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.
If this is where humanity came from, no wonder we’re so messed up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When that happens, hopefully, I'll still have a clan left to keep humanity going with.
We’ve been eager to show you some footage of Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, a beguiling and bedeviling new game about human evolution. It’s a difficult adventure that explains little of itself to players. That’s where we come in.