It feels wise that Exoprimal, a game that opens with a futuristic weather forecast that suggests the foreseeable future will be cloudy with a chance of raptors, doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining itself. At its core, if you’ve played a Gears of War Horde mode session, or a few rounds of Destiny 2’s Gambit, then you’ll likely feel at home with what a round of this reptile blaster has to offer. In its first very limited closed playtest, Exoprimal shows a solid foundation for a PvPvE shooter, and if it sticks with its strengths like the time attack-style objective racing and interesting class design, it could be well worth sinking your teeth into.
The meat of a round of Exoprimal sees a team of five running through a stage, stopping at points to complete small sub-objectives, all of them involving shooting dinosaurs that are falling out of singularities in the sky. Usually this means you need to kill a certain amount of them before moving on, or protect a static location or object from them for a period of time. It’s not just waves of speedy raptors chomping at your heels either. As levels progress, so do the variety of dinos that appear. The demo didn’t reveal too much of its hand here, but there were occasional flying pteranodons and neosaurs, mutated bipedal baddies that can shoot projectiles or explode when you get near them. The enemy mixes were dynamic enough that progressive waves weren’t just a cake walk.
Enemy teams are doing the same thing as you, but concurrently. An opaque overlay of them can be seen between objectives, giving you a hint of where they are on the list in comparison to you. This indirect PvP was a great bit of tension that reminded me of a ghost car in a racing game, constantly motivating your squad to pick up the pace and find any opportunity to shave off a couple of seconds. Occasionally, you can even directly affect the enemy team’s progress, summoning a large, player-controlled dinosaur and throwing it in their way to wreck shop.
Your weapon of choice for mass dinosaur slaying are exosuits – Iron Man-style armor each with their own role and suite of abilities. Of the ten suits teased in the opening cinematic, just four were available to play during the test. Zephyr and Deadeye deal heavy damage in melee and ranged, respectively. The beefy Roadblock uses a big shield and a taunt to make himself the center of attention in a dino swarm. Witchdoctor stuns the prehistoric pests in close range and can heal and shield your party. I tended to favor the latter two, but one of the real strengths of Exoprimal’s combat is that you can switch between them at any time, readjusting the squad based on the objective in front of you. Defending a VTOL aircraft while it spools up as raptor waves pour in from multiple directions might require more than one tank, whereas one giant triceratops boss stomping around a city block demands a more damage-heavy crew.
If it was just a class-based horde-mode time-chasing shooter, I’d say we’re on track for something potentially great here. Unfortunately, every round ends with a final objective that puts both teams on the same map to duke it out in point-capture or escort-type missions, culminating in a grating PvP experience that I dreaded every time it came up. The escort mission, Data Key Security, makes your team baby a slowly moving objective as it reaches an end point. It moves at a snail’s pace as you defend it from onslaughts of dinosaurs and, eventually, enemy players. These usually end in boring firefights down a narrow alley, with either side either playing peekaboo from behind the objective, or running kamikaze into the enemy squad as melee classes. This at least still felt like it involved dinosaurs, though, whereas the point capture Energy Drain objective tasked the teams to run around the map collecting points and killing enemy players seemingly abandoning the entire reptile concept altogether. And in general, as of this test, exosuits seem poorly balanced for combat with each other. Witchdoctor felt especially useless, as the damage from any of the assault classes was so overwhelming that healing was more of a formality than a viable means of keeping the team in a fight.
Even with a very limited variety of maps and objectives, the parts of each contest that didn’t involve shooting at the other team were fun and furious. I’m eager to see new maps, try on new exosuits, and blast through new types of scaly monstrosities in the future. I’m not so eager to trade fire with other exosuits in mediocre, paint-by-numbers PvP, though.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey