Ancestors Made Me Feel Like A Monster

Image: Kotaku Australia

You learn pretty quickly in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey that death really matters.

Like everyone else, I started as a baby hominid on the rainforest floor trying to find my way back to the clan. A mega eagle had just fatally struck my parent, so the unforgiving environment was now mine to explore alone. It was all amplified with psychedelic effects and overlays so you know everything is a predator.

Some large trees and a huge cliff face later, I eventually found the clan. I switched into one of the alpha apes for a better chance at survival. Ascending further up into the canopy, I stumbled upon the very eagle nest the first ape was cruelly murdered in that started the whole experience. I know this because the ape is still there lifeless.

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Press F for respect. Image: Kotaku Australia / Panache Digital Games

What’s the harm in checking it out, I wonder, because the game rewards for discovering new things. Ancestors also allows you to analyse fallen clan members so once I reach the nest, I try out that prompt. There’s an eagle egg there and knowing full well it could be a trap, I decide to grab it anyway.

Instantly, time slows down and some on-screen prompts appear telling me how to defend myself in an attack but before I have time to read them and respond, it happens. The eagle digs its talons into my ape.

Dead.

I’m thrust into another of the clan’s bodies, my now-dead ape’s female partner. This time, I avoid the eagle’s nest. I’m not sure how many are in my clan but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough considering two were wiped out by a single eagle in a single in-game day.

After exploring around the waterfall with my new ape, I carelessly step off the edge of a cliff that suddenly appeared. I plummet to the bottom of the waterfall.

Dead.

Milliseconds before my death. Image: Kotaku Australia / Panache Digital Games

My clan's child is now missing both her parents, thanks to me.

This time, proving I’m doomed to certain extinction and another shining example of Darwin’s Law, I head for the eagle’s nest again with my new ape member. I’m determined to get that egg.

Darwin's Law at work. Image: Kotaku Australia / Panache Digital Games

I know the eagle will attack but I’m ready to jump out of harm’s way. I grab the egg, the eagle attacks, I dodge ... and then jump away from the branch falling swiftly through the canopy and missing every branch and sent plummeting toward the rainforest bed.

Thanks to a potential glitch, the game graces me with a second chance. It's more than any real-life ape eight million years ago probably had. I’m squirting out blood and I’ve broken a bone but I’m still surprisingly able to limp away. This is where I decide to flick up a quick Google search and decide how the hell to repair my ape’s broken body.

Managed to miss every single branch. Nice one. Image: Kotaku Australia / Panache Digital Games

I try searching for the plants supposed to cure me but eventually, trying to avoid the giant snakes, warthogs and a sabertooth tiger, I head back to the clan’s base to have a nap.

In my sleep, the death animation appears, and my ape seems to have bled out.

Dead.

Three apes dead in the space of two days. I am a monster. In one fell swoop, I killed humanity, or at least most of a single clan. See the thing that stands out to me isn't the tough gameplay, it's the time you invest into a single playthrough and how each clan death can't be quickly undone with a strategic load.

There are rogue apes out there in the map, it's possible I can recruit them to save my clan's existence but I still have no idea how to. I give them fruit, they angrily decline.

Unlike dying in Assassin's Creed or Fallout, for example, there's no going back. There's no salvaging your playthrough. And the game makes you confront your mistakes by leaving the apes' bodies lay where they died. It makes me feel like a dick for not trying harder. It also means I'm less likely to adventure out because each trip could (and often does) mean death.

I suspect I'll eventually become better acquainted with the controls and dying will be less frequent and devastating. The reviews have been harsh on this front, the game gives you very little information. While I really want Ancestors to hold my hand a little, especially to begin with, it does make for a more rewarding experience when you finally start to get it.

Farewell, sweet prince Te. Image: Kotaku Australia / Panache Digital Games

When that happens, hopefully, I'll still have a clan left to keep humanity going with.

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Comments

    Honestly, this game sounds pretty wild from the Kotaku articles on it.

      Its... interesting. Once you figure out the gameplay loop, it seems pretty straightforward. Find an area, investigate stuff, confront your fear, repeat. Doing that sort of stuff gets you the experience needed to unlock abilities and grow your clan. Its an interesting take on the ol' skill tree, and forces/encourages you to explore and not just build a fortress like most survival games.

      I stumbled across a couple of guys streaming it at launch, and it really sucked me in. Not enough to buy it, these games arent really for me, but watching them advance through to the end was an interesting watch. TagBackTV was the guy I mostly watched, mostly because his commentary is pretty solid and entertaining.

      If you want a good idea on how it plays, watch a couple of those vids. They have no clue what they're doing either, they just figure it out faster than the OP here and get on with evolving into the endgame.

      In the end I was hoping there would be more. The game is apparently the first of a trilogy, so hopefully it'll grow into something truly incredible, but whats there now seems a very solid base to build on.

      It's the kind of game that has glimmers of greatness and moments that feel very rewarding when you finally work stuff out and discover new things. But it's piled under layers of frustration and misery and it's by design weirdly enough. It makes it a very hard game to recommend. So far those good moments are being outweighed by the bad for me.

      I think it wouldn't be so bad if the clan A.I. wasn't so terrible (apparently on purpose). It makes it feel less like an immersive primate experience and more like a group of simple robots you are trying to program.

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