It's easy to imagine that when the team behind Far Cry Primal were deciding what their latest outing should be, they looked back over their previous titles and asked: what do people most enjoy about Far Cry? One of the things that would probably be near the top of that list would be the hunting and crafting that acted as one of the pillars for the upgrade system. Far Cry Primal reflects a desire to ramp up these hunter-gatherer mechanics even more than ever before, and taking the action back to the Stone Age – an era of history when popping down to the shops because you broke your last club just wasn't an option – helps to support this ambition perfectly.

You assume the role of Takkar, a member of the Wenja tribe who must rebuild their settlement after it's nearly annihilated by two rival groups: the Izila and the Udam. By rescuing and recruiting the survivors of your clan who've become scattered around the land of Oros, you'll need to build your strength so that you can fight back and ensure that your tribe doesn't become a casualty of natural selection.

Rather than having you work through a single line of story missions for its campaign, Far Cry Primal has multiple threads that can be played through in any order. Most threads deal with your character finding specialists within your tribe who can provide new skills and tools, though the two meatier threads address directly the conflict with the Izila and Udam. Whichever mission string you decide to follow, there's plenty of memorable characters and missions, and while the overall story revolves around the usual Far Cry quest for revenge, it still feels different enough – mainly due to the setting – that it'll make you want to see each quest line through to its conclusion.

As was the case in Far Cry 4, the strongest aspect of Primal is the open world design. With very limited scope for manmade structures to fill the landscape, the environment needed to be varied enough to make you want to explore. Fortunately, the development team has done a brilliant job with the world, and delivered a savage wilderness filled with all manner of mountains, caves, and valleys, where pretty much everything is out to kill you. These environments are made surprisingly atmospheric not only by the beautiful day and night cycle but also by some nice lighting effects from the fire that you come across, which – outside of the sun and moon – represents the only real source of light.

By and large, Far Cry Primal works structurally the same as the previous games, so you'll be spending much of your time exploring the open world, taking over enemy camps or outposts, and undertaking missions for the aforementioned collection of odd characters. The biggest changes – outside of there being no towers to climb – come in terms of the hunting and crafting, which now feed into pretty much every element of the game, as weapons, consumables, upgrades to your tribe's village, and more are reliant on these crafting materials.

As a result, for good or bad, a lot of your time will be spent picking up plants and rocks, or turning the assorted wildlife of Oros into pin cushions with your bow and arrow. The hunting is pretty much the same as that in Far Cry 4, though there have been some nice additions to the process. Animals now leave blood and scent trails which can be tracked by activating your obligatory caveman vision – and lengthy multi-stage hunts against powerful beasts add a nice challenge as your wily prey leads you on a merry chase.

The biggest addition by far, though, is the ability to tame and control certain animals to fight by your side, and having a sabre-toothed tiger ripping into your enemies can provide an extremely useful distraction – especially when you fail to walk the stealthier paths open to you. Hunting down these beasts and adding them to your menagerie is especially fun, and it's easy to fall in love with your new companions – particularly when you recruit an owl that can mark enemies and drop bombs, or you unlock the ability to ride some of the larger beasts into battle. Let that sink in for second. Yes, you can ride a bear while firing a bow and arrow.

Taking down enemies stealthily with any of your weapons – whether its clubs, spears, or your trusty bow and arrow – is still as enjoyable as ever, however things aren't anywhere near as fun in open combat. Without the great gunplay of the previous games to fall back on, you'll find yourself maniacally swinging your club while trying to get enough distance so that you can use your ranged weapons. Unsurprisingly, this isn't much fun, and it's a real shame that more couldn't be done to develop this aspect of the gameplay, since the limitations of the setting seem to have caused a bit of a backwards step to the combat.

Conclusion

Despite some new additions – and a brand new setting in a largely untapped historical era – if you dig under the surface of Far Cry Primal, you'll find a remarkably well preserved edition of Far Cry 4 entombed within. As a result, if you were hoping for more of a revolution to the formula, or didn't particularly enjoy the hunting mechanics in past games, then you're best off steering clear of this title. Of course, if you're merely looking to jump back into the familiar Far Cry gameplay loop in a captivating open world, then there's still plenty of fun to be had. And at the end of the day, who on Earth doesn't want to ride around on a bear?