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Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2021

About Jared Hall

Jared started playing computer games in the '80s on a Commodore 64, moving over to PC gaming in the era of Wolf3D and Doom. Favorites include Dark Souls, Mass Effect and Civilization.


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PC Review - 'Humankind'

by Jared Hall on Sept. 28, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Humankind is a historical turn-based strategy where you'll be leading your people from the Neolithic era to the modern age, combining cultures as you progress through the eras to create your own unique civilization.

Humankind is the latest entry in 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) strategy games by the now-veteran developer Amplitude Studios, and it's its first game outside of the Endless fantasy/sci-fi universe. This latest iteration follows the history of mankind, from nomadic tribal warriors through nuclear weapons, essentially pitting Humankind directly against the ubiquitous Sid Meier's Civilization series. It's no simple feat and one that few, if any, other franchises have gained serious traction in.

If that alone wasn't cause enough to be skeptical about Humankind, Amplitude Studios had recently been scooped up by the publisher Sega, which can often has unpredictable results to a studio's productions. To top it all off, I was slightly dissatisfied with its latest entry, Endless Space 2, which offered a slew of additional systems that didn't integrate with the core gameplay in a satisfying way. A few poorly received DLCs continued tacking on mechanics, races and events when a streamlining of gameplay may have been in order.

From the start menu, Humankind distances itself from the competition (except Stellaris). You can customize your own leader as if you're playing an RPG, including your civ's banner and colors. You can even choose some AI traits (most of which begin locked), so other players can include "you" in their games. While not massively impactful, it's a nice touch, especially if you like customization. As a tribute to Dark Souls' Sunbros, I gave my civilization the banner of an orange sun and set out.

World creation options seemed fairly standard fare: Pangea, continents, islands, percentage of water, and so on. Spawning in on the map with a single unit on a few hexes of terrain surrounded in fog is another rather unremarkable experience. However, here is where I think Humankind achieves one of its many improvements over what's been done in the past. You do not start with a settler/colonizer type unit; you get a simple scout unit.

To build your first city, you must get an era star, which you'll get from running around, exploring curiosities, or fighting animals. The advantage is that by the time you plan your city, you have seen enough of the territory to make an informed decision. Anyone who's played these games knows that bummer feeling when you realize 20 turns in that you should've put your capital city two hexes to the left.

Cities operate in much the same way as Civ or Endless games; each turn, the city's industry is applied to whatever's in the build queue. Resources like food, gold, industry and science are produced from either the surrounding terrain or the population, which is assigned a role: farmer, worker, trader, or researcher. Humankind uses a region system much like Endless Legend did, where, upon map generation, all the land is divided into pre-set regions allowing only one city — or outpost, more on that later — per region. I'm a fan of the system, as it makes for interesting borders, which are more like what appears in real-world scenarios, as compared to the adjoining blobs often occurring in Civ. It also frees you from having to pack your cities together to make the most efficient use of land.

Onward to phase two of the 4X operation: eXpand! There are some great advances in the genre in Humankind. For starters, to claim a new territory, you move a unit there — scout, warrior or whatever — and build an outpost. Outposts cost influence, a somewhat rare resource effectively serving as a cap on expansion in the early game. Anyone who's played Stellaris should be familiar with this mechanic, which is a good approach to expansion.

One of the worst feelings in a 4X game is sending your settler/colony ship to a location only to have your rival steal it before you get there. If you make a mistake escorting it, you could lose your precious settler/colony ship to barbarians/pirates. The outpost is a much lower commitment. If you want the region, an outpost is a more vulnerable target than a full-fledged city. This will make the early game territory more contestable, rather than a race to whoever can colonize first.

Once your outpost is up and running, which can take a turn or two, you have a couple of options. You can upgrade it into a full city with its own production queue, or you can attach the region to an existing city, and either option costs influence. Amplitude has taken another marvelous direction because in the early game, you're limited on the number of cities you can control without accruing an influence-per-turn tax. In the beginning, the limit is two, and it increases slowly as techs/civics come online. That means you can expand and acquire new resources and territory, but you don't have to deal with so many city production queues. I estimate that there are about one-half of the city queues to manage in Humankind when compared to Civ 6. When playing an expansive/domination style game, this can cut down on the drudgery in the later stages.

