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.