Humankind – Civilised Civilization
For the purposes of this review, I am going to assume you are familiar with the juggernaut that is Firaxis’ Civilization franchise. This turn-based empire building title has entertained millions since its inception and continues to be the gold standard when it comes to this sort of hex-based strategy title. So much so that in the last 20 years there has barely been a competitor, let alone true competition for the crown. That is, until now. Strutting in with all the confidence of a world champion comes Humankind, a new contender from Amplitude Studios and Sega. It may not have heritage and franchise history on its side, but it sure does come with fresh ideas and a belief that it can out Civ Civ.
It is almost impossible to talk about Humankind without mentioning Civ. There is just so much shared DNA, but don’t let that fool you, because Humankind takes some bold steps towards standing out from the competition. The most notable of which is the big hook seen in all the marketing materials. Players can assimilate, change and upgrade cultures throughout the game and the game adjusts accordingly. Start with an extinct culture like the Babaloynians, meet all the era’s goals then grow into Romans. Your Romans then assimilate with the Japanese, who finally got a taste for meat pies and Cold Chisel by becoming Australians. The journey through different civilisations is a real joy, each feels unique and each brings with it their own challenges. The exceptionally cool part of it all is that you can see the influence all the different cultures have had on your civilisation in their buildings, units and trade. Your culture becomes a mish-mash of everything that came before it and it goes a long way to setting Humankind apart. Civilization operates pretty much within the realms of history whereas Humankind operates in the realm of “What if…”
The other key difference between the two is the focus. Civilization is focused on achieving victory through pre-determined conditions, be that through war, diplomacy or science. In the case of Humankind though, things are less about beating the other cultures on the map and more a case of succeeding while at the same time dealing with these cultures. Humankind wants you to live in a world more than it wants you to dominate the world. It is a subtle difference that only becomes clear after a few games, but it is a welcome one. Sure you can chase victory through war or science, but to me, it felt much more satisfying to win by being a complete civilisation as opposed to one only focused on victory via a certain path. This is a game that values the old mantra “the journey is more important than the destination” making it stand out from other titles in the genre.
This brings with it the one major problem I have with Humankind, a lack of focus in the end game. It is very, very easy to get lost when you are nearing the end of the game. What should I be focusing on? What should be my goals? It is all very daunting at first and while I am sure that will change with time, it is going to be off-putting for some. I think in the game’s noble quest to put the focus on living with other cultures, it has perhaps lost a little bit of direction as the game winds down. Some clearer indicators as to ways forward would have been nice, but it is quite a minor problem in the scheme of things.
One of my big highlights with the game is both the diplomacy and trade systems in place. I really enjoyed the implementation of these tricky concepts. The systems made sense, were easy to grasp and contained plenty of depth and nuance should you go looking. The ability to set up trade routes through the purchase of goods from another nation in the diplomacy screen is a masterstroke and one the makes me wonder why it was always so fiddly in Civilization. The grievance and demands system is also a joy, with opposing cultures making demands for reparation if you annoy them too much. You can ignore these demands, bow to their wishes or even call them names, all of which will alter relationships with said cultures in appropriate ways. It is a smart, well-implemented idea that makes these encounters enjoyable instead of irritating.
Graphically Humankind sports a more cartoony look than Civ and that helps to create these custom cultures without making things too jarring. Performance-wise, it runs like a dream and there are very rarely instances of having to wait for long periods while the opposition takes their turn. The choices the dev team have made with the graphics obviously go a long way to making the game run so well because while it is a good looking game, it certainly isn’t pushing things to the bleeding edge. That being said, it doesn’t need to. The look they have gone with brings plenty of personality to proceedings and makes the world of Humankind a pleasant place to be.
With Humankind we have a game that takes the well-loved path laid out by Civilization and adds a few twists and turns along the way. It isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is adding a nice set of rims. Humankind’s new features, especially the melding and assimilation of cultures are a masterstroke and while it does lose its way little during the final turns, its differences give it a deserving place in any strategy gamer’s collection. It may not quite topple the king, but it certainly does enough to suggest that this is no longer a one-horse race. If you have ever enjoyed Civilization, I can confidently say that Humankind is going to be right up your alley, bringing enough differences to step out of the shadow of its inspiration and stand on its own as a must buy strategy title.
Humankind was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by 5 Star Games Australia