My Look at Humankind (the game)

I played the Humankind Victor OpenDev – here are my thoughts.

After my blog feature covering my thoughts on a potential Civilization VII, I got in on the Victor OpenDev for Humankind, the new game from Sega/Amplitude Studios. Before playing it, I didn’t know much about the game. I knew that it is a 4x game along the lines of the Civilization franchise. A game that molds itself after Civilization and positioned as a “competitor” is something that hasn’t really been seen since Call to Power II.

I know there are games like Europa Universalis, the Total War franchise, and Age of Empires, but none of those are truly on the scope of Civilization. Age of Empires is a real time strategy game, so the mechanics and how you play are completely different. The Total War franchise is a mixture of turn-based and real time that only focuses on certain periods of history, not the span. Europa Universalis also generally focuses on specific periods.

Humankind, on the other hand, is a turn-based strategy game that spans the lifetime of human history. It takes a lot from Civilization and adds enough to make it its own. I am intrigued by some of the features of Humankind. Even like that some of the things that I mentioned in my Civilization VII feature are implemented in some fashion (though not completely how I would have imagined it). And yet there are some things that I was not too happy about. But it is an in-development game, so I’m not too concerned about the latter. Hopefully, the notes that I (and other players) submitted after playing will go towards well tweaking those weak-spots and making a better game.

WHAT I LIKED

The first thing that I liked was that, just as I suggested for Civilization, they have a “prehistory” period. It was a fun little “prologue” before getting into the heart of the game… empire development. Once you reach the Ancient Era, you get to select from 10 cultures of that period. That would be your foundation and give you your emphasis for that era (builder, militarist, merchant, etc.) You get more fame by completing certain milestones in the culture’s orientation.

When you advance eras, you get to pick from a new set of cultures (or stick with the one you have). As you go, you can settle outposts and settlements within regions of the map, recruit armies and generally develop your empire. You have religion, science, and culture that you can use to give your empire certain bonuses. Those features seem well implemented to me. Combat and diplomacy are areas that I felt were hit and miss. First, what I liked.

Diplomacy is pretty much straight forward and simple. You can sign treaties (trade, border, info sharing, etc.), make trades, respond to crisis with other cultures (demand or forgo reparations), and manage your relationships (declare war). I didn’t really delve into the trade mechanic. I found myself most often in the Treaties or Crisis tabs. The major hiccup I found was when dealing with war, particularly, ending a war. I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Combat is certainly intriguing when engaging. You stack your armies (in limited stacks) as you move them around the map. When you engage in combat, you go into a sort of mini game (without transition as in Total War). Hexes will highlight showing your area and the enemies. You can then deploy your troops, then engage in combat, attacking player going first. There are three rounds per turn. If you do not complete the battle in three rounds, you continue next turn. This was certainly an interesting mechanic. Mostly, I enjoyed it. But there were still frustrations that came up, especially as the eras progressed.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

My first big frustration was, in battle, when I would go to the deployment, sometimes I didn’t have enough space to deploy my troops. When that happens, your extra troops are in reserve. I struggled trying to figure out how to swap out the troops in reserve. This led to me being overwhelmed because I couldn’t get a ranged unit out to pepper the enemy with arrows. Another problem came with balance. Some units seemed way overpowered. The enemy was using Samnahya (essentially elephant archers) and they were taking out my units in nearly one hit. I was using my most powerful units at the time and couldn’t hold a candle.

As mentioned before, I had a hard time with ending wars. The mechanics there could be a bit confusing. Reducing the enemy’s War Support was supposed to lead to them surrendering. If they did not surrender, the only option I saw was to surrender to them. It could be quite confusing.

My other big complaint was the technology pacing. I was blasting through the eras via the Era Stars and far outpacing my technological development. I hope that this was just for the OpenDev and that when the game releases, the pacing will be much better.

