TL;DR – Here, we have a beautiful game with a lot of promise but is not quite there yet.
Disclosure – I paid for this game.
Humankind Review –
One genre of Video Games just clicks with me more than others, like on a deep physiological level. That genre is the strategy game, well, more than that. It is the particular 4X genre of strategy game where you eXplore, eXploit, eXpand, & eXterminate, and if it is turn-based, even better. I can spend hundreds of hours exploring the mechanics of each game, hitting each of those four X’s. In the realm of the historical-empire-builder 4X world, there has been one crown, Civilization. Well, today, we take a look at a game that is coming for that title, and while it doesn’t quite get there, it does come close.
The first thing I want to mention is just how beautiful this game is. When you first jump into the game and see a river crashing over the cliffs into a valley full of lush jungle and red earth, Well, it will take your breath away. A lot of care has gone into everything feeling as if it is a natural part of this world. Part of what helps is a mountain of terrain features that make even areas that could be dull, like the frozen poles, still feel interesting to explore. I also like how they have introduced height to the game, making the world feel more grounded. You can see the legacy of Endless Legend throughout this game in the design of the terrain, but it has been tailored to be like Earth but stylized, and I think they get that balance right. To add to this, while watching this stunning game, you also get to hear a soundtrack that I have yet to get sick over these[redacted] hours that I have played, and I am listening to it now as I write this review. If I had to pick my favourite track from the game, it would be Mercury, but they are all great.
While Humankind might be playing with the same components as similar games, they are using them in different and exciting ways. Usually, in games like Civilization or Age of Empires, you pick one civilization/group/people/culture and play them for the entire game, which does lead to some slight dissidence with America being around in 4000BC and Assyria being around in 2021 AD. With Humankind, you start the game as a Neolithic Tribe, and then in each era the player gets a choice of 10 cultures to pick from. You could chart a route that matches with history, like starting with the Phoenicians and moving to the Carthaginians, or you could go wild and jump from the English to Ming to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
This mechanic allows you to tailor your choice to the shifting landscape of the game. Have a lot of coasts? Well, a culture with an emblematic harbour district might be a good choice. Have an aggressive neighbour? Maybe it is time to go full-Mongols. The shifting nature of the game means that you can’t pick one leader to be the focal point, so instead, the game allows you to create an avatar who takes on some aspect of the national dress depending on which culture is picked like the leader had to go to a G20 photo op. Look, this is a choice, and it was probably the best option given the game design direction they took, but it does lead to some awkwardness.
When playing the game, I found that I had to unlearn many mechanics from Civilization that I had implicitly defaulted to as they were not helping me in this new setting. For example, it felt easier to conceptualize the cities as not cities but states in many respects. In the game, you build outposts first (that are very vulnerable) which can then be upgraded to cities proper or attached into an already formed city. So those areas that are all desert, sorry sterile terrain, that have no food but have a bunch of resources/production can be linked with a food basket and vice versa. Much like Stellaris, you also have to learn how to manage your Influence because you need it for many different tasks that are all important. It does take a bit to work through all these different mechanics, and I still don’t think I have the right balance when it comes to science production. But finding and exploring all those functions have led to me looking up from my game to see that we are in the early morning, so it can capture your focus and hold it turn after turn.
While I have had a lot of fun with Humankind, playing game after game, you start to see that some of the fuzzy edges of the game could have been clarified. To begin with, there are mechanics like culture and religion that just sort of exist, but I am not sure how to affect them in a meaningful way after all this time. Then there are the aspects of the game that are just a bit awkward. In theory, I like the idea of letting me control battles, as Humankind has gone for a stack rather than one unit on a tile. However, the reality is that this sucks up a lot of time, but then you kind of feel compelled to do it because leaving it for the AI in the Auto-Resolve is a real crapshoot. Also, while we are talking about awkward, there are so many buildings that even in your highest-production cities that you won’t be able to build them all, but later cities get them built for free, so an upgrade button/project would be good. Then there are parts of the game that feel a bit undercooked, like how all the natural wonders are mechanically bland or the implementation of independent peoples. Finally, there are the bugs that come into the game. For me, where I have seen them the most is in any attempt to create a multiplayer game. I have tried multiple times to get a multiplayer game going, but they always end in failure.
In the end, do we recommend Humankind? Yes, yes, we would. There are issues and some frustrations. However, I do have to say none of these quirks was a deal-breaker, and I have had a lot of enjoyment across the ages. As well as this, most games of this genre tend to be a bit rough around the edges on launch, so you expect some of these issues to get worked out in patches, and I hope the multiplayer is one of them soon.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Humankind
Creative Directors – Romain de Waubert & Jean-Maxime Moris
Lead Game Designer – William Dyce & Maxence Voleau
Narrative Director – Jeffrey Spock
Writing – Steve Gaskell, Benoît Humbert, Étienne Rida, Suzie Sordi, Alec Meer & Jeremy Sim
Art Direction – Corinne Billon, Aurélien Rantet, Mathias Grégoire & Bastien Cilment
Music – Arnaud Roy
Voice Acting – Geoffrey Bateman, David Gasman, Bruce Sherfield, Tiffany Hofstetter, Alicia Wolf, Douglas Rand, David Coburn, Dominic Gould, Florian Hutter, Lexie Kendrick, Sharon Mann, Maria McClurg, Tom Morton, Barbara Scaff, Emma Scherer & Joe Sheridan
Developer – Amplitude Studios
Publisher – Sega