, then getting the match MVP for the sheer damage I dealt… I can't lie. It makes me smile. It's like getting Bastion POTGs in Overwatch—I know I'm boiling piss with low-skill, high reward play. And I don't care.
Big dumb fun isn't in short supply. But a week in I can't see yet how the tactics and the way players use abilities will evolve over time. Exoprimal is mainly shooting or thwacking a big swarm of Jurassic Park background artists. I haven't yet played or even seen a super-effective exofighter combo akin to TF2's Medic-Heavy partnership, a combination that fundamentally changes the action. Individual character abilities give you good feedback, but they don't alley-oop with someone else's abilities to give you that gratifying sense of fulfilling a tightly defined role. Despite the class delineations, everyone's a damage-dealer. The next exofighters on the roster need to be true specialists that change the way you play completely.
Although it's not quite as immaculately designed as its hero shooter rivals TF2 or Overwatch, Exoprimal does manage to keep the action pretty readable. Voice lines sound off every time a character uses an ability, and those abilities all have unique visual effects and animations. So it's usually possible to maintain an idea of what all your teammates are doing around you, who's just dropped their abilities, and what you should do next as a result.
There are a couple of missteps here though. The exofighter silhouettes, particularly those of Murasame and Zephyr, are too similar at a glance. As for the voice lines, there's something about the way Witchdoctor says "Don't go breaking down!!" every single time I deploy their E ability that makes me think my teammates would rather go without being healed, thanks all the same.
Maps are lacking in number and design. It feels like blasting through the spare parts of the Xbox 360-era Lost Planet games, over-familiar 'near future sci-fi dystopia' assets scattered around in a manner that hardly captures the imagination or provokes tactical masterstrokes. Shipping containers, upturned trucks, nature reclaiming the tarmac. You know the type.
Future in progress
In Exoprimal's first week I played with the initially unlocked exofighters in the sole launch mode, Dino Survival. I upgraded my player, exosuit and Survivor Pass levels, upgrading both cosmetics and meaningful gameplay perks (rigs and modules as they're known) and started to feel at least a bit invested in the experience. An Overwatch-beater it ain't, but there's something strangely engrossing about this plot they've spent far too much time on. The drip-feed of new dino variants as you level up. The way Dino Survival mode subtly changes over time and incorporates actual story moments, culminating in an epic 'Behemoth' raid boss-style encounter.
The battle pass model doesn't get in the way. There are no obvious P2W mechanics lurking in the store, nor an insidious RNG slot machine keeping you from the cosmetics you want. All exosuits, for example, can simply be purchased with the in-game currency, Bikcoins. Gouging you doesn't seem to be the primary objective here.
At least, not after already buying the game for full price. Because although the exosuits show real promise and the mode's got real tension, the experience as a whole feels a bit sparse right now. A friend who's been playing along with me over the review period has kept asking me: is this it? Is this the whole game?
Yes and no. Capcom's laid out a post-launch content roadmap which includes the addition of a new mode just over a week from the time of writing this review. Savage Gauntlet, available from July 28th, is built for late-game players to test their character specs on. Beyond that there's a title update in August bringing 10 'alpha exosuit variants', a new map in season 2, two planned collabs with Street Fighter 6 and Monster Hunter, some beta variant exosuits and a Neo-Triceratops.
I haven't played any of that yet. But based on the time I have spent with Exoprimal so far, I'd argue that if all that were included at launch, it still might feel a bit light for £50. It feels like a game that wants to release in early access and harvest all that player feedback before refining itself, but also doesn't want to sacrifice launch week revenue in the process.
So I find myself in the position of an embattled Exoprimal evangelist. I want this game to have a future, because like many people I'm inherently sold on mass lizard slaughter and ridiculous exosuits. But also because I'm drawn to the way Capcom drip-feeds the story, lulling you into a grind stupor then shaking up the Dino Warfare formula without warning. It has real impact when the tightly defined constraints of that mode are messed with.
But I've got a real PR job on my hands to get my mates signed up and on a squad with me. Because right now yes, this is it. This is the game, and it's only just enough.