From trailers and gameplay videos, it can be tough to get a handle on Exoprimal. The team-based multiplayer game has players running around in mechanical mech suits, fighting waves of dinosaurs that pour out of huge portals floating in the sky. Gunning down thousands of raptors in a robot super-suit sounds weird at best, but in practice, it turns out Exoprimal is a thoughtful cooperative shooter that puts a premium on teamwork and team composition to defeat all manner of prehistoric menaces--as well as other players.
We played about three hours of Exoprimal during its recent closed network test, which gave a sense of some of its multiplayer modes and the mech suit character classes you can use within them. While matches involve fighting off waves of prehistoric creatures, your actual goal is to beat another team of mech-suited dino hunters. It's all about appeasing the seemingly homicidal artificial intelligence Leviathan, which is endlessly gathering combat data based on your performance in order to create better mech suits and put down the extra-dimensional dinosaur threat once and for all.
In the Exoprimal matches we played, you jump onto a team with four other players, either from your party or added to your session through matchmaking. The typical mode we saw was Dino Survival, in which you're dropped into a semi-destroyed location and are forced to fight off waves of dinosaurs at different points. Your dinosaur battles actually constitute a race against another team, however, and the goal is to complete your objectives more quickly than the other squad.
Though we played a handful of matches with several variations, a typical match started with "dinosaur cull" objectives, in which your squad runs to a location, Leviathan dumps dinosaurs on you, and you kill them as fast as you can. These culls ramped up slowly, starting with slews of raptors before adding flying pteranodons and altered variations on dinosaurs, like "Gas Neosaurs" and "Sniper Neosaurs." The gas dinosaurs are a little tougher to kill than standard raptors and sport gross pustules all over their bodies that explode when they die; the snipers have similar pustules, which they use to fling devastating blasts of goop your way.
To contend with these different threats, you and your team have a variety of mech suits at your disposal, and it's important to compose your team to work together to the best of your ability. We saw four different suits in the play test: the Deadeye, your standard assault rifle-toting soldier; the Roadblock, a tank character that can deploy an energy shield to block incoming dinosaurs and attacks; the Shaman, a healing and support character; and the Zephyr, a quick and agile melee-focused fighter. Balancing the team between those different characters was essential to doing well, and our group immediately found that if we were short a Shaman or a Roadblock, we'd struggle to stay alive against the oncoming dinosaur hordes.
In practice, Exoprimal feels similar to a lot of other co-op shooters, giving off something of a Left 4 Dead or even Overwatch vibe. Your team's Roadblock puts up a shield that can be used to bottleneck dinosaurs and hold them back while the rest of the team shoots at them. Deadeye and Zephyr characters do the bulk of the damage, shooting through shields and zipping around the battlefield to take out priority targets. Shamans deploy healing items that can boost the whole team or a single character, while using their attacks to zap dinosaurs with electricity to slow or paralyze them. Using effective teamwork allows you to control the flow of the battle and keep your team alive. It's easy to get overwhelmed--Exoprimal drops a lot of enemies on your screen at once, often flowing in from different points--and that requires you to pay attention to different threats and to work together to address them quickly and efficiently.
As these typical matches wore on, the player-vs.-dinosaur portion generally ended with a fight against a powerful giant dinosaur: in our games, a T-Rex or Triceratops. These huge dinosaurs are much tougher to take down than their smaller brethren and pack an incredible punch when they attack. The T-Rex, for instance, can grab and chomp a single mech in one go, killing you outright if you're not careful and quick. The Triceratops, on the other hand, can charge through your team, wreaking havoc as it stampedes around or rolling sideways to squash you. As we damaged these big dinosaurs, they'd often turn and run to another portion of the map, forcing us to fight through more raptors and other dinos in order to keep up the fight and complete the match.
The fights with the big dinosaurs are where Exoprimal dishes out the most fun because they require you to use all the tricks at your disposal to get an upper hand. Roadblock, for instance, can stop a stampeding Triceratops with their shield, standing their ground and holding the dinosaur while the rest of the team batters them--but only as long as their shield can withstand the attack, which isn't very long. You also can't fight the Triceratops head-on, since its armored face reduces damage from your attacks to next to nothing. That means that baiting attacks, circling around, and keeping each other alive is essential to victory. The same is true with the T-Rex, which is more agile and more dangerous to a single target, but which can be knocked down if you focus your attacks on its head. Distracting and baiting it around the battlefield while your teammates lay into it can keep it from devastating your whole group.
Throughout all these fights with dinosaurs, you're competing with the other team, who are running through the same map as you but in another dimension. Between objectives, you can occasionally see the other team, highlighted as red ghosts, giving you a sense of just how far ahead or behind they are. In most of the matches we played, however, things didn't end when we felled its biggest dinosaur. Instead, we'd go into one final phase, which would sometimes push both teams together in the same space, while also carrying a new objective. Most of the time, that objective was to collect energy cartridges that appeared around the map, with each team needing to gather 100 cartridges in total.
