Full disclosure – I would have been perfectly content to just let HUMANKIND slide right on by me until either there was a complete edition at a rock bottom price or it ended up in the Humble Choice or something. Not because I was completely uninterested in it, mind you, but merely because I’m not the type of gamer who needs multiple 4X titles in my life. In fact, I wish they’d stop reinventing the wheel in the Civilization series, but that is a completely different post.
However, since I do have an active Game Pass subscription, and since Psychonauts 2 isn’t out for another 5 days, and since I blew through Boyfriend Dungeon in around 6 hours, I had some time to kill, and figured I’d give it a shot. I played for about three hours over a couple of days, and while I don’t hate it, I also don’t love it.
If you’re coming into it with no previous 4X (or as HUMANKIND calls it, historical strategy) experience, you won’t have any habits to unlearn that won’t serve you well here. However, as someone who’s been playing Civ games since the second iteration, I had many, and I am almost as slow at unlearning as I am at learning. This did not serve me well, especially in my first game which dropped me in with more opponents and a higher difficulty level than I would choose for myself.
Bombarded by systems I didn’t understand, and frustrated by my glacial pace compared to that of my AI opponents, I quit that game, poked around until I found the settings, and got myself into a game that looked a little more my speed.
I’m perfectly fine admitting that the game systems are probably not as obtuse or complex as they seem to me; despite having years of experience, I fully admit that I was never actually good at this type of game. The biggest thing that sets HUMANKIND apart seems to be the ability to evolve into different civilizations, which may completely change how you proceed with your empire based on their special benefits and bonus fame type. So I was more than a little confused to discover that not only can you choose not to change, but that you get a flat bonus for choosing to transcend (stick with the culture from your previous era) rather than evolve. I’m sure I’m missing something, and that bonus is not actually as beneficial as it seems, but it feels counter-intuitive to the concept to let you keep right on doing what you’re doing.
You can settle a new territory (which is called an outpost) with any type of unit, and the area you gain control over feels huge. You can also send your scouts and warriors out to just randomly explore the map and basically forget that you have them if you want to. Most (all?) battles that come up will give you the opportunity for Instant Resolution, or you can do a Manual Battle if you’re more tactically inclined than I am. For someone like me who just wants to handle building, research, and a little diplomacy and trade, this is pretty great, although probably not particularly efficient.
Each era provides a list of objectives that can earn you stars, with objectives matching your cultural type giving a larger benefit than all the rest. Once you get a set number of stars, you may advance to the next era, although you can delay that if you want to. I’m not sure if it’s the only victory condition, but at least it’s the primary one – get more Fame than everyone else on the map to win.
HUMANKIND is not a simple game, even at lower difficulties. There always seems to be a lot of things going on, the tech tree is sort of similar to genre expectations, but of course, not identical. It’s definitely pretty to look at, when it’s not forever spamming you with notifications. Those notifications (which require the player to click “Acknowledge”) often felt like something I should have been worrying about, but rarely like something I had any idea of how to deal with.
Fans of the genre will probably enjoy the tweaks to the formula, more casual players might be as overwhelmed as I was. If you’re on the fence, a month of Game Pass is far less of a commitment than a $50 purchase, and I feel like most people won’t know if they really like it within the 2 hour Steam return window.