Exoprimal’s best trick should become a new multiplayer standard

Exoprimal is a dumb video game — and I mean that in the most positive terms possible. It’s a bombastic dinosaur shooter that feels like it was the product of an eight-year-old boy explaining his idea for the most fun game he can think of. Thousands of raptors fall from portals in the sky. Katana-wielding robots chop down Tyrannosaurus Rexes. It’s loud and proud in its ridiculous blockbuster ambitions.

It’s not entirely brainless, though. In fact, Exoprimal contains a handful of ideas so ingenious that I can’t believe they aren’t common practice in multiplayer games. That’s especially true in its approach to storytelling. Its mysterious story about a dinosaur outbreak and a suspicious AI program doesn’t just happen in one opening cutscene or in extra lore you can find on Capcom’s YouTube channel. It’s all integrated into the online game and dished out gradually between matches. It’s a potentially innovative system that makes a multiplayer title feel like a single-player campaign. Take note, Overwatch.

Uncover the mystery

Exoprimal dumps a lot of information on players before they can actually load into a single match. A long set-up (complete with two tutorials) introduces players to the basic conflict. In 2040, vortexes began opening up on Earth and genetically modified dinosaurs came spilling out of them. To combat that plague, humans began sending out squads of “exofighters” to fight back. In any other multiplayer game, that would probably be the only setup you get. It’s enough to justify a gameplay loop where you jump into a robot suit with a few friends and kill hordes of dinosaurs over and over.

Exoprimal goes several steps beyond that, though. Its actual narrative happens three years later, as a squad — a ragtag patrol group dubbed the Hammerheads — get stuck in a vortex and find themselves trapped on the remote Bikitoa Island. There, they confront a rogue AI named Leviathan who has constructed a “wargame” in which squads are sent back to 2040 and forced to participate in combat tests. The goal isn’t simply to wipe out dinosaurs but to escape the endless loop.

It’s a strong setup, but how do you pay that off in a match-based online game with no single-player content? Meet the Analysis Map.

Exoprimal's analysis map sits at 28% completion.
Capcom

A standalone tab on Exoprimal’s main menu, the Analysis Map acts as a sort of evolving story codex. It’s laid out like a round evidence chart, with different leads and mysteries connected by threads. The more matches a player completes, the more “lost data” they unlock. These lore snippets largely unfold as short conversations between the Hammerhead crew, as they uncover documents pertaining to Bikitoa Island or audio logs from dead exopilots. The more data is recovered, the more some of the story’s longer-term mysteries unlock.

The story happens in a fairly linear fashion; the analysis map fully fills up in roughly 15 hours. That flow makes Exoprimal feel like it has a story-driven single-player campaign, even though its gameplay only happens in five-on-five online matches. Every round advances the story and deepens the wider world, rather than simply throwing players into the basic experience and battle pass grind we’ve come to expect from online games like this (all of that is still there, but story unlocks are the main draw).

It’s a system that fixes a problem I’ve had in just about every multiplayer game I’ve been obsessed with over the years. When I first got into Overwatch in 2016, I was excited to learn more about its world and all of its heroes. I’d never really get that in-game, only learning the story through supplemental animations on YouTube. It was something I was hoping Overwatch 2’s Hero Mode would address, but that project has since been canceled. Even in something like Apex Legends, I usually only get one cinematic to set up a new season and little story beyond that. I’m always left wanting more.

And why wouldn’t I? When I get really into a multiplayer game, I’m usually investing tons of time into it. If I’m spending that much time in a world, I naturally want to know more about it. Exoprimal finds a way to deliver that without scraping the usual multiplayer hooks that keep me coming back. It’s an innovative way to tell a story in a game like this, gradually changing my understanding of what I’m actually doing over the course of 15 hours. I’m just as invested in escaping Bikitoa Island as I am in killing thousands of dinosaurs. And trust me, I am very invested in the latter at the moment.

Exoprimal is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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