Strategy games on PC have come a long way since they first hit the platform, ranging from experiences as varied as Homeworld and StarCraft to games like Civilization and Total War. Humankind, a new 4X strategy game from Amplitude and SEGA, aims to shake the genre up a bit by adding its own distinct flair. It’s not just building up a civilization; It’s shaping humanity. We get to see the evolution of a society right before us. Whether you pride yourself on your ability to lead your troops into battle, or you prefer to sit down at the table and talk it out, Humankind allows players to explore humanity in a new and refreshing way. While I initially feared that I was simply playing a Civilization clone, I came to realize how wrong I was. Humankind is a unique and immersive game from start to finish.
Going into Humankind blind, I wasn’t expecting to be greeted with a character creation screen. Instead of other 4X games that shape the course of humanity pigeon-holing you into a single leader like Gandhi or George Washington for the course of the game, Humankind refreshingly allows me to make, well, myself.
The character creation tool itself is rather straightforward and nothing to really call home about. You can choose body type, skin tone, hair styles, and more.It isn’t just here, though, where Humankind flips the script at the outset either.
Instead of picking your civilization at the beginning of the game, you are nothing more than a nomadic tribe living in the Neolithic era, and you won’t choose your culture until you move past that and into the ancient era. Every time you advance into a new era, you can choose to stay with your chosen culture or choose a new one. For instance, If you choose the Mycenaeans in the ancient era for their militaristic traits and combat bonuses, you can choose to advance to the classical era as the Assyrians who are more interested in expansion than in combat.
Choosing a new civilization and culture gives you the ability to change how you’re playing Humankind which makes for a new and exciting level of strategy based on what’s happening at that moment. Perhaps aggressive new neighbors have left you wanting a civilization that’s more ready for combat, or perhaps things are going well and you’d like to earn some fame by getting more in touch with your diplomatic side. You can also choose to stay the same, which could make for an interesting and more homogenous playthrough, but you do lose out on some of the later cultural benefits.
How you play Humankind is completely up to you. The level of customization is what you may have come to expect from a 4X strategy game. You can select virtually everything about how you play; the speed of moving through each era, the number of players, the terrain and size of the map, and even 7 different AI difficulties. Regardless of how you like to play, you’ll need to learn early on how to manage your resources, your time, and your risk. As populations rise and fall, soldiers would succeed or fail in their mission, and we become more sensitive to our own mortality, especially considering that even your population is a resource to be executed and used for their ability to speed up production. We learn that in a real society, each number represents an actual person with hopes, dreams, friends, and family.
There is a definite learning curve in Humankind that I wasn’t totally prepared for. As someone who’s clocked in quite a few hours playing Civilization games, I thought I was going to have no problem learning Humankind. To my surprise - and delight - Humankind is so unique that while I had a basic understanding of it as a strategy game, I was really confused with some of the more intricate pieces of the puzzle. In my first game, I was having a hard time understanding how to prioritize units and infrastructure so when my nosy neighbors declared war on me, twice, I lost…twice.
In my second game, I decided to go with the war mongering Mycenaeans and put all of my resources into troops. I also decided that if I had fewer outposts and cities, I could protect the home front a bit better. I didn’t even make it 100 turns before the equally aggressive Mongols decided that there wasn’t room enough for both of us and as it happens, they were more experienced in war than me.
Did I mention the civics in Humankind? Civics must be purchased with influence points. Some things like the number of districts your cities and outposts have will increase your per turn influence points. Others, like violating the city cap will reduce your per turn influence points. The city cap is an interesting albeit frustrating mechanic of Humankind that I personally have never come across in any other 4x strategy game. At the onset of the game, Humankind only allows you to have 2 cities, but you can attach smaller outposts to these cities to increase your territory. Humankind doesn’t stop you from adding more cities though, rather you get hit with a city cap violation. That violation put me at a negative amount of influence points that I could have used to select my society’s civics. Due to my oversight, I was in debt several thousand influence points and I was losing more every turn.
Humankind plays much like other games in the genre. It uses a turn-based system. It reminds you of important things like idle units, and when you need to start a new research project. Research projects are great. They open up more of what you need to succeed. They’re also frustrating in that the unit size and the number of cities you can control at one time are both tied to how far you’ve advanced. Research projects that can give you more cities are locked until you can get pre-requisite research done first.
When I played as the Assyrians, who are supposed to be expansionists, I was neutered in other parts of the game because I was regularly over my city cap. While I had an expansionist specific skill to annex outposts by force, a greater tool for the Assyrians would have been extra cities in the city cap or not to have a city cap at all. Still, your society can grow in the ways you want based on the research you do. If you want to fast track military research, you only pick those items in the research area. They will often only block each other in the order of research. If you’re planning to stay out of combat and want to research diplomacy, religious studies, or science, you can always go down those branches of research as well. The choice in how you approach your civilization is entirely up to you.
Combat in Humankind is a refreshing change from what I expected. While not perfect, it allows a lot of freedom for how to conduct battle. There are basically two options in an open confrontation. You can either deploy your troops strategically in manual combat or you can opt for an instant resolution. In an instant resolution, both players have to agree to it and the battle is decided based mostly on the strength of both players’ units. There was some level of chance involved as a weaker army might fall to a stronger army at times. A weaker opponent might require manual combat as the ability to strategize can at times overcome a more powerful opponent.
