Humankind is a turn-based 4X game so dense it comes with its own in-game encyclopaedia to explain every move, city and achievement — but if you’re somebody who loves a challenge, you’ll fall in love with the ever-expanding world of the game.
While the review build I played had massively long loading times (even on reduced graphical settings) and I experienced minor lags along the way, I was mighty impressed by everything the game had to offer, including its unique seven-act structure.
In the game, you play as the unseen ‘god’ pulling the strings behind a developing nation. Your people start out as hunter-gatherers in the neolithic era and slowly gather enough food and industry to develop new technologies and more elaborate cities. As you grow, the world evolves around you until you’re bearing arms in a planet-wide nuclear race.
Humankind can be played with friends or solo, with either choice playing very similarly.
As you explore and expand your first city on a turn-by-turn basis, you’ll come across rival nations with similar goals (in multiplayer, these are your friends), and you can choose to work with them or against them for world peace.
Choice is key to building a fruitful nation and as each turn passes, new choices will present themselves. Sometimes your travels will uncover wandering tribesmen. You’ll be forced to decide whether to denounce religion or allow it to flourish. Crops can wither and perish based on your choices, and your people will suffer by your hand.
But if you make the right choices, your small nation of humans will grow to be prosperous and strong. You might even be able to forge alliances with your nearby neighbours, or force your enemies to go to war.
There’s plenty of choices you can make in Humankind, and it all depends on your benevolence. Personally, I played a pacifist run and only declared war on the British once after they refused multiple treaties from my nation (I won the war, by the way), but you can choose to play whatever way you like.
That freedom is part of the reason why I was so drawn to the game.
It really is a sandbox — and while the game’s AI is fairly tough (on basic settings, I came second in the campaign by a long shot), watching your people grow is a reward in itself.
Over the course of 6-10 hours (or around 300 turns), you’ll be able to really shape your people by implementing ‘civics’ (ideologies), focussing on advancing technologies, and initiating epic quests to discover new lands and peoples.
Your success does depend on you learning a very complex game system, though.
Humankind walks you through the basics of gameplay during the neolithic area, but once it gives you a quick rundown of exploration and a basic overview of game lore, you’re on your own. As mentioned, there is an encyclopaedia if you get really stuck, but it’s massive and you’ll find yourself going down rabbit holes if you want to understand every mechanic.
Instead, the game encourages you to experiment and click on everything until you understand how to generate money, balance your influence with the need to expand, and encourage the growth of your cities. It’s a very complicated system and relies on you tracking the impact of every building and district, and how they change your nation’s output.
For the first few eras, you’ll have no clue what you’re doing — and your cities will suffer accordingly.
I lost a huge chunk of warfare progress in the early stages of the game because I wasn’t sure whether it was better to grow my city in each era or advance as soon as I could. The game doesn’t really tell you much, and it means those first steps will be shaky while you get your head around how to build influence, money, and power in your region.
There’s a lot to focus on at once, and if you lose track of one particular region you can send your city into ruin fairly easily.
Expanding too fast can mean your influence expires and your people lose faith in you. Expanding your army beyond your reach will mean you lose money every turn and eventually go bankrupt. If you don’t have enough food, your people will starve and die.
It’s a very delicate balance, but it’s one you can achieve with careful planning, a conservative approach, and a whole lot of patience.
The good news is once you have a grasp on the game’s mechanics, you can have a fantastic time striving for technological greatness. Along Humankind’s journey, there are plenty of stumbling blocks and complications, but the further you advance, the more you’ll get to know your people and their struggles.
Every choice has meaning in the game, and the longer you play, the more exciting and involving it becomes.
Little story elements along the way mean you’ll have the freedom to guide your humans as you see fit, and win or lose, there’s plenty of satisfaction waiting for you at the end of the game.
Once I was over the tutorial hump, I had a blast with Humankind.
While the complicated mechanics may stand in the way of enjoyment for some players, the dense gameplay, fun story elements and sandbox-style choice system of Humankind all work together marvellously. I had some issues with game loading times and overall performance, but the heart of this game is golden.
It’s well worth checking out even if you’ve never played a 4X game before.