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Humankind Review

A seven culture nation couldn’t hold me back

As an empire-building 4X game looking to tread upon the hallowed ground of Sid Meier’s Civilization, Humankind makes the bold choice of seemingly impersonating the genre titan. Beyond the striking yet familiar visuals is a bevy of systems that seek to challenge decades-old colonial themes tied to 4X historical strategy games, attempting to bring diversity and empathy to the player experience. Developer Amplitude is no stranger to comparisons with the Civ series, with their previous 4X series Endless Space and Endless Legend proving their strategic chops while in Firax’s shadows. Humankind is Amplitude demonstrating a keen understanding of how the sausage is made. The fundamental ‘one-more-turn’ DNA remains intact here. However, the extra flavour of culture-building and morally challenging event decisions that sets Humankind apart ends up feeling trivial and underexplored.

If vain curiosity brings you here, welcome and settle in. For the unaccustomed, ‘4X strategy’ is a colloquial abbreviation that stands for ‘eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate’. These represent the actions that all players will employ to some extent in competing against other national leaders to build a thriving empire.

The game doesn’t really care to express which direction you should go, so long as you go on and be social. Meet a few animals, find some sanctuaries, wave to a neighbour. Then slay the wildlife, ransack their sanctuaries, and quickly plant outposts on all the territories to lay claim. Players begin the game in the Neolithic era with a scout unit. Unlike in Civ, you won’t be planting your first city immediately. Instead, little scout, you must venture forth and discover ‘curiosities’ in the name of gaining influence. Congrats, you’ve now reached the ancient era.

Though stunning in detail, the world varies between feeling lonely and hostile

Influence is used as a kind of cultural currency that can be used to extend your territories and develop civics. Gain enough of it and as you progress into your first era (Ancient), and you can start building the culture and policies guiding your empire. Civics is one of the game’s interesting systems that present binary choices about what policies your nation should adopt. Do you prepare your people for small councils so that you can spread your reach yet maintain stable control? Or do you implement autocratic policies to maintain a concentrated grasp on your population? It might cost a bit, but these policies can always be changed if your influence in the world is vast enough.

And what a stunning world to explore. From the sights to the sounds, from waves crashing into the shores to a choir singing, it makes each discovered inch of this world a joy. In shuffling utility units like workers and traders to the backend to minimise tedious unit management while reducing clutter, the maps spring forth like a pop-up book of wild nature and blossoming biomes. Although the early exploration can stumble due to awkward unit pathfinding, I never tired of clearing the fog of war and seeing majestic mountains rise before me.

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Imagine a world where these are mutually exclusive press values

Each hexagonal tile within your borders can be dedicated to a building or district with productivity outputs. Initially, the only tile in your empire will belong to your city. Turn a tile into a market district and it will allow for a trader to bring in more money, for example, and all of these tiles can effectively be set-and-forget. Yet the streamlining of self-maintaining tiles does not cut down on the city micro-management of 4X games, with a compact and mostly readable HUD. The meta of the mid-late game becomes a tile-building puzzle of switching and swapping districts for different buildings to channel output for the demands of your civ.

The lovely landscapes come at the cost of the game not having much humanity to speak of. This is a painful irony for a title that refers to the diversity and density of, you know, humankind. Paradoxically, virtually all the units that appear in the game are tied to military utility. Even the humble scout is expected to engage in combat. While military dominance can lead to victory, a good 4X game will allow for players to specialise in other paths to victory such as industry or science and forgo aggression entirely.

Very.

While the core empire building is a solid tile-management game, the systems layered on top leave a mixed impression. The selling point of this game is the ability to choose a culture that would be thematically prominent in the given era, allowing a rich lineage of diversity to mark your civilisation. Along the way, events occur that require players to decide between three options. Strangely, these choices can range on the spectrum of ethics but have little to no ongoing consequences. If you choose to execute a religious leader who has come from shores unknown to convert your citizens, you might get a boost in your faith currency. If you simply ignore them, there may be a chance of something bad happening. That bad thing may be a loss of stability in a city. It is so inconsequential most of the time, I would select choices based on their immediate benefits/costs rather than out of moral investment in the event narrative. You will see most of these events on a single playthrough and find they have little substance by your second and third.

Of my fundamental issues with Humankind (of which there are very few), substance is the most glaring. A game like this begs to be played and replayed, seeing how nations rise and crumble because of petty diplomacy and greed. Yet, the systems supporting these exciting alternative-history empire fantasies fall flat when compared to big daddy Civ. Diplomacy is a reactive exercise, where you have very little say in how you interact with other empires outside of trade and a small handful of treaties. Persia stacking troops on your border? There is no option to tell them to piss off, you’ll just have to wait until they’re in your cities. Cultures also provide very little variety outside of a unique unit, building and some bonuses depending on the disposition of the culture (economic, military, industry and so on).

The ethical dilemmas the game presents feel rich and heavy. Not so much the second and third time

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My final gripe is the faith system. The game never makes a reason for why you should want to develop faith or a religion, and I found in my playthroughs that I had maxed out my ‘faith’ currency by the time I would hit the Middle Ages. Faith typically provides small bonuses like what civics does, except there’s little sense that you’re making tough decisions. The actual interaction and role that religion plays between empires are so obfuscated, I could not tell if it was extremely shallow or poorly explained. Unlike in Civ where religion can become competitive and units can use faith to effectively infiltrate enemy territory, it is mostly backend fluff here.

Final Thoughts

Depending on how desperate you are to get a fresh new Civ-like experience, Humankind may not sway you from Sid Meier’s camp. Everything on offer here looks and sounds great but is perhaps too much like the 4X titan. While the Civilisation games boast a wealth of systems that one can manipulate to pave their path to victory, Humankind’s feel tacked on and underdeveloped. That being said, building cities and managing the precious space in your borders is a core loop that beats the best 4X games. With some mods or expansions, I hope to see this game rise above being a mere distraction before Civilisation 7.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Humankind Review
Some Kind of Human
Humankind is an impressive showing of what Amplitude can do with historical turn-based strategy but is edged out by the series that clearly inspired it. The promise on the box of building a culturally diverse empire is not yet fulfilled, with successive playthroughs showing the moral choice and culture systems as being underdeveloped.
The Good
Gorgeous world
Bold approach to diversity
Core city-building is an addictive puzzle
The Bad
Underexplored systems limit replayability
Diplomacy is reactive and underwhelming
Near-complete scarcity of non-military human units
7.5
Good
  • Amplitude Studios
  • Sega
  • PC
  • August 18, 2021

Humankind Review
Some Kind of Human
Humankind is an impressive showing of what Amplitude can do with historical turn-based strategy but is edged out by the series that clearly inspired it. The promise on the box of building a culturally diverse empire is not yet fulfilled, with successive playthroughs showing the moral choice and culture systems as being underdeveloped.
The Good
Gorgeous world
Bold approach to diversity
Core city-building is an addictive puzzle
The Bad
Underexplored systems limit replayability
Diplomacy is reactive and underwhelming
Near-complete scarcity of non-military human units
7.5
Good
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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