4X strategy can be tough to handle for a lot of people. By their nature, these games are complex and involving. In some cases, they can even eat up days or weeks of the player's time on a single game. Knowing your opponents and knowing yourself is the key to your victory, and you have so many plates to keep spinning. It's not hard to see why some people don't get on with the genre so well. Humankind is a 4X strategy game that condenses that plate spinning down to a single, simple metric and makes it easy to manage what you're doing without losing any of that depth that 4X strategy is known for.
Humankind Has A Solid Pedigree
Humankind comes to us from Amplitude Studios, a team with a pretty decent 4X pedigree thanks to the Endless series. Rather than tackling space or a generic fantasy setting, Amplitude now takes aim at Civilization's throne by tackling the entirety of human history. You guide your chosen people through the various era's from ancient times all the way up to the modern period and beyond. As the leader of your faction, you steer your own unique course through the game, choosing to model yourself after various real-world cultures during each era.
For this gameplay preview, I was given access to a single era of Humankind's gameplay set just after you've escaped the nomadic lives of the ancient era. I say escaped, but I was actually started out at the tail end of the nomadic experience. To advance I had to wander the lands, unlocking certain 'knowledge spots' which allowed me to advance and establish my first city. This is the point where I got to choose which culture I'd like to base my civilization around for this era. This choice affects your building style, what your citizens are good at, and what your overall goals for the era are.
Using Cultures in Humankind
Because Humankind is still in early stages I was given 4 of the 10 usual choices for which culture to mimic. Most of these cultures were pretty simple to understand. For instance, one had a focus in scientific learning, another in conquest, etc, etc. Presumably when all 10 are available some of these cultures might even be a mixture of more than one ideal. For instance, a culture that is as good in battle as it is at scientific progress, or an agricultural culture that can still excel in commerce and uses those two things in tandem, etc, etc.
For now, I ended up plumbing for Babylon. Partially because I always choose scientific progress, but mostly because their architecture looks pretty. Once you've picked your culture you have to get down to doing as much as you can to eke out a victory. As I stated before, the way you do this is streamlined a fair bit compared with other 4X strategy titles. Instead of trying to go for a particular type of victory, everyone is chasing only one thing: fame. No matter what culture you're based on, you're trying to become more famous throughout history.
What this basically boils down to is trying to go after challenges aimed at your particular culture. For Babylon, I was trying to have the most scientific advancements of any faction as well as aiming for specific research unlocks to get fame point. It's pretty simple to understand since you know what you should be focusing on as soon as you've chosen your culture at the start of an era. Although, it does mean that each era lacks a little flexibility. If you go with a die-hard science culture it can be difficult getting anything else done.
The Monumental Nature Of Humankind
Luckily, chasing your culture-specific goals isn't the only thing you can do for fame points in Humankind. There are also monuments that you can build which can result in a huge number of fame points all in one go, although building them isn't as intuitive as I'd like. I'm sure that this will be made clearer in the final version, but basically you not only have to select these monuments as a building project, but you also have to then assign specific cities to help build it. On my first playthrough, my only monument sat at 'infinity turns left' to complete and I had no idea why.
Building works exactly like you'd expect it to. Once you've got a city, you can tell it to produce certain things, such as upgraded walls, additions to tiles in your territory, or units to explore and conquer the field. How long it takes to build something depends on your territory. Each tile in your city provides a production value. The higher that value is the quicker your buildings will be finished. While there are certain cultures that are better at production, it's a pretty universal requirement to get anything at all done.
Combat is also pretty interesting. Rather than your units just meeting in the field and slamming into each other until one of them falls over, you actually have direct control over units in combat. Moving your units around the overworld map is simple. Your units are arranged into groups and move around together so you don't have to manage all of them at once. Once you're in combat, you control individual units and move around a zoomed-in version of the world map. This combines the best of both worlds as you don't struggle to move around, but have a decent amount of control over your units in actual combat.
How Humankind is shaping up
When all is said and done, Humankind still has an undercurrent of deep strategic thinking running through it. However, the streamlined nature of the victory condition makes it so much easier to get into if you're not already into strategy games but want to be. Combat is a similar deal, offering a decent amount of depth without being overwhelming. It's thought to get a full picture of the game from such a small snapshot, but I personally cannot wait to see exactly what else will be added to Humankind in the coming months.
TechRaptor previewed Humankind on PC as part of a SEGA digital press event. The game is currently set for a 2021 debut.