The story of humanity stretches back quite a bit further than the first settled, agricultural societies. And portraying the nomadic life of many neolithic hunter-gatherers as part of that story is only the first of many ways Humankind is looking to innovate on the time-tested march-through-history 4X formula popularized by Sid Meier’s Civilization. Starting out, every civilization in Humankind is merely a roving band of units that must forage and hunt for food to bolster their numbers. A wooly mammoth represents a major challenge as you roam this wild and untamed world, until you’ve grown your population or discovered enough scientific insights to progress to the Ancient Era.
Settling down puts you in much more familiar 4X territory. You found a capital city and start adding infrastructure and tile improvements to gain access to luxury resources and exploit the land for production, food, gold, and science. But the culture you select upon settling will only be the first of many. Each of Humankind’s six eras includes ten playable cultures, with the Ancient Era giving you the choice between Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Harappans, Hittites, the Chinese Zhou dynasty, Phoenicians, Olmecs, Nubians, and Mycenaean Greeks. Some of their bonuses will stay with you through the entire game, while others like unique military units are specific to that era.
Humankind’s Ancient Ways
Progressing to a new era means selecting an entirely new culture. Perhaps your Zhou dynasty was overrun by Huns, and now you care more about mounted warfare than Confucian philosophy for a while. The mark your previous culture left on your civilization will persist, including any unique structures you built. It’s also possible to “transcend” and continue playing as your original culture, which gives you a bonus to your Fame score but prevents you from unlocking any new bonuses.
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Fame is the currency of victory in Humankind. There are no specific military, scientific, or cultural win conditions to fulfill, but many achievements that fall under those headings will inject Fame into a national pool that tells you how well you did at the end and allows you to compare your accomplishments with those of your rivals. Being the first to invent writing, discover Mt. Everest, or build the Great Pyramids all add to your Fame.
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Similar to Amplitude’s Endless Legend, building a city in Humankind grants you control over an entire, pre-drawn region of the world and allows you to exploit all the resources inside of it. Surrounding regions can be claimed by building outposts, which are more difficult to defend and don’t have a building cue – though they do allow you to purchase tile improvements with money.
Eventually, you’ll probably want to either upgrade your outpost into a new city, or add its region to the zone of control of an existing one. The devs want to support both playstyles. They described a single megacity presiding over vast territory as a very “all your eggs in one basket” playstyle. It’s potentially powerful, but losing your capital will mean losing the game, and defending outlying areas might be more difficult with no forward bases. Having lots of smaller cities will require you to specialize more, but also offers better defense in depth.
Any tiles directly around your city center will grant access to their resources, but you’ll need to construct quarters to exploit the land further out. Quarters must be built adjacent to the city center or another, existing quarter and focus on a specific type of resource. Farming Quarters exploit all food resources in a one-tile radius, while Trade Quarters exploit production. In many cases, a particular tile will offer more than one type of resource and you’ll have to choose which one to exploit based on the quarter you choose to build on it. Your choice of culture will have a big impact on how you lay out your cities, too. The Egyptian emblematic quarter, the Egyptian Pyramids, grants bonuses for every adjacent Trade Quarter, so surrounding your pyramids with bustling workshops will grant a major production bonus.
The Story of Us
None of that is too unfamiliar if you’ve played a lot of other 4X games, though. Where Humankind pops the most for me is in the small ways it guides you through creating a story for your civilization. Your society always exists at some point along four different social axes such as Individualism vs Collectivism, Liberty vs Authority, and Traditionalism vs Progressivism. Periodically, events will ask you to make a decision that moves you further toward one side of a given axis or another. One early choice you’ll have to make is whether priests in your society can be men, women, or both. Restricting it to one gender will move you more toward Traditionalist, while allowing both will make you more Progressive.
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There are hundreds of such events, and some of them can have repercussions way further down the line. I asked Executive Producer Jean Maxime if my decision to have an all-female priesthood might affect the types of events I see hundreds of years from now. While he couldn’t speak to that specific example, he did confirm that there are decisions “the repercussions of which can be felt through the eras,” with some event chains asking you to make a choice in the Ancient Era that will follow you all the way to the Modern Era.
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Aside from simple flavor, each side of each axis provides its own mechanical benefits. Authoritarian societies will enjoy more productive capital cities, while those that lean more toward Liberty will be able to found additional cities with a lower penalty for going over their administrator capacity. You will further shape your society through choosing Civics. Unlike being essentially a second tech tree, as in Civilization 6, Civics in Humankind each offer a choice between two permanent benefits. The Army Organization civic lets you choose between a conscript army (military units are cheaper and you move toward Authoritarian) and a professional army (military units are stronger and you move toward Liberty).
There’s a lot that’s still on the “wait and see” list. Diplomacy, combat, and religion were notably not present in their final forms in the demo I played. But with the announcement of a delay until 2021, partly due to the studio adapting to a work-from-home system during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have quite a lot of time left to get it right. Already, Humankind feels like its own branch of historical 4X separate from the Civilization series in mechanics, aesthetics, and philosophy. I look forward to spending more time with it later this year.