The cities comprise multiple regions, so military conquest is just as rewarding for the victor and less punishing to the loser. Losing one of your 4-6 cities or systems in many 4X titles can make your situation feel downright hopeless, and the loss of the building queue and infrastructure is massive. Losing a territory doesn't feel nearly so bad. Sure, your city is producing less food/gold/industry/science per turn, but it's not as damaging to your overall position.

Military conquest was extremely satisfying, outclassing any turn-based 4X I've experienced. Units can stack on a single tile as part of an army up to your current army cap, starting at four units and reaching about nine in the end game. This makes moving larger armies across stretches of terrain much, much less frustrating than Civ. Once combat starts, Amplitude has abandoned the slightly odd system that Endless Legend had that required queuing up commands, and it simply allows you to move each unit each turn. I was puzzled about ranged units often not having line of sight, but with huge city sieges involving about 30 units with artillery raining death from a high ground position on the city below, it's truly magnificent.

Speaking of high ground, terrain elevation is an advertised feature that I thought was a gimmick. Maybe it's slightly impactful, but it's probably often ignored. I was totally wrong. Elevation is a constant concern in all military encounters, traversing terrain, defending areas, choosing city locations, and creating the best screenshots. It brings the map to life in ways other 4X games have not previously accomplished.

Luxury and strategic resources make appearances in Humankind. Acquiring them necessitates that you control the region and build an extractor. These resources do not accumulate per turn, but there are advantages to owning multiple copies of the same resource. For luxuries, each copy provides a bonus, and having three copies provides a wondrous bonus. Strategic resources require you to have one or two copies to unlock various units or buildings, and with the correct infrastructure, it can also provide other bonuses per copy.

The nice thing about resources is that they immediately provide good reasons to maintain friendly relations with other factions. You don't have to barter for resources; pay the gold required to set up a trade route, and all of your trading partner's resources can be yours. This doesn't cost them anything; in fact, they gain gold. Having friends paid off much more than I had seen in other 4X games because of the simplicity and win-win aspect of resource trading.

I've left out the best part of Humankind. You get to pick a new civilization at the end of each era. I was also concerned this was a gimmick feature, and again, I was wrong. First, you'll need to understand that win conditions in Humankind are different than most 4X games. You win with fame, which would be the score in most 4X titles. The game ends when one of a number of conditions are met: 300 turns, spaceship launch, the planet has been rendered uninhabitable (lol?), etc. Rushing science to your spaceship won't net a win if someone else has more fame. This is freeing from literally decades of rushing for spaceships or culture victories. What gives you fame? Pretty much everything. Build a ton of districts, research a bunch of stuff, kill a lot of dudes, take a large swath of territory, build some wonders, etc. You're rewarded for doing many different things rather than focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all else and racing for a victory condition.

To make that even more interesting, because you can change your civ multiple times per game, you're constantly shifting gears and changing your approach. Start as an influence civ to get some influence production roaring, switch to an expansionist culture to take territory, switch to a production civ to build your infrastructure, then switch to a military civ to spend that industry on destroying your enemies, and so on. It was immensely satisfying. Every culture has a unique military unit and city production that are both very good. To top it off, all your buildings, music and units change with each era and culture; it's unbelievable how much detail is there. This keeps the 20-hour games much more fresh and interactive, rather than running the program of your chosen victory condition.

In my two full playthroughs, I only noticed a couple of minor peculiarities. Once as a science-based culture, I couldn't access enough techs to get all my era stars, which seemed odd. Occasionally, tooltips block each other in irritating ways (I'm looking at you, ransack!), and the in-game encyclopedia could use some work explaining some things. Pollution isn't in there at all, nor are bizarre terms such as Co-Religionist state. My final nitpick is the many city buildings with bonuses that you have to count. For example, (and there are many, many like this), a building that gives +2 industry on rivers is very difficult to evaluate when your city can span 6-7 regions with hundreds of tiles that may or may not be functional. It would sure be nice if the tooltips included how many rivers I'm currently working because I don't want to scroll around counting them.

Alas, that's all the nitpicking I have for Humankind, and I have a ton more good things to say. (Did I also mention civics, culture, fantastic graphics, grievances, fantastic music, religion, forced surrender treaties, a more intuitive tech tree, war support, wonders, and districts expanding cities into a sprawling metropolis?) Humankind is nothing short of incredible. It has truly set a new bar for 4X games, and Firaxis is going to have its work cut out for it to make Civilization 7 visible beside the bright shining star that is Humankind.

Score: 9.5/10

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