Humankind hands-on preview: Rocking the cradle of humanity

Amplitude Studios' most ambitious 4X strategy title yet asks players to reshape culture and civilization history against other players. We recently got to give it an early build a try.

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There are no lack of grand and 4X strategy games that take a dip into human history, nor is the genre lacking for the ability in these games to reshape history through player choice. That said, rarely does a game so openly allow the player to reshape the values of their culture or faction so readily to create a twisting and turning history as their civilizations adapts new values to fit its evolution in a new age. Amplitude Studios knows its way around the 4X genre with the likes of Endless Legend and Endless Space franchises already under its belt, but I got to play Humankind recently and, even in an early version of the game, it’s feeling like the most in-depth and ambitiously flexible of their titles yet.

Crafting culture in Humankind

Much in the style of previous Amplitude Studios games, Humankind is a 4X strategy game. My journey in the preview began at the very start of a civilization with the common staples of this type of game. I had a choice between several types of early human cultures, each with their own perks and unique units. The preview build had cultures focused on war-like civilizations specialized in home defense and strong combat on home soil, fertile farmers built on growing surplus food and expanding citizenry quickly into multiple settlements, and production-focused civilizations geared towards creating structures and improvements quickly to get bonuses out of your cities and the land around them, just to name a few. Of course, this was mixed with exploring the world and discovering special points on the map that granted boons like money or progress towards things like a technology or production.

Where Humankind begins to set itself apart drastically is at the major milestones of its progression system. As you discover wonders, grow your civilization, conquer enemies, and other such things, you gather Era Stars through World Deeds. Once you gain enough, you move on to a new age. From there, you get to choose to stay with your current culture or adopt an entirely new one from a growing list of options. Say you begin as the Harrapans with their abundant food growing techniques and fertile empire growth and then you evolve to the Celtics, who are also decent food growers, but with the added bonus of some religious and military boons, complete with their own new unique unit.

The more we played Humankind, the more we saw the opportunity to absolutely go wild with culture progression. Play a warlike tribe and then discover religion in the next age and convert anyone left from your conquests. Play a merchant culture and build trade throughout the world and then use your amassed wealth to fully invest in a scientific renaissance with culture featuring bonuses in technology. There are multiple culture shifts as you cross from age to age and from ancient into modern times, and Humankind seems set to ensure that your culture can become wildly varied based on the choices you make with it. Amplitude Studios hasn’t foregone balance, but with the opportunities present, the studio also wholeheartedly invites players to bend the boundaries and create outlandishly unbalanced civilizations through exploration of all their choices.

Building up the conditions of victory in Humankind

Will you race to stake claims with forts or let your home city become a bastion of your culture? There are a lot of routes to go as you build upon your civilization in Humankind.
Will you race to stake claims with forts or let your home city become a bastion of your culture? There are a lot of routes to go as you build upon your civilization in Humankind.

In the early build of Humankind, there were a few key components missing. Religion and diplomacy options were unfortunately not present, but the foundations of these particularly important segments of the game were there. As I discovered other civilizations who built themselves up next my lands and became my neighbors, I took notice of a special view of the map which showed influence of their culture vs influence of my culture in each of our bordering cities. It very much seems to imply that the more you mess with various matters of civics, religion, diplomacy, and other pressuring tactics, the more their citizens might seem more interested in following your ways than those of their actual leaders.

Though it didn’t heavily appear in the preview, Humankind is also bringing back minor factions. These will take on the form of smaller known cultures throughout history, and as in other Amplitude games, it seems you can befriend them, destroy them, or assimilate them into your culture. So can your enemies, so it warrants care that your fellow players don’t get themselves a minor ally that they might use against you.

One thing that was definitely was in the preview was events. Occasionally, I’d come across decisions that would have some major consequences on the various aspects of my culture. Is your society a patriarch, matriarch, or one of equality between the sexes? When a seemingly supernatural situation occurs, do your people treat it with caution or embrace with vigor? Are you a people of the sun or is it the moon that appeals to your sensibilities? There are choices to be made here and they can have longstanding consequences on your culture for generations to come. It’s something Amplitude fans should be familiar with, but the implementation of it even in my short time with Humankind was nonetheless promising of the short-term and long-term choices that lay ahead.

Your story of history, twisting and turning to your will

Each step forward through an era allows you to become stronger at what you do best or shift wildly in another direction in Humankind.
Each step forward through an era allows you to become stronger at what you do best or shift wildly in another direction in Humankind.

My time with Humankind was short, but sweet. The groundwork is laid here for customizable progression on a magnitude like no other seen throughout Amplitude’s previous catalogue or beyond in the 4X space. Being able to continually change your culture as you shift from age to age and give them drastically different values or build upon what’s already made you strong will make for an incredibly versatile and engaging experience throughout the game. It will be interesting to see factors like diplomacy and religion develop, but for what was available in this early build, Humankind is looking like an awesome new approach to the usual romp through history. And with Amplitude inviting players heavily into the development process through programs like OpenDev, it also feels like there's a strong emphasis on building a game that 4X strategy newcomers and old fans alike can truly enjoy as we await the game in 2021. Want more Humankind? Be sure to check out our in-depth gameplay interview with Narrative Director Jeff Spock.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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