When laying siege to a city or outpost, the defending player can try to endure the siege or force a non-siege battle. An attacking player can also try to maintain a siege while the defending player attempts to endure. If the city or outpost falls, it automatically becomes the property of the attacking player. I took a bit of issue with this because the city cap means that if I already have too many cities, I could potentially be taking on another city and further penalizing my influence points. Influence points are important for expanding your empire. Unfortunately, as far I could tell, there was no way to destroy a city after conquering it or even demoting it to outpost status. You can liberate a city but especially if I'm playing an expansionist empire, I don't want to lose control of my population or have neighbors I can’t control. I’d rather just burn the city to the ground than possibly deal with later aggressions.
Diplomacy & Trade
The diplomacy in Humankind may have been one of the less impressive parts of the game for me. Like other games in the genre, you can use diplomacy to manage relationships with other players. Declaring war, signing treaties, and managing trade relations are all standard fare for diplomacy. Unfortunately, Humankind’s diplomacy falls flat after that. To declare war without penalty, I must get support from the people. That’s fine, it's an interesting concept but the war automatically ends when one side loses support. War support comes from having grievances attached to demands. Those demands are automatically added to the terms of surrender for the losing side. The problem is that there were times when the war was going well for me and I thought it’d be nice to just put this player away for good but before I had the chance, the war was over and to add additional terms to their surrender, I needed more war support than I already had. Also, I could at any time declare a surprise war without the consent of my people, but it negatively affected my standing with other empires.
When signing a treaty such as open borders or non-aggression, I had the option to counter another empire’s offer, but I had no say in what the counteroffer was. I could see what the counter would be, but I’d much prefer to decide what I needed added so that I could be more strategic in how I countered offers. Probably the most annoying part of diplomacy in Humankind is that I felt like it didn’t really matter. At the end of 300 turns, the winner is decided by who has the most fame. Yes, you can get fame points for playing diplomacy well, but there is no such thing in Humankind as a “diplomatic victory.” It’s only one small element of Humankind. On the other hand, military victories can certainly be achieved if you manage to knock a player entirely out of the game.
A Few Bugs to Work Out
There are a few things I’ve noticed so far that I’m not terribly wild about. The first is unit management. To start, you can only group 4 units together but when you’ve got multiple groups near each other that need to move, it seems you can’t select them together and give them the same orders. This means an incursion into enemy territory is a bit on the tedious side. You can eventually earn up to 8-unit slots for a single group but I’d prefer to be able to select as many units as needed together and have them all receive the same orders. The point here is best made by comparing it to the Civilization series. Where I could stack 10, 20, or even more units on a city in Civilization, I could only stack up to 8 units in any given group and Humankind made me work hard for those unit slots. Also, the path to victory is a narrow one and comes down to how famous you are. My most successful game so far came when I played the expansionist Assyrian Empire. You would assume that for an expansionist to gain fame, he’d need to...expand. At the end of 300 turns, I had the largest empire on the map. I had stayed Assyrian to ensure fame bonuses through the entire game instead of evolving into another culture. I had warred with my neighbors and won multiple times including winning a war that was the longest in human history (according to the life of humanity in-game). Despite succeeding at everything I set out to do, my actual fame points were 3rd out of 4 players. I didn’t even win against my neighbor that surrendered to me 4 times.
The game being 300 turns also didn’t sit well with me. I’m barely able to scratch the surface in 300 turns and then it’s already over. Yes, you can always play on after the game ends as it’s not a hard limit, but I would rather turn off the turn counter entirely and just get immersed into what I’m doing than worry about if I have enough fame by turn 300. There are 4 different end-game scenarios with different win conditions. Things like “Last Man Standing” where the goal is to eliminate all other players or “Space Race” where the goal is to be the first to launch a mission to Mars can help set goals and make play sessions feel more focused. However, regardless of game mode, the 300-turn limit trumps all other goals. It’s crazy that there isn’t a single mode where the turn count has nothing to do with the win condition. This problem certainly isn’t unique to Humankind, but I had hoped -in vain- that it wouldn’t be repeated.
Humankind is truly an amazing game. Unfortunately, this can get lost in the bugginess and glitchiness I was experiencing. At times, the game would become non-responsive during combat. During one game, after the official 300 turns, all the unit sprites disappeared. In both cases, the only thing to fix the problem was to exit the game and reenter. A few times during loading, the game froze and had to be closed from the task manager. I had hoped these glitches were isolated incidents at first and that I’d be able to ignore them but the high frequency with which they appeared made Humankind simply unplayable at times.
Humankind may not be the greatest strategy game of all time, but it certainly is a fantastic entry in the genre. Between the incredible feeling like I’m playing God over the entirety of humanity, and the ability to watch creation… my creation… evolve into the society I want them to be, I’m sure to be enjoying this for a while. If you’ve played an historical strategy game before, don’t make the mistake of thinking you know how this will play out. It may surprise you to see what it’s like when you start playing out your own plans for all of Humankind.