In the middle of the street, between looming skyscrapers, there is a hole in the world. It throbs and crackles. A blaring wail comes over our comms. And then raptors start to fall by the thousands.
They charge through the streets, moving past, rushing over, and toppling cars as they go. They’re like water. And then they reach us. The weapons of our exosuits come alive, and it is cacophony. I slam my shoulder into a raptor, it knocks into 15 more and slams them against a nearby wall. There are over a thousand to go as my teammates open fire in most ways one can imagine. Miniguns, railguns, good, reliable rifles. And, over time, a thousand dinosaurs fall by our hand. This is, somehow, not the moment that sold me on Exoprimal.
When Capcom announced Exoprimal, a AAA third-person shooter about killing dinosaurs, it didn’t feel like a product of the early 2020s, but of the late 00s or early 10s. Its reveal trailer opened with an android calmly saying, “I’d like to share today’s dinosaur forecast.” And then it rained raptors, and everyone lost their minds. However, time passed and the sound of scaly bodies hitting the ground faded from my memory. What that reveal trailer failed to totally convey, despite its handful of clips depicting characters entering powerful, distinctively designed exoskeletons, was that Exoprimal is a team-based PvEvP (player versus environment versus player) hero shooter—and an inexplicably good one at that.
I do not, however, blame Capcom for burying the lede on the game’s actual structure, because trying to accurately and compellingly pitch Exoprimal in two minutes feels like an extremely difficult task. The game, despite the many comparisons to cult-classic, giant bug shooter Earth Defense Force, is not primarily focused on co-operative play. Instead, the open beta foregrounded the game’s central PvEvP mode, Dino Survival, which feels as much like Overwatch as it does EDF.
Each game of Dino Survival is broken into two parts: first, an asymmetrical PvE race to defeat dinosaurs more quickly than the opposing team, and second, a single round of symmetrical, objective-focused PvP. In both segments, players control characters wearing powerful exosuits, each with their own unique weapons, abilities, and roles—which, in the public beta, could be swapped on the fly to respond to the game’s shifting objectives and the enemy’s team composition. Success in the PvE section will give players a headstart in the objective-driven PvP section, giving weight to the opening half of missions, while not undercutting the tension of the game’s PvP combat.
In the open beta, the PvE objectives were simple: either defeat a lot of dinosaurs, or defend a VTOL from a lot of dinosaurs while killing as many as possible. However, they didn’t need to be particularly complex to be extremely enjoyable on account of the many, many dinosaurs. In its best moments, Exoprimal starts to feel like a cooperative musou game, with every player fighting dozens of dinosaurs at once with the unique toolkit of their given exosuit. To hit 15 raptors with your cool sword is, in and of itself, a treat—one the game accompanies with some surprisingly excellent feedback ranging from bouncing damage numbers, to hitstop, and the flailing limbs of raptors knocked airborne. And, much to my great joy, the game plays all of it straight.
The PvE combat doesn’t just feel good though, it also produces the opportunity to try out new suits in combat, before actually facing another player in PvP. The lower stakes dinosaur warfare creates moments where you can test out if a particular suit fits your playstyle. During my short time with the game’s open beta, for example, I learned that the Nimbus, a Support with the capacity to switch from capable healing to a high DPS mid-ranger, is a great fit for me, but a poor fit for the game’s PvE segments. The Nimbus has exceptional single target DPS and great healing abilities, but against the game’s dinosaurs who attack in numbers and lack burst damage options for the Nimbus to quickly heal, the Nimbus feels wildly inefficient. However, that discovery didn’t feel like it held my team back as much as trying a new class in the middle of a game would in any other hero shooter, and when the time came for PvP, I switched to the Nimbus and felt great supporting my team while picking off vulnerable enemies in the backline.
Other suits ended up filling the opposite niche. The Barrage is an explosive-based assault exosuit, which shines in close-quarters crowd control, but struggles to successfully engage enemy players. Against a raptor swarm? The Barrage is your best friend, but during the objective-oriented PvP segments, having two Barrages on my team cost me a game.
It is in those objective oriented PvP sections that I realized Exoprimal was a genuinely excellent hero shooter. It has terrific fundamentals, with each exosuit filling a particular role, with specific counters, and stellar gamefeel. Coupled with the game’s ability to change suits on the fly, and you have rounds where you’ll constantly be shifting between different suits to respond to the enemy team. My favorite suit, the Zephyr, a quick, melee assault suit, shines against both raptors and other players, but its low health makes it vulnerable to focused fire. It balances this physical vulnerability with a powerful movement toolkit, at least until an enemy Skywave, a movement-restricting support, stops it in place, resulting in the Zephyr’s immediate, violent demise.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Krieger is a massive tank with a powerful minigun, and wide-reaching bubble shield. It can effectively control vast amounts of space, and protect all of its low health allies simultaneously, assuming they know when to run before the shield falls. However, the Krieger struggles to handle the Murasame, the game’s katana-based, melee tank.
The Muramase doesn’t tank by directly protecting its allies, but by distracting the enemy by becoming a high health, high damage threat. The Muramase is defined by its counter, which makes it immune to damage for a short period of time, during which enemy attacks will charge up an extremely high damage counter with a sizable hitbox. If the Muramase can get inside of a Krieger’s bubble shield, the Krieger’s team has to either ignore the dangerous melee unit trying to bait them into attacking (taking consistent damage in the process), or leave the protective bubble shield to meet the enemy team in neutral territory.
These were the realizations that actually sold me on the game.
Exoprimal is much more fun and dynamic than almost any other hero shooter that I’ve played in the last few years, and it may be insulated from the genre’s occasionally excellent, but frequently disappointing specter: esports. No one will be able to take the dinosaur game seriously. No pros will dictate the game’s balance through public complaining. Capcom has made a hero shooter that, despite being enjoyable as a competitive game, all but defies professional play. It is simply too goofy.
And in that goofiness, Exoprimal carves its niche as both a terrific hero shooter with real competitive depth, and a dumb thing that you can boot up with your friends to turn your brain off with—something which other games have tried, and failed to be, because they were too cowardly to consider the unifying power of a good raptor swarm.