I’m not quite sure how Stonepunk Studios has done it, but Primordian just keeps getting better and better. A year ago this psychedelic mix of primal combat and gorgeous scenery was shaping up to be a decent little single-player campaign, but with a wealth of improvements under its belt the Early Access version of Primordian, releasing this week on Rift and Vive, now resembles something you really should show your support for.
In its initial release, Primordian offers about two hours of gameplay, including the first chunk of its campaign. The game is a pretty linear affair; you follow a set path and slice up baddies that jump out at you along the way. But the polish that’s gone into this rollercoaster ride, especially from a small indie studio, is quite astonishing, even if there are still some kinks to iron out in the future.
The thick jungles that lay out the first few levels, for example, are a sight to behold. I’ve raved about Primordian’s impressive environments before but after eight months since I last played the game I found myself dropping my jaw all over again at the dense vegetation and surreal wildlife that scattered around me. This jungle feels alive and truly unpredictable; massive bugs scurry overhead while enormous snakes slither into the ground, undeterred by your presence. Better yet, some of the vegetation now serves a purpose; certain plants contain grenade-like objects while others hand low-hanging fruit to pick for health.
New options like this help highlight an improved combat system. In the build I played last April, enemies would explode into blood sacks with the slightest tap of a sword, and the controls felt awkward. These elements have been largely refined now; the intimidating Predator-esque infantry are no longer stitched together by a thread and require a decent swing to really damage. That adds an enticing brutality to relieving a monster of his head and then picking it up and eating it for health (yes, that’s really a feature).
There are some new enemy types, too. Aerial enemies and snipers fire projectiles you’ll need to dodge, while giant spiders need to be taken down with a swift punch to their underbellies. The mix of these different enemies keeps the combat evolving even over the course of the early game. I even managed to get inventive with kills, as this pleasant GIF displays.
As fun as the combat can be, though, Stonepunk still hasn’t quite managed to tame the chaotic mess VR action can descend into at times. Many of Primordian’s enemies are easily dispatched with a quick swing to the head with your sword, but armored foes require a little more strategy. Essentially, you have to parry attacks when the enemy’s sword flashes red and then slash a weakened armor spot highlighted in blue. You can then hack off a limb and eventually work your way up to the enemy’s head, taking it off with a satisfying blood spatter.
The system is sound in theory and it can work in practice too, but you’ll often discover its limitations unless you robotically play by its rules. Sometimes enemies will stand in front of you for tens of seconds before taking a swing that you can parry, and if you hold your sword out in front they’ll trip and stumble over it without you moving an inch. Sometimes if you stick your sword into an opposing character model you’ll manage to kill them without having to remove any armor, too. You can normally depend on simply running head first into the enemy and observing the chaos that ensues; often you won’t be sure if you’re doing the ‘right’ thing to kill an enemy, but they’ll die anyway.
Ranged combat is gradually introduced too, though it’s in need of balancing. Though the first pair of pistols you acquire (which look like they were dug up from the earth of the tropical jungle you stand in) might not be able to kill every enemy, they’re still enormously overpowered, providing non-stop rapid fire just by holding down the trigger. By the time you get them, you’ll be able to charge through most encounters and then a pair of uber-powerful crossbows — again with infinite use — make the task even easier.
Combat is also punctuated with slow-motion moments that give you a chance to catch grenades or admire gory kills. It sounds like a nice touch, but it happens so frequently it can feel like it’s slowing down the pace a little too much and I encountered a few levels later on that kept entering slow motion when there were no enemies in sight.
I make these nitpicks only because Primordian feels inches away from getting its combat just right; it just needs to make its boundaries a little clearer. Perhaps even more so than new levels, the game needs a proper tutorial right now (beyond the instructions found on the main menu). On top of the confusing combat, its world is filled with interesting concepts, but it’s entirely up to you to get your head around them. Items, for example, scatter the landscape and are picked up by simply moving your hand into them. However there are some objects that I still have absolutely no idea what are for. They just disappeared when I touched them and that was that.
It’s important to remember, then, that Primordian is very much in Early Access right now and has plenty of room to grow. Based on the potential alone it’s worth checking out, especially if you want to play a part in helping Stonepunk craft something truly special.