Finally, there is one thing about the game that kind of irks me. That aspect is one of the core features of the game, the mix-matching of cultures. Every era, you can select a new culture. You can start out as the Egyptians, progress to the Goths in the Classical Era, take the Aztec moniker in the Medieval Era, then progress to the Ming in the Early Modern. I understand that this mechanic is implemented to provide a vast combination of cultures to forge your empire. I do not fault the developers for that. But the historian in me is screaming. Still, it is not a breaker for me and I can just find me a ladder and get over it for the sake of this game.

MY EXPERIENCES

So, a brief overview of my experience with Humankind. The first time I fired it up, I made my way quickly through the Neolithic ear (the prehistory that I mentioned earlier) and eventually adopted the Mycenaean culture. I made my way through and examined the different aspects of gameplay. Eventually, I found myself being threatened by my southern neighbor, the Olmecs (who eventually became the Celts while I was still in my Ancient form), and I was being hard pressed. It was at this time that I realized some mistakes that I made early on in my empire development. I didn’t split my army during the Neolithic and only had the one region while I was being quickly closed in by other cultures.

So, after a couple of days, I started over. This time, I grew my units, and split them in different directions, claiming territories as soon as I could. I selected the Hittites when I reached the Ancient Era and established a strong base of operations. I got into a couple of conflicts with Harappans and the Babylonians, but I was a much better force this time around. It didn’t take long for me to reach the Classical Era this time, at which time I selected the Romans.

I continued to develop my empire and expanded my holdings. I even converted an independent culture. When I reached the Medieval Era, I opted to stick with the Romans. I don’t really understand the “transcend” bonus, but you essentially keep the Emblematics from your previous era.  It was at this point when I started running into trouble with the elephants and the “timer” for the scenario was running out. But that was ok… I had fulfilled my curiosity of the game.

In the end, I was fairly happy with the game. There are a lot of intriguing elements that I look forward to exploring when the game is officially released. I don’t think it will replace Civilization as one of my favorite games, but it may make my “top” list. I look forward to delving deeper into Humankind.

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part I –

An Overview

A look at the popular game franchise and my take on the next iteration of the series.

Civilization and Me

My first encounter with Sid Meier’s Civilization came in the mid to late 90’s. I was in the Navy and someone had it installed on one of the computers in our shop.  I remember playing through and getting excited when I built my first knight. However, it was a turn or two later, a plane from China came flying over my civilization. This was off-putting, to say the least. I stopped playing shortly after that.

It wasn’t much later that I bought my own computer. A Sony VAIO desktop that came with several games pre-installed. Among those games was Civilization II. I don’t remember going straight to the game. At some point, I gave it a try and started coming to grips with how the game worked. I enjoyed the FMV advisors who popped up and told me how my empire was growing. Better still, I was able to make it through a whole game without being surprised by a far more advanced civilization.  I mostly stayed on par with the AI opponents. Whether that was from my own skill improving or simply better understanding of how the game worked, I’m not sure.  Perhaps both.

I was late getting into the 3rd iteration of the series. I did rather enjoy it. When Civilization IV came out, I think I truly fell in love with the series from the very moment Baba Yetu and Leonard Nimoy reciting “In the beginning, the world was without form and void” filled my eardrums. I couldn’t count the number of hours that I put into it. I began following the series on forums such as Civfanatics. I started listening to the podcast known as Polycast. I even wrote a letter to the podcast on the discussion of “realism verses gameplay” and laid out my thoughts on the subject. This eventually led to an invite to guest host on the show, which I have a handful of times now.

Upon the release of Civilization V, I was intrigued by some of the changes coming into the series, but skeptical of others. I was particularly worried about One Unit Per Tile and the removal of Religion. Still, I was excited by other aspects such as City-States, something that I had suggested in forums and other areas, though my suggestion was referencing minor civilizations.

When the game came out, my worries held true. However, there were aspects of the game that still drew me in. I learned to adjust to the “Carpet of Doom” and when Religion was added back in through the Gods and Kings expansion, I was ecstatic. In fact, I felt the new way that religions were implemented was even better. I always found it hard to go back to previous iterations because I would find myself missing the new features added.

