When Far Cry Primal first surfaced in 2016 and announced that it was taking away our guns — well, we didn’t quite know how to react. Sure, players were getting a little bored of the same Far Cry formula every year, but at least we could do ridiculous things like this with it:

So why take all the fun toys away?

As a franchise, Far Cry has always worked to inspire creativity when it comes to the way you play — whether it be with guns, knives, bows, explosives or a mix — and thankfully, Far Cry Primal is not an exception. The key difference is that Primal strips your arsenal down to a slim mix, which forces you to rely on the stealth and planning element many players seemed to have forgot existed in the franchise. While this approach certainly did exist in previous Far Cry titles, it didn’t remain a constant concern for players due to the power they gained while completing the game. I mean, who needs a bow when you can hunt tigers with an RPG, right?

That’s why the limitations that Primal places on you as a player are actually quite liberating when it comes to combat. Instead of having an RPG? You’ve got two spears and six arrows to kill a Mammoth — which really makes you wonder how the hell you can pull it off. The answer is often a series of carefully placed traps, plenty of running, and a ton of luck.

Taking down a mammoth is all about patience.

During my time with Primal so far, I’ve had the opportunity to hunt a few animals toward the bottom of the food chain and take on a few at the top as well. Like most players, I kept my motions slow and snuck around until I could get close enough for a headshot with my bow — and like most players, I started to get a little careless after finishing a few hunts with patience. Instead of sneaking my way through the environments around me, I sprinted through them to get to my next objective and, boy, did I pay dearly for my mistake. Primal forced me to be patient in the most painful way, and I gladly accepted after a few times where everything went wrong.

The key here is to use every tool in your arsenal effectively — which consists of a few spears, a few clubs, a small amount of arrows and a mix of consumables to provide certain advantages. The weapons are as self-explanatory as they sound, with clubs and spears being good for melee and the bow being your main tool at a distance. Each weapon can also be set on fire, which will slowly burn it down until you toss it on the ground. This allows you to block enemy paths and scare off wild animals if you’re surrounded. Granted, it doesn’t work as well as sneaking past them or killing them with a few spears — but it can help you out if you’re in a pinch.

Primal also gives you access to a variety of animals you can train and control to help you in combat. These animals are honestly the star of Primal’s combat, providing unique advantages and behaviors for you to play around with. They’re wonderfully animated and choreographed, which results in a beautiful representation of their actual counterparts in Primal’s world.

Setting up ambushes with you animals may take a little time, but it's well worth the effort.

The first one you’ll have access to is the owl, which serves as your scout in the wilderness. You’ll be able to mark targets and survey different areas of land for threats, as well as use her to set up surprise attacks with coordination. On top of that, you’ll get access to an animal companion that you’ve tamed in the wild. These range from the basic wolf all the way up the food chain to the bears and mammoths (once you’ve had enough practice) and really help even the tide of battle in most cases. Of course, you’ll have to feed and maintain him/her — but the reward is well worth the added effort. Not only will these animal companions help keep you safe by scaring off others in the wild, but they’ll also become a key part of your arsenal alongside the stone tools and consumables. After spending a few hours with my rare black lion, I even found myself naming her Australia and working to keep her out of harm’s way.

Meet my rare black lion, Australia.

By combining the simple stone arsenal and the beautifully detailed animals into a simple cohesive gameplay mechanic, Ubisoft has done right by Far Cry Primal’s combat system. Sure, each piece of the system remains a little simple on its own — but when you take the time to sit and combine them together? Brutally wonderful combat is the result. Primal may not have the most revolutionary story or been the biggest step back from the Far Cry formula as we anticipated — but it sure as hell delivers some memorable, heart-pounding combat when played creatively.

Far Cry Primal releases February 23 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Photos via Nicholas Bashore