Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is by and far one of the most unique games I have played in years. Your task is simple: guide your early apes through the evolutionary process that leads to modern-day man. In practice, this turns into one of those “easier said than done” moments. Ancestors doesn’t make things easy and just like the real evolutionary process, it will involve a lot of trial and error and time. Expect to restart at least once before you really start figuring out what to do to guide your lineage through the evolutionary steps!
Welcome to 10,000,000 BC, Africa where your clan of early hominid resides. Live out the lives of multiple generations transcending millions of years exploring, learning, breeding, and evolving. Many dangers face this process and threaten to cut your lineage short of reaching its full potential. Prove you have what it takes to survive, adapt, and evolve!
I have to admit, even though the premise behind Ancestors sounded cool, I wasn’t really that interested in trying it out for myself. Throughout the course of my review playthrough that has quickly changed! Right from the outset, you are thrust into this world with hardly a single idea of what to do and where to go. Plus that opening is just brutal! After rescuing the small child the game is yours to do with what you will. “Wait, what do I do? I have a few contextual controls on my screen, as I opted to have my full HUD on, but I don’t know what to really do with it. I guess I will just go for it and see what happens!” And this is exactly how you will approach everything you do in Ancestors!
The developers at Panache Digital Games have elected to make an experience that is totally hands-off when it comes to your survival. Everything from basic food and water intake, to crafting, is all done without any sort of guide. You can opt-in to a few basic tutorials to get you started, but for the most part, these are only about mechanics. If you really want to figure out how to play Ancestors, you just have to try things out and see what happens. So it was, my first hour of Ancestors was spent learning how to switch between my clan members and keep my currently selected Hominid fed and rested.
From here I began to explore the world, going down into the jungle below me. Using the variety of “Senses” and “Intelligence” functions I was able to start identifying useful foods and objects. Let’s talk about food here for a minute, because not all of it is good for you. How do you know which ones are good and which are bad? Well, you don’t, so just put it in your mouth and see what happens! Some foods will give you negative effects, like a stomach ache or even food poisoning. Others will give you buffs, like resistance to colder weather or cures to poisoning. After trying these foods out you will be able to identify them and their properties with your senses.
Speaking of food, your early hominid looks mighty tasty to a number of predators in the prehistoric world. The first time I encountered a wild boar was something I won’t soon be forgetting. I actually survived the initial encounter, but the damage done led to my poor creature bleeding out since I had no clue how to stop it at the time! Encounters with less-than-friendly wildlife can be a bigger problem in certain areas of the map than others, so learning how to deal with it became one of my biggest priorities to understand. Ancestors features a fairly simple dodge and attack system, and once you get it figured out, the game's creatures aren't as much of a threat. Figuring out how to make a pointy stick, on the other hand, was a bit harder.
Again the central theme at play in Ancestors is learning and evolving, so in order to make the games more advanced items, you need to upgrade your clan. This aspect of the game plays out more like an RPG where doing actions, like discovering new edible foods or locations, will reward you with a form of experience. Carrying around the young of your species as you do daily tasks, such as eating, is another way to fill this meter. Anyways, as you discover more about your world, new perks begin to unlock and you can spend your experience to learn these new traits. One of these early traits is the ability to manipulate objects in two hands instead of one, and this leads to the beginning of your crafting career. Unfortunately, if you want to make something like a sharpened stick to fight off predators, you are going to have to make it over and over and over and over again.
This Neuronal network is interesting in the way it works and ties directly into the game's generational systems. There are two main forms of advancement, the first being a 15-year jump to make the clans young become adults and adults become elders. Sadly, the previous elders all die out. This is where breeding comes into play to ensure you will have a next-generation to play as. The process involves coupling up the males of your clan with a fertile female. Females can only have two offspring each, so I found it best to get all the young born before going out to explore the world. Depending on the number of offspring you are able to produce, you can permanently unlock that number of the traits previously mentioned for the next generation to know. Anything not locked will need to be relearned by spending more experience.
The second form of advancement is an actual evolutionary jump. Once you have passed one generation, you are free to trigger the jump. Everything you do, from exploring the map, to killing predators, and using items as tools, can potentially unlock an evolutionary milestone. When you trigger the jump, all these milestones are calculated up to decide if your lineage has advanced or if they are relatively the same as they were before. All the unlocked milestones are also compared to where science thinks these feats happened in history, so you can see just how ahead or behind the curve you have landed. Evolutionary jumps can take up to hundreds of thousands of years and things will be different than they were before you triggered the jump.
Overall your goal is to keep your lineage alive to around 2,000,000 BC; anything that happens between 10,000,000 and 2,000,000 is all up to you. You can die out along the way or your clan could thrive. It all really depends on gaining an understanding of how things in Ancestors world works. There are more advanced aspects to the game I am deliberately choosing not to cover as to avoid spoiling it for everyone, because honestly, this game needs to be played blind and I have already given away more than I should have!
Ancestors is a pretty good looking game. The world as a whole is very alive and there are different forms of terrain from swamps to cliffs to heavy jungles. Your hominid likewise feature great looking animations making them feel very real and believable. The hair textures aren’t the best out there, but they get the job done.
Likewise, audio is teeming with life and the sounds of streams, bats or predators permeate the air. Your hominid grunt and howl very believably and a nice soundtrack will play throughout your journey.
What It Could Have Done Better
Even though I was surprised by how much I was enjoying Ancestors, it is far from flawless. The game’s crafting system leaves little to be desired after you make the same object 60 times. Seriously, a system to fast make things after a certain amount of crafts would be great! Item management between your hominid's hands also feels janky, with craftable items always needing to be in the left hand. This gets even more awkward when you need to have an item in the right if you want to be able to attack any predators. Thankfully, some of the traits you unlock can help with your hand management, but still, having an easy way to have food and other items stay on-screen without forgetting them would also have been a plus. These are just some quality of life improvements I can think of that would make the experience of Ancestors just a bit more approachable.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an interesting and, again, unique game that I am sure will be polarizing to many. It could be considered by many to be dull or slow, but that is where I drew my joy for the game. I could take my time to do things, there was literally no rush. If you find you have a particular generation you enjoy playing with, stick with them for a bit and see if you can’t figure more things out! Shoot, after I figured out most of the basics I even went back and started a new map just so I could apply everything I learned far earlier in the game. The differences it made for my clan were huge, as in my previous map they were nearly extinct. Now I have a growing lineage and don’t have to live with the guilt of knowing there was nothing I could do to save them. I have yet to reach 2,000,000 BC but I can’t wait to see what it takes to get there! The experience is far from perfect, but the journey I have had so far has been one of my favorites for 2019! If you are looking for something new to try out, give Ancestors a shot and see if it hooks you too!