Just how these matches work wasn't entirely clear; as you're gathering energy cartridges, you're also fighting dinosaurs, and it seems that doing well in these goals sends dinosaurs into the other team's dimension to slow them down. The mode was partially a race to gather energy cartridges, but both teams' dimensions often merge, bringing a player-vs.-player aspect to the mode as well. The other team can show up at certain objective locations and fight you directly; killing other players allows you to steal their cartridges. So the mode becomes about fighting dinosaurs, racing to pick up objects scattered around the map, and fighting third-person shooter battles against the other group to waylay them and protect your squad.
These PvP battles were some of the most pitched moments in the games we played, often requiring our group to quickly change our team composition to deal with our opponents--easy, since you can change your mech suit class whenever you want, but with a short delay that leaves you vulnerable to attack. In one match, we found ourselves getting wrecked by the other team, with the scoreboard quickly favoring our opponents by something like 60 cartridges. Two of us swapped quickly to Deadeye characters, however, and we were able to use our range and shooter skills to turn the tide, stealing enough cartridges to snatch victory.
The major downside of this mode, however, is that it seems to render everything that came before it moot. The race to fight raptors and bring down T-Rexes really only appears to determine your positioning in the energy cartridge mode; the team who kills their dinosaurs fastest gets into the mode first, giving them a slight advantage against the other squad. The same was true in another match we played, which featured a final PvP mode in which teams had to escort and protect a payload to try to get it to a specific spot. Eventually, both teams converged on the same final location, creating a massive PvP fight, and it seemed everything we'd done before hadn't really mattered.
What's more, the PvP portion of the game seems to undercut the attention paid to team composition in earlier parts of the match. As mentioned, when a few of us swapped to Deadeye characters, we quickly found we were much better suited to take on the other squad than we had been as healing Shamans or melee-focused Zephyrs. This is probably a case of only seeing a small slice of the game--there were only four characters, after all, and it seems likely that more options for team composition would change the feel of the mode drastically. But the Deadeye class seemed dominant against other mech suits in a way that caused us to spend less time working together and aiding one another. And while the competitive shooter aspect felt good once we got the hang of it, it doesn't necessarily seem like what the mechanics of Exoprimal were built for.
That said, our group enjoyed gunning down other teams while also fighting off waves of dinosaurs and even the occasional player-controlled T-Rex or Triceratops; find the right in-game item and you can swap from controlling your mech to controlling a monster to completely disrupt the other team. They pack a few fun and goofy moves, including one in which the T-Rex can leap high into the air to attack enemies with its tail. Giving players control of dinosaurs is a great way to change pace and made for some ridiculous, exciting moments in our matches.
As mentioned, however, the most fun Exoprimal provided was when we took on big dinosaurs as a group, and the best mode of the game was when it threw out all semblance of competition in favor of smashing a huge, mutated T-Rex. In one mode that came up a few times, the Leviathan AI would pit us against a Triceratops at the start of a match, rather than the end. Once both teams had dealt with it, we were dropped into a sort of virtual space, where Leviathan decided to test us as a full 10-player group. Our first objective here was to deal with a wave of 2,000 raptors pouring in from above in a desperate fight to stay alive as long as possible. Once we completed that fight, we faced our toughest challenge: a battle with a huge T-Rex called a Neo T-Rex.
Like the other Neosaurs, the Neo T-Rex is covered in purple pustules, which seem to both give it special abilities and serve as critical hit spots that amplify damage. As a 10-person team, we had to lay into the Rex while staying alive as long as possible--we had only 30 respawns to share between us. As in other Left 4 Dead-likes, however, you can revive your teammates for a brief period after they go down, allowing you to save a revive. As with the other T-Rex fights, teamwork was essential here, from using shields and taunts to distract the Rex, to keeping the team healed, to focusing fire on critical hit spots. The Neo T-Rex shakes up the fight with several different moves that do massive damage, including releasing waves of energy, shooting a laser beam from its mouth, and creating a black hole that sucks players in and kills anyone trapped inside. Avoiding those attacks require reading the situation quickly and finding walls and other objects that can serve as cover.
The Neo T-Rex battle was a hard-fought one, and at its best, gave off the same vibes as a big MMO boss fight, or felling a huge creature in something like Monster Hunter. The idea that you can suddenly be thrown into a match in which your would-be opponents become your allies against a tougher threat is a great one, as well; Exoprimal does team-based cooperation really well, and your role on a 10-player squad feels just as important as on a five-player one.
Though we only played for a few hours and saw only a small portion of what Exoprimal has to offer, overall, the game was surprisingly fun in this technical test. Developer Capcom's approach to team-based gameplay uses a lot of tried-and-true ideas borrowed from other games to great effect, and fighting huge dinosaurs is just as cool and pulse-pounding as it sounds. The PvP aspects might not be quite as solid when it comes to class mechanics, but they can definitely be just as exciting and engaging, especially with a smart, communicative team. And even the general vibe of the game is a blast, as it leans hard into the absurdity of jumping into a set of power armor to fight dinosaurs from another dimension on behalf of a seemingly evil computer program. Exoprimal is a surprisingly fun and smart team-based shooter with a lot that works--it'll be fascinating to see just how well the game works when all its components are offered to players.
Exoprimal is slated to hit Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PS5, and PC sometime in 2023.
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