Civilization VI

            When Civilization VI was announced, I grew excited. New features like Districts intrigued me while the game retained many of the features that I had grown to love. Religions and Trade from Civ V and a kind of compromise with the one unit per tile with the creation of Armies. That latter would help to lessen the “carpet” effect that would become prominent in Civ V (at least, in theory).

            Civilization VI has been enjoyable. The release of two expansion packs and several DLC really helped to breathe new life into the game. And when they announced the New Frontier Pass, I was paying attention in full. However, one thing I found is that the franchise was leaving me stale in a certain aspect.

            As a player who favors single player, I always loved the aspect of developing a civilization and growing it. Interacting with other civilizations was a dance. But the franchise started bogging the game down with “war weariness” and driven paths to victory. I was about the role-playing. About the rise and fall, not the beeline to victory. With the last couple of iterations, it would often become clear who was going to the top contenders to “win” the game by the middle ages (at the latest). The winner could most often be predicted before the modern ages even came about.

            This style, perhaps, came from the rise and demand of multiplayer gaming. Regardless, it was defying the heart of what the game was… a journey from prehistoric nobodies to a well-established powerhouse of a civilization that would endure time.

            That is where the next part of this feature comes in. Over the next couple of days, I will be outlining my thoughts on what would be the ideal next steps in the Civilization franchise. As Civilization VI begins to show its age and new games who are taking a crack at the formula such as Age of Empires 4 and Humankind, I think that some drastic changes may need to be taken to keep the beloved series on top. Stay tuned…

Links

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Introduction

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 2

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 3

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 4

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 5

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 6

Feature: Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise.

A look at the popular game franchise and my take on the next iteration of the series.

Introduction

It is now April and Firaxis Studios is closing the chapter on the New Frontier Pass, the year long bombardment of premium DLC and content interlaced with free updates to Civilization VI. The experiment brought some interesting content that enhance the game that, traditionally, would be considered at the end of its life cycle. Originally released in October of 2016, Civ 6 was an interesting iteration of the strategy franchise even in its vanilla state.

The game brought a lot of interesting changes and additions to the franchise, and carried over (and in some cases, improved) previous features. However, the game is not without its flaws. Two expansions and a variety of DLC, not to mention the aforementioned premium season pass that has been constantly injecting new life into the game this past year. While those additions did a lot for bringing adjustments to the game, it did not correct all its flaws, and even added a few (perhaps minor ones) more in the process.

Still, the game keeps drawing me back as I battle with the “age” old struggle of “one more turn.” The concept of taking a scrawny settler and single warrior and founding a city, then expanding it throughout the ages to ultimately become the dominant civilization has long been an intriguing one. The game instilled a love of history in me wanting more.

Now that the pass is over, the question arises, “what of the future for Civilization VI and the franchise as a whole?” Will the traditional life cycle of approximately 5 years prevail as development of the next iteration is long underway behind closed doors? Or will the developers continue to build upon what they have provided in VI and introduce another expansion or season pass? To be honest, the latter has me a bit worried. The game is quite full of complex systems that even sometimes have a hard time cooperating as they were not developed together. With that in mind, I have begun thinking of what my ideal version would be if I developed the next iteration of Civilization (hey… 7 is my favorite number).

Over the next few days, I will be releasing a series of blogs dedicated to this idea. The direction that I would like to see Civilization VII go. Some of my ideas can be quite a bit controversial. However, I feel that these would be an interesting change that would prevent the next just being a glorified rehash of previous versions. Before I get to the nuts and bolts, however, I feel a bit of background is in order. Tomorrow, I will post a general overview of my history with the franchise so that you see where I am coming from. After that, I will get into the nuts and bolts of what MY idea of the franchise would look like. So buckle up and prepare for a bumpy ride.

Links

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 1

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 2

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 3

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 4

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 5

Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Future of the Franchise – Part 6