According to Steam, I’ve played Far Cry Primal for 10 hours. The game itself tells me that I’m about 23% done (but to get 100%, you also need to complete loads of optional tasks, like gathering all collectibles). I certainly feel like I’ve come a long way since Tutorial Land, but I’ve only gone through the first stages of the main story so far. There’s a lot left to explore and do. When I left off yesterday, I had beefed up my skills and trained a sabretooth tiger. Time to try my hand again at assaulting that Udam fort in the northeast and add another specialist to my village.
Walking towards the Udam fort, my sabretooth tiger and I run into a brown bear. It hasn’t noticed us yet. Quickly, I dismiss my current pet and toss a piece of bait at the bear. When it starts eating, I edge closer and hold the X button on my controller to tame it. Excellent. Now I have a brown bear at my beck and call as well as a sabretooth tiger, I don’t think anything can stand against me. I make my way to the fort, doing some side missions along the way as I run into them, and eventually gain enough skill points to unlock the ability to ride my tiger and bear.
Yes, I can now ride two of the most fearsome predators in all of Oros. Don’t ask me how it’s supposed to work. For all that Far Cry Primal tries to do in invoking the spirit of the Stone Age, there are lots of aspects that remind you that this is, after all, just a game. And the point of a game like this is to have fun. And it’s certainly enjoyable to climb on the back of a brown bear and run at top speed through the beautiful landscape towards my destination: that damnable Udam fort where I kept dying over and over again last time.
I get close to the camp, scout it out with my owl, and then send the bear in. When it dies, I call for my sabretooth tiger to take over. I have plenty of red leaf, the resource necessary to resurrect dead pets (don’t ask), and in this way I’m able to switch between the tiger and the bear whenever one or the other succumbs to the onslaught. I dive in once most of the enemies are slain and finish off whatever remains. Then I confront the final Udam, a man named Dah who asks me to kill him. However, he knows how to make “rot bane” and could be valuable, so I take him back to the Wenja village.
They don’t take kindly to him there. Sayla is angry that I brought a member of the Udam tribe back home, but I ignore her for now. Dah is locked up inside of a cage (see the picture above) and therefore won’t be able to do any harm. I leave Dah for now. Wandering through the village, I hear agonizing screams come from the hut of Tensay the shaman. I go in and see the shaman hunched over the severely burned body of a Wenja tribesman. Tensay explains that Izila, “fire walkers”, did this to the poor guy, and that there are other Wenja who were taken captive. I promise to go find them.
Leaving the village, I walk in the direction that the game tells me to. Soon, I reach a stream where I have to leave my pet alone. Swimming further ahead, I see a bridge and a few Izila. They have an Udam and a Wenja captive. The Udam tribesman is killed by the woman who is obviously in charge; the Wenja is taken away. I swim on, dive through a tunnel, and then climb up. I find myself in a cave inside the Izila camp. The game tells me to set fire to the camp and I oblige. I then kill the Izila that remain and try to flee the scene.
Close to the gate, an Izila gets the jump on me and I get knocked out. When I awake, I’m confronted by the woman I saw earlier on the bridge. She explains that she is Batari, leader of the Izila, who worship fire and the sun. She says that the Izila will rule Oros and that all Wenja will die. She then orders me tossed into a pit that they set fire to, but fortunately there’s a hole in the ground that leads to an underwater tunnel. In this way, I manage to get back to safety the same way that I first entered the camp. The game has now introduced both of the main antagonists to me: Ull, the leader of the Udam, and Batari, the chief of the Izila.
At this point, it’s useful to take a closer look at the three tribes in the game. They each represent a different take on how humans might have lived at the end of the Late Paleolithic or beginning of the Mesolithic era. The Udam, who are led by Ull, are said to have come to the valley of Oros from the hostile north, where the land is still covered by snow and glaciers. Their red body paint is probably made from red ochre, which was very popular among Upper Palaeolithic peoples. The Udam are cannibals, who eat the flesh of humans from rival tribes. They are suffering from a disease they refer to as “skull burn”, which is actually what we now know as kuru (also referred to as “laughing sickness”). They believe eating humans will cure the disease, but kuru is actually thought to be caused by eating human flesh. As such, they are essentially eating themselves to death.
