Almost exactly two years after it was unveiled, Amplitude and Sega have launched their ambitious Civilization-inspired 4X game Humankind. Was it worth the wait? We believe it does enough things differently to answer that with a yes.
Humankind was unveiled at Gamescom 2019, which was one of the last trade shows we went to – only we didn’t know that at the time. As a result, it’s been a bit more quiet surrounding Amplitude’s game, which would otherwise surely have been a recurring title at subsequent trade shows. So, at the moment of its release in August of 2021, we were still just as curious as we were back when we sat in on Amplitude’s announcement presentation.
As the title suggests, you don’t just pick a single civilization in Humankind right away, but rather take humanity through the different eras of time, right from the early beginnings where you’re just a tribe that’s always on the search for food and the ideas of nations and culture feel remote. As soon as you start your first settlement and start to build it out is when that starts, and this is where and when you’ll make that familiar choice.
The culture you decide to pursue has an effect on how you’ll develop over the course of the game, with distinct differences between ideals, world views and unit types. But as soon as you start to think “this feels like Civilization”, a new era dawns, which in Humankind means you can select another culture to add to your own – giving you access to new possibilities and tactics. Repeat that a few times as you progress through eras and an endless amount of avenues begins to take shape – though ultimately there’s a sense that Humankind always converges into a melting pot of culture, not too unlike what we see in real life.
Natural resources are crucial to the growth of your empire, and they in turn can fuel advancements in your infrastructural options. Advancing here likely also means expanding your territory, which inevitably will lead to you clashing with other cultures. This can lead to armed conflict, but in some cases you can also form an alliance – which usually comes with economic demands and challenges. It’s an interesting dynamic, and one that’s a viable alternative to engaging in combat – especially if you meet a more advanced culture that you want to avoid getting into a large scale conflict with. You’ll have plenty of battles as you explore the world map and those unfold a lot like battles in Civilization (stronger and larger armies are very likely to win), but it’s nice that clashes between different empires can play out in different ways as well.
Humankind’s turn-based system lets you deal with unit movement, building, recruitment, tech tree development and political meetings – things can get very involved as the world around you grows. You can play the game in an endless mode, or choose to pursue certain victory conditions – some which emphasize conquest while others stress the importance of developing technology to advance your race. Add randomization of the world’s size and layout, and you’ve got a lot of replayability where you can focus on different aspects of the game each time you play – or have the same focus but make different choices are you progress through ages.
Also interesting is the notion of civics, which means that you get to make choices about how to deal with things like free speech and religion – which in turn can lead to boosts in your stability or civic unrest. The effects of these decisions are never black and white though, as they all interact with other decisions you’ve made before and will make later – creating a myriad of influences that make every playthrough feel unique as a decision that helped you last time might now be your downfall.
All this flexibility does come at a cost though, as technology and units from completely different parts of time can co-exist without seemingly affecting each other. With the effect that civics can have, it’s strange that people don’t react when their options for transportation are vastly outdated compared to what’s out there in the rest of the world already, but perhaps future balancing updates will iron that out a bit.
Because Humankind is a joy to play with its wide range of options in how you create your own slice of the human race, this is a great choice for 4X fans despite its surface similarities to games like Civilization. What helps is that it’s a great looking game as well, with detailed maps and well animated units to inhabit it. With a few post-launch updates, Amplitude can make this exactly the kind of game people get lost in for weeks during the winter months.