There have been more than a few games that have let you build medieval cities, but there has been a surprising lack of focus on mankind's earliest days. Dawn of Man seeks to correct that error. This upcoming title from Madruga Works lets you work your way through several eras of early history, all while trying to keep your tiny population alive. Our Dawn of Man preview is packed full of terrifying animals, economic problems, and vicious raiders.
If you've played Planetbase as I have, Dawn of Man will seem very familiar. Many of the core gameplay design philosophies have been applied to this title as well. That's not to say that this is "Planetbase in caveman times", though—the systems have been appropriately adapted for the setting.
While a "Creative" mode is in the works, it wasn't ready in our version of the Dawn of Man preview build. There were, however, several campaign scenarios ready to play. Much like Planetbase, you had a bunch of different milestones available to accomplish. Hit enough of these milestones and you're able to progress to more challenging levels.
Two of the three campaign levels I had access to have players starting at the very beginning—the Paleolithic Era. This is a time when tools were made out of branches and people barely survived. Indeed, you need to work your way up to bone and flint tools—not exactly the pinnacle of human technology. Your first days will mostly focus on the challenging prospect of staying alive.
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Dawn of Man has players progressing from simple camps to thatched huts and eventually buildings made of stone.
You advance through the eras by acquiring "Knowledge" points. Players earn these points by hitting certain milestones. For example, you'll get one point for catching your first fish, another for catching ten, and another for catching a hundred. This system applies similarly to hunting animals, crafting goods, killing raiders, and more. Knowledge lets you work your way through the tech tree and you have a fair amount of freedom with it. You don't have to pick up every single new tech in the tree, but it sure does help.
The Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras are free of human conflict and center on simply acquiring basic technology and growing your population. It's the Neolithic Era when the game really hits its stride. This is the turning point where you can begin to plant crops, but it's also when raiders begin to become a threat. You can learn to farm grain, raise animals, and build basic defensive structures. All of these things are necessary to create a truly successful society.
Beyond the Neolithic Era, progression is mainly driven by the ability to work with newer metals. A Normal game will keep Raiders on roughly the same level of technology as you, but Hardcore games will have opposing off-screen civilizations advance at their own pace. There have been more than a few civilizations that fell to superior military technology and you're equally at risk if you don't progress quickly enough in a Hardcore game. Better metals also offer longer durability, necessitating fewer replacements and reducing your overall workload.
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Religion plays an important part in Dawn of Man—villagers will struggle to move massive stones to build great monuments (left). Raider attacks are a more earthly concern and are best fended off with a sturdy wall, robust defenses, and a well-armed populace (right).
The first two campaign levels only took about five or six hours to complete, although it's up to you whether or not you complete anything. I stopped when I had most of the milestones, but there was nothing stopping me from continuing to play. The game's third campaign level changed things up a bit, starting players off in the Neolithic Era right from the get-go and with a few more ambitious goals in mind.
Players effectively have to contend with four challenges in the game: advancing your technology, providing enough resources for your population, keeping your population happy, and fending off raiders. Once you get a handle on the game's mechanics, it's not too difficult to ensure that there's more than enough food and warm clothing to go around. Advancing technology and fighting off raiders occasionally proves to be a little more difficult than that.
As I described earlier, you gain Knowledge Points by hitting certain checkpoints for producing resources, killing enemies, and the like. Unfortunately, it becomes more and more difficult to hit these milestones in the late game. I found myself building structures I didn't strictly need simply to hit a certain checkpoint so I would have enough knowledge to progress. Fortunately, some of this can be bypassed simply through purchasing a technology offered for sale by a trader.
Dealing with raiders, though, was another matter entirely. If you don't have defensive walls and towers, you can certainly band-box around a group of people and have them fight the oncoming war party. Walls and towers should provide a greater measure of defense, but these felt terribly flimsy in the face of even a small war party. My late-game town had the best possible gates, walls, and towers, with a minimum of eight towers at each of the three gates. An attack by 20 or so raiders against one of these points typically results in the destruction of at least half of the towers. Towers and walls felt terribly weak.
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Hitting certain milestones (left) awards you with Knowledge. You can spend Knowledge to progress through the game's technology tree (right).
While ensuring a healthy supply of food is easy enough, there is one caveat to this whole thing: straw. Believe it or not, straw is an essential resource in Dawn of Man. It's used to feed animals and build the roofs of buildings in the mid to late game. I noticed an unfortunate situation crop up: animals would eat all of my straw throughout the winter before I was able to do much in the way of building. It would really be nice to have a toggle so they would eat grain instead so I could preserve the straw for building, but nothing like that exists as of yet.
Another issue I encountered is how the game manages workers. There are no dedicated workers in this society. Rather, jobs get added to a queue and people head off to do those jobs seemingly at random. Aside from being able to tag something as "high priority", there was really no way to direct people to handle things unless you manually microed every single person. I do hope this changes in the future.
Graphically, Dawn of Man looks pretty good for this type of game. The level of detail is adequate for the style of game that this is. You only notice that the model quality isn't mind-blowing if you used the focus camera feature and really zoom in. It looks perfectly fine from a higher perspective where you'll be spending most of the game.
As for the sound, the music in Dawn of Man is wonderfully evocative of man's early days. You hear it and you think "tribal humans who hunt wooly mammoths". The animal and human sounds are robust enough. The language of prehistoric man seems a little lacking in variety, but it serves well enough for background noise.
Compared to Planetbase, the Dawn of Man preview build has been refined in some ways and unchanged in others. It more or less amounts to a slight improvement with the appropriate changes made for differing gameplay. What is nice to see is the framework being laid for more variety in gameplay like special scenarios. For example, one such scenario has you guiding a herd of wooly mammoths across the land. Planetbase didn't do anything like that and it really opens up the possibility for more interesting gameplay.
If you've been curious to try something out like Frostpunk or Banished, Dawn of Man might be a good place to start. It's not super challenging for beginners to get into and it makes for an overall enjoyable experience. I spent a little over 30 hours in the preview build of this game and it's only just past Version 0.5. I'm quite keen to see what else Madruga Works comes up with for the game's proper 1.0 release. This is a game that's definitely worth checking out, even for players who may not be super excited about the genre.
TechRaptor covered Dawn of Man on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
What do you think of our Dawn of Man preview? Are you looking forward to hunting down Wooly Mammoths with your tribe? Let us know in the comments below!