The Izila, who wear blue body paint and are led by Batari, live further south, in the marshlands, where they practice a primitive form of farming. The camp I destroyed earlier, for example, included bushels of wheat (that, incidentally, looked quite modern: ancient wheat was much taller). I’ve read elsewhere that the Izila are supposed to have arrived in Oros from Mesopotamia, but I don’t see any reference to that in the game itself. Furthermore, and as far as we know, domestication of crops dates back to around 8500 BC in the Fertile Crescent, so that’s still a little later than the game’s date of 10,000 BC. It’s again an instance in which the developers fudged with the dates and characteristics of the period. In any event, the Izila do add some interesting variety to the game. Aside from mucking around with some kind of early form of plant domestication, they are also fire worshippers and able to make primitive – and wholly fictitious! – fire bombs.
The Wenja in the game, of which player character Takkar is a member, wear yellow-brownish body paint, and they seem to conform best to what we would expect the average human to be like in Central Europe at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic. Wenja recognize each other by the shells that they wear as decoration, despite the fact that Oros doesn’t seem to border anywhere on the sea (but maybe I need to explore more of the map). The Wenja are typical hunter-gatherers; I have seen no evidence for fishing, though obviously that should probably be part of their lifestyle, even if they are meant to be modelled primarily after Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. (I feel like the developers of the game didn’t really intend to have the game’s setting be 10,000 BC, but rather ca. 10,000 years ago, more or less the beginning of the Mesolithic era.)
Archaeologically speaking, the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe (i.e. between about 40,000 and 10,000 years ago) can be divided into a number of different cultures. Each of these cultures has a geographic range and some diversity across that range, and different archaeological cultures tend to overlap chronologically. For Europe, and specifically the Franco-Catabrian region, the era includes the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian periods or cultures. The people of the Gravettien are often referred to as “mammoth hunters”, whereas the people of the later Magdalenian culture are traditionally referred to as “reindeer hunters”. Such designations are, by their very nature, generalizations, but they are effective in evoking some idea of what these cultures were about. In Central and Eastern Europe, there were different cultures, such as the Pavlovian (often considered a variation on the Gravettian).
All of these cultures were created by anatomically and behaviourally modern humans. People like you or me. Over the course of the Upper Palaeolithic, these people developed more refined stone tools, culminating in microliths: small stone blades that were often fitted with bone handles or fixed in wooden shafts to create composite tools and weapons, such as harpoons and arrows. During this period, art flourished, as shown, for example, by the impressive cave paintings at Lascaux and elsewhere.
Evidence from various Upper Palaeolithic sites, such as Premosti, Moravia, indicate that human societies were also getting more complex and may have been larger, with higher population densities, than is commonly assumed. If you’re interested in a concise overview of the achievements of our Stone Age forebears, I would recommend you check out Richard Rudgley’s book, The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age (1998). While not as sensationally new as it pretends to be (even back when it was originally published), it does give good overviews on topics such as language, writing, medicine, pyrotechnology, and more.
In any event, after my adventures at the Izila camp, I make my way back to the Wenja village. There, I find that Dah has been removed from the cage. Sayla tells me that the other members of the tribe are giving him a Wenja welcome, in a cave to the north. I rush there and find many Wenja cheering. Dah has been tied to a stone platform inside the cave. There are holes in the wall through which water is pouring. The level is rising and Dah will drown unless I plug the holes. (The game doesn’t give me the option of simply untying Dah and getting the hell out of dodge.)
I dive into the water and somehow manage to hermetically seal the holes by stuffing a large rock into each of them. At one point, a very aggressive piranha-like fish attacks me and I struggle for a moment to dislodge it from my forearm. Soon, I’ve plugged all of the holes and I’m finally allowed to untie Dah. I tell the other Wenja off and say that Dah is under my protection. If anyone gets a say over when Dah dies, it will be me. The others accept this and Dah looks at me with gratitude. Since he obviously isn’t going anywhere soon, his cage gets replaced by a hut. Like the cage, the hut is, curiously enough, built inside of a cave at the Wenja village.
Dah seems grateful, but he’s in pain. Like all Udam, he suffers from skull burn. He tells me to open a hole in his skull to ease the pain. I do so. Blood flows freely from the wound and Dah is visibly glad to be rid of the pain, at least for the moment. Trepanation is known from tribal societies and was also common in Stone Age societies, as evidenced by skulls that feature holes (which generally also show signs of healing, so the procedure didn’t kill the patient). With Dah relieved, my job here in the village is done for now. A new icon has popped up on the map. There’s an Izila camp to the southeast where I can also recruit another specialist. As she’s the last of the specialists left to be added to the village, I know what I have to do next time.