For the past few weeks, I’ve been binge playing Capcom’s newest class based cooperative shooter, Exoprimal. The game positions two opposing teams against each other to fend off repeated waves of dinosaurs in quick succession. Victory is rewarded to the team that finishes the allotted challenge the fastest which may conclude with direct confrontation with the enemy team or not.
Unfortunately, Exoprimal was met with lukewarm reception, to which reviewers panned it for its lack of content and minimalistic gameplay. The game also suffers from a feeling of sameness, as players undergo a constant repetition of fighting a small or large portion of the same horde of raptors, which spawn in predictable patterns. Special dinosaurs which are more powerful and resistant to damage in the form of a t-rex, triceratops, or stegosaurus will occasionally crop up to impede player progression. While these instances help break up the monotony, the occurrences are too few and far between. At first that is.
Regardless of Exoprimals shortcomings, I still felt compelled to sink 48 hours in its matchmaking system. While repetitious, I felt the classes had a unique charm to them, and the multitude of ways one can eliminate large groups of dinos feels very satisfying to me. At the time of this writing, I’ve completed 102 matches and finished the main story. The narrative is broken up into cutscenes the player comes across the further they advance their rank through completion of online matches. Higher level players will eventually be thrusted into larger battles that tie into the story. This is where I feel Exoprimal truly shines, and unfortunately, it’s where the latter part of the game isn’t seen by the majority of its player base.
The missions crucial to the story merge both teams together to thwart a larger enemy opposition. These segments were both challenging as much as they were rewarding. Exoprimal’s story is communicated through completion of its matches. The story takes place in the year 2040 where an AI technology named Leviathan transports soldiers to an augmented reality, to which they must compete in a series of wargames. Leviathan observes the games in order to harvest data from the player-controlled operations.
The major missions are rare events that meshes both teams, to which they must work together to overthrow a larger enemy adversary. Regular matches usually spent traversing a set path along places depicted like real world areas like ruined roads of a city or industrial complexes enmeshed in foliage, but the special missions normally occur in an augmented like virtual void.
One mission had us all on a flat surface fighting an oversized enemy, which in turn transitioned the fight into several new phases. The ground gradually shapeshifted into rising pillars which we needed to ascend to in order to avoid the lower levels that started to eradiate electricity. The difficulty would then spike when the mission transitioned from small platform challenges to all of us frantically trying to fend off monstrous amounts of dinosaurs pouring in from every angle of the map. Nowhere was free from harm at this point. Each players used their chosen class to fend off the onslaught of raptors by any means necessary. Classes are broken up into “exosuits” each with a different role and set of abilities. The player can assume the role of their desired playstyle each broken down into 3 categories: tank, assault, and support. One player who assumed the role of Roadblock, a tank class whose primary purpose is to use a deflection shield to impede enemy progression, only was able to stave off a small portion of the map, while other dinosaurs zeroed in on our position from behind. The more offensive tank class Krieger was right behind using its deployed small bubble shield to provide the team temporary relief from incoming hordes, all whilst slowly chipping away at the escalating number of raptors. Nearby more close proximity classes like Zephyr and Murasame were having their own trouble trying to provide pushback through the usage of melee attacks. Each player was overwhelmed and I was very much here for it. During this time, I took to the role of Skywave, a healing class that uses air traversal and projectiles that can hinder enemy movement and heal nearby teammates once in contact.
When using Skywaves ability to ascend to the air I was able to see the mayhem unfold from a bird’s eye perspective. From here I made myself useful by directing healing blasts at teammates to suppress the surmounting bits of damage they were accumulating. While the incoming hordes of common dinosaurs continued to grow, groups of the more special dinosaurs like the aforementioned t-rex and triceratops started to pour in. Skywaves mobility helped me get a better grasp on who needed assistance the most. I wasn’t entirely free from harm, as Leviathan started to spawn flying type enemies better equipped to handle my position. There were plenty of casualties (myself included) from time to time, who eventually got back in the action with a quick revive from a nearby teammate. Chaos was reigning in from all around us, an experience like no other compared to what we were up against at the start of our career as an exofighter.
Eventually the waves of dinosaurs ceased and we concluded the mission with one final bout with the main boss. Once completed, we were rewarded with a cutscene that left a cliffhanger as to what the future of the narrative may behold, which we needed to resume our regular dino fighting match routine to eventually get to.
The minimalistic hordes featured in earlier segments are obviously a way to give lower-level players a feel for the game, without it being too overwhelming. But the issue lies in the fact that the core game play loop just isn’t as enticing as the latter missions.
Most of my friends gave Exoprimal a whirl for one evening and wrote it off completely claiming that once you played one match, you’ve already seen it all. When I told them the game gets good after about 20 or so odd matches, they scoffed it off as to why they’d have to slog through a constant repetition of mediocrity before the game becomes enjoyable. In an industry where over 10,000 games are released each year it’s hard for the average gamer to keep up with what they’d like to try, even in the AAA space. Having to put in hours in a game in hopes of it getting good later isn’t much of an appealing concept when there are other titles out there more akin to ones liking that are enjoyable from start to finish.
Exoprimal is first and foremost a live-service multiplayer game whose survival is based on keeping up a healthy player count. Plenty of games who adopted the same business model ceased operations due to their failure in maintaining its players interest like Evolved and Anthem, whereas other games such as Lawbreakers in 2016 closed its servers due to never finding its audience at all. This isn’t to say that live-service games cannot be done properly. The longest ongoing MMO of all time, World of Warcraft has a dedicated fanbase that have enjoyed consistent updates and additional content for over 20 years. Even some live-service games that have befallen to rocky launches like Sea of Thieves and No Man’s Sky were still able to turn their shortcomings into success and slowly redeem themselves overtime with future updates.
Exoprimal’s peak player count at launch was around 4500 players and at the time of this writing that number has been greatly reduced to 200. If Capcom expects to keep Exoprimal from joining the ranks of the slew of live service games that closed their doors for good, there needs to be something that
keeps new players engaged before giving up entirely. The highest-level challenge comes in the form of a PVE mode known as the Savage Gauntlet. Players who completed the main story are allowed to participate in these heavily advanced scenarios, which circulate their missions on a weekly basis. This is a great treat for those of us who have put in the time and effort in eradicating prehistoric lifeforms, but I feel Capcom should instead focus its efforts on drawing new players in, or us who plan on advancing our statuses as an exofighter will soon be without teammates. Even with a dwindling player count I still have no issues with consistently participating in new matches. However, I feel the clock is ticking on my dinosaur slaying days as an exofighter.