When Capcom first revealed Exoprimal, with dinosaurs pouring out like a fountain from a portal in the sky, I thought the game was going to be something like “Earth Defense Force with dinosaurs and Warframe mechs.” And within the last few months, with Exoprimal’s closed network test and the open beta, that description has not changed much. And that’s a good thing, because based on what I’ve played, Capcom’s new IP is an absolute blast.
Both betas showed off what the game’s Dino Survival mode is all about, with two teams of five battling against dinosaurs and each other in both PvP and PvE. While I wasn’t able to play either beta, I fortunately had the opportunity to get my hands on Exoprimal behind closed doors at Capcom’s offices and experience how the game would play in its opening chapters. I also had the chance to speak with the development team on what we might expect from the full release. (And I will delve into what they said more deeply in a separate interview.)
A Dino Crisis, indeed
So far, we’ve had several versions of Dino Survival mode. The closed network test had two five-player squads competing against each other by completing minor missions before fighting against the dinosaurs and collecting energy cartridges to fill a meter as fast as they could. The open beta had those same squads race against each other to accomplish various objectives in PvE, like taking down mini-bosses and hordes of dinosaurs, before entering a different arena in PvP where they had to push a payload toward a particular point before the other team did. This section played a lot like Overwatch’s Escort mode where some players needed to stay next to the payload while others tried to break the other team’s momentum.
The open beta’s version of Dino Survival was more or less what I played at Capcom’s offices, with our squad of five players sitting in the same room fighting against another team of five in another room. It was basically as close as I’ve gotten to a LAN party in a long time, though we were still using the game’s online matchmaking instead of playing against each other directly.
The main difference between what I experienced and what was in the open beta is that I played Dino Survival within the context of the story. The first thing I did was create a character using a small set of options for hair and body types, which didn’t seem to matter much since I was either in first-person or in an exosuit anyway. I was then thrust into basic training with various exosuits at an Albius Corporation facility before becoming a full-fledged mercenary as part of the Hammerheads crew. Codenamed Ace, my character met the captain Lorenzo, the robot assistant Sandy, engineer Alders, and fellow exosuit pilot Majesty who wanted to become the top contractor at the company.
It wasn’t long until this motley crew was then notified of a strange vortex-like anomaly occurring on Bikitoa Island. Investigating this anomaly further out of curiosity, they were unfortunately lured into the trappings of Leviathan, an artificial intelligence that has been forcing able-bodied fighters into combat simulations on the island. This wonderfully B-movie scenario explains why players are fighting dinosaurs and other exosuits in what is a silly premise to begin with. In fact, I’m surprised the game goes through the effort of making a thorough backstory in the first place. I would have been fine if the explanation was "just because.”
Whether Leviathan has really been running simulations to protect humanity from future threats or if it has just gone insane is anyone's guess. Maybe it’s both. But from the perspective of the Hammerheads crew, the AI has effectively trapped them on the island until it has run all of its combat scenarios; that is, if there’s even an end to them. At any rate, completing missions in Dino Survival unlocks more cutscenes and advances the story over time. Doing so also provides further intel on what is happening through various videos and documents in an Analysis Map that players can read at their leisure.
Modern-day Cyberbots and Armored Warriors
What struck me most about Exoprimal was the ability to switch between exosuits on the fly. Swapping from one suit to another takes a while, though, so I had to pick my spots carefully. In the first few runthroughs of Dino Survival, I decided to stick with one exosuit for the entire match, just to make sure my team had a balanced composition of one tank, two or three DPS, and one or two support. The developers wanted to give players the option of sticking with their main exosuit or adapting to the battlefield by selecting other exosuits as needed. After playing through the mode several times, I became more confident in choosing different exosuits for the right situation.
I had enough time during my session to run about ten matches of Dino Survival, so I had the opportunity to try all of the exosuits that were available near the start of the game. Some exosuits like the sniper Vigilant were locked behind a high player level, so there were three I weren't able to try. Upon gaining enough experience to reach a new level, I received a War Chest that gave a random assortment of skins, charms, and other cosmetics. Out of the bunch I received, my favorite was an adorable cheeseburger charm.
After trying the all-around assault exosuit Deadeye, who had a basic assault rifle and grenade launcher, I tested the melee-focused Zephyr who moved like a ninja and could emit energy waves from its arms. Meanwhile, Barrage focused on grenades and other weapons that can deal fire damage over time. The tank Roadblock had a formidable energy shield that can block groups of dinosaurs and create a whirlwind that can suck up enemies in a mini-tornado, while his compatriot Krieger provided a lot of suppressive fire with his gatling gun.
As for support, I tried the Witch Doctor who conjured strong AoE healing circles, as well as Skywave who floated in the air while shooting waves of energy that healed team members and damages enemies at the same time. Skywave can also temporarily disable enemies by distorting gravity within a circle and by completely locking them in place using her ultimate, which I used against both dinosaurs and enemy exosuits to devastating effect.
Exosuits can also be customized by way of modules, some of which can be applied to all of the mechs while others are exosuit-specific. I was still too early in the game to unlock a lot of these modules, but the developers have said that some modules can make exosuits faster while one specific to Deadeye can make his grenades fire in a straighter line for easier aiming.
Jurassic times call for Jurassic measures
Even better, during the course of the PvP section of Dino Survival, Leviathan provided teams with an item called the Dominator, which allowed one squad member to control a hulking dinosaur. Used at the right time, the Dominator can completely turn the tide of the match, knocking out the entire enemy squad with a triceratops, T-rex, or other massive dinosaur. One time, the enemy squad was able to use the Dominator when my team was pushing the payload through a narrow canyon. Because of this, we couldn’t dodge out of the way when the enemy's dinosaur attacked us, and we were all wiped out within seconds.
In fact, for a game about mechs shooting dinosaurs, there was a surprising level of strategy that emerged. After several runthroughs of Dino Survival, my squad became more comfortable changing exosuits when needed. Since the PvE section is all about fighting dinosaurs as quickly as possible, be it waves of raptors, a swarm of flying pteranodon, or one very angry dilophosaurus, most of us decided to switch to assault-class exosutis. This allowed us to reach the PvP section faster and earn us an early lead on pushing the payload. If the enemy squad used a Dominator, we would have an exosuit like Deadeye use its powerful ultimate to kill the dinosaur outright. We quickly learned that using too many ultimates would cripple us when we faced the opposing team near the end of the run, so we tried saving them only when we really needed them.
The development team also noted that the full release of the game will have more PvE missions and modes than the betas had, particularly a Raid-like mission type that will have ten players facing off against a giant dinosaur boss. This means that there will be ways to play through the story without having to play PvP at all. This will be a relief to players who were worried that Exoprimal only had PvP modes based on the betas.
Exoprimal is slated to release on July 14, 2023 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via Windows Store and Steam. It will also be available through Xbox Game Pass on day one. The Deluxe Edition will provide players with early unlock tickets for the Vigilant, Murasame, and Nimbus exosuits and also comes with the premium tier of the Season 1 Survival Pass.
This preview is based on an early build of the game as provided by the publisher behind closed doors.