Exoprimal interview – cloudy with a chance of velociraptors

We chat dinosaurs, exosuits, and all things Exoprimal with Capcom game director Akshay Kolte, unpacking the game mechanics and storyline

Exoprimal's five Exosuit classes standing in an ensemble

Capcom’s co-op survival game meets hero shooter Exoprimal was a real highlight of PlayStation’s State of Play 2022 conference in March, returning again for the recent Capcom Showcase. It’s not Dino Crisis, as some of the more eagle-eyed fans were quick to point out on the night. But what it is seems to be visiting from a different, better parallel universe, where the game industry is just more fun.

In Exoprimal, raptors teem out of black holes in the sky like water from a tap, then ravage a downtown block. Responding to the dino alarm that this triggers, a squad of muscular operatives in exosuits exchanges fist-bumps and readies up. Honestly, why hasn’t this been the premise of 20 previous videogames? I consider it a great failing of the medium that it hasn’t.

But there’s ambition in Exoprimal that extends beyond obvious parallels to Left 4 Dead and Overwatch 2. Its PvPvE format, where two teams of five players compete against each other and the dinosaur horde, sounds equal parts exhilarating and confusing on paper. Game director Takuro Hiraoka can shed some light on how a match plays out, though.

“The rules of Dino Survival are simple and straightforward: complete all mission objectives faster than the opposing team. That said, Dino Survival offers a wide variety of missions, including those that pit players against one another in direct combat and those that require players to band together with their rivals to take down a major foe. Additionally, the frequency and timing of battling Exofighters on the opposing team varies from one match to the next.”

Five Exosuits face off against a giant dinosaur in Exoprimal

So you’re fighting each other – but only sometimes – while also racing to fight off the horde more efficiently than the other team, and at times even banding together as one group of ten versus a giant foe. I don’t know about you, but I’ve played enough identical rounds of Warhammer: Vermintide 2 by now to like the sound of that.

The other really significant aspect of Exoprimal that Hiraoka describes is in its persistent elements. Absent in Left 4 Dead and not wholly in Back 4 Blood, permanent markers of character investment and customisation aren’t easy to implement in co-op games like this. By their inclusion, developers run the risk of throwing the balance off between team-mates, or eliminating the challenge for experienced players. Again, it’s the aforementioned Vermintide 2 that offers the most convincing answer, with an RPG-like character upgrade tree and an obsession-forming loot system.

Hiraoka alludes to some form of persistent elements in Exoprimal: “As players play Dino Survival Mode, they can earn XP that can be used to raise their player and Exosuit levels. Players will be able to earn a variety of rewards as they level up. We’ll reveal more information about those rewards and Exosuit customisation at a later date.”

It might sound vague, but that tells us we have separate upgrade options for player and exosuit. And that sounds like a big deal to me. One allows wide-reaching perks to reward hours of play, the other a way to experiment with builds and play styles, broadening your armoury.

The Zephyr Exosuit charges towards the camera, blades in hand

Exosuits are a crucial component here. They dictate your class with your five-strong team, and as Hiraoka explains, they allow for some tweaking so that two tank builds might approach a round differently.

“One characteristic of Exosuits as a whole is that each Exosuit has their own arsenal of weapons,” Hiraoka explains. “They also have suit-specific active skills they can employ against the dinosaur hordes.

“Assault, Tank, and Support Exosuits all have distinct roles in Exoprimal. Assault-type suits take down enemies with a wide range of attacks. Tank-type suits protect teammates from enemy onslaughts. Support-type suits use an array of skills to support teammates and make it easier for them to succeed in battle. The fun part about this is that each Exosuit’s unique weapons and active skills offer different means to carry out their respective roles on the battlefield.

“Take the Assault Exosuits, for example. Deadeye can take on numerous enemies at medium to long range. Zephyr poses a significant threat in close-quarters melee combat. Vigilant is a skilled sharpshooter who uses a railgun to snipe enemies with pinpoint precision from long range, but this strategy doesn’t perform as well when surrounded by many enemies.

“Players can also attach rigs to their Exosuits, greatly expanding their capabilities and opening new possibilities in battle. I encourage you to try out a variety of combinations and find those that best suit your preferred playstyle.”

The Deadeye Exosuit in Exoprimal unleashes a barrage of missiles from their rig against a group of dinos

​​With multiple exosuits available for each role, that gives players a lot of freedom to dig into Exoprimal’s metagame and uncover the ‘best’ builds. One suspects that if Capcom does its job right, that fabled build will be unattainable, but we’ll have fun searching for it. Maybe more importantly, we’ll be able to specialise.

And that’s what persistent elements are about in games like this, really. We don’t actually want to be able to nuke every dino in the game with one press of LMB because we reached level 500. We just want to get so good at our incredibly esoteric role that our team-mates sometimes stop to notice the good work we’ve been doing. Perhaps they watch us on a Twitch stream and realise our game looks completely different to theirs, because we’re performing entirely separate actions all round long.

There will be an Exoprimal closed network test in July, and that’ll be players’ first chance to get a feel for its ambitious and asymmetrical concept. It’ll also give Capcom a chance to see how players approach levels, fine-tune things like pathfinding and weapon or ability damage stats. Based on the gameplay we’ve seen so far, there’ll be a rush for that tank build with the Reinhardt-like shield. Dinos piling up against it like Black Friday shoppers. Delicious.

A group of Exosuits unleash their rigs against hordes of velociraptors, in a colourfly chatoic display

There’s a surprising depth of consideration to story here. We only really need to know that there are dinosaurs that need to be made extinct, but it’s clear no small amount of world-building’s gone into Exoprimal, and it feels all the better for it.

Whatever the reason for the spontaneous dinosaur outbreaks – and one suspects it’s not entirely accidental – Aibius Corporation has swiftly rolled out a raft of technologies that control the carnivorous hordes. These include everything from a weather report-style prediction system powered by the not-at-all foreboding Leviathan AI, to the exosuits themselves. Hmm – is there something a bit sus about this Aibius outfit?

“It’s completely ridiculous that you think they can’t be trusted!” Hiraoka assures me. “Aibius Corporation is taking great strides to improve mankind and the world they live in.

“Thanks to Aibius’ latest technology and the next-gen AI Leviathan, Exofighters are able to minimise the damage caused by dinosaur outbreaks, which pose a threat to individuals across the globe.

The Roadblock Exosuit in Exoprimal stands against the onslaught of dinosaur hordes armed with their trusty shield

“Aibius is recruiting future Exofighters to become humanity’s greatest hope. We invite you to participate in the Closed Network Test. Step into the role of an Exofighter and put your skills to the test!”