Over the years we have seen many eras in games. From the ancient Egyptians to the distant future. We have conquered strange lands with mystical powers and become heroes. But something we have never actually seen in games is prehistory. Before the dawn of man, when our ancestors were primates.
After debuting on PC a couple of months back, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey finally makes its appearance on consoles with a host of improvements and tweaks.
As you go back to 10 million years BC, your journey starts off in baby steps, literally. You control a young member of your tribe after a brief cutscene lets you know that you are not the apex predator, and this world isn’t going to go easy on you.
Before the game even starts, developer Panache Digital Games lets you know that they will give you as little information as possible and you are on your own, just like your ancestors were. Even simple actions such as drinking clean water will have to be discovered.
The gameplay of Ancestors doesn’t have a proper narrative, outside of a few scripted events. You have one goal – survive and evolve to ensure that your lineage doesn’t go extinct.
Keeping the clan alive means looking for food and drink in the wilderness to keep everyone healthy and building relationships by forming couples to reproduce and making sure your clan has future generations.
Experimenting is a big part of staying alive, and you will have to try and combine different items together to figure out what they can do. You can discover new tools or structures such as barriers to fend off predators. I accidentally discovered that I could do spearfishing and discovered how to build walls by combing a bunch of dead branches.
Foraging and figuring out tools are not the only things that you have to figure out. You also have to find medicine and treat wounds by using different herbs and fruits that you have to discover first. Everything in this world can be fatal, whether it’s a jump that you missed or eating poisonous food.
Evolution is unsurprisingly a major focus for Ancestors The Humankind Odyssey. Every action you perform ensures that you learn more and more and this, in turn, leads to growth in your neuronal energy. This might sound like a fancy word for experience and it probably is, but it’s important that you invest in proper growth of your skills.
Carrying your children around with you is vitally important to earn neuronal energy, although it does present the risk of bringing them back in case something happens to the clan member you are controlling.
The actions you take during gameplay will lead to the things you can unlock in your Neuronal menu. The game doesn’t force anything on you and it’s up to you to decide how you want your lineage to shape up.
“Good luck, we won’t help you much. And remember… Evolution is not set in stone, it is your path to forge.”
After gaining a satisfactory amount of experience and having enough babies you can skip to a new generation. Advancing a generation will cause you to go ahead 10 or 15 years into the future, causing your babies to grow into adults, and adults to grow into elders while your elders will die.
When you decide to go ahead with the next generation, you have to reinforce the skills that you have learned. Reinforcement is limited to how many kids you have, so make sure you have enough children before locking in.
Once you have achieved extraordinary feats of evolution and want to lock in your mutations, you can evolve your lineage leading to a new step in the evolution of the tribe. Evolving will allow you to pass your mutations down your lineage.
From dense jungles to dry savannah, Ancestors Humankind Odyssey does a terrific job of making the world feel lively. The ecosystem is fully-fledged and functions on its own. You are not the protagonist in the world, you are just another inconsequential organism that might get lucky and survive.
The jungle is teeming with predators you have to watch out for. Poisonous snakes and saber-toothed tigers, crocodiles in the swamp. Until you can figure out how to deal with them, sticking to the trees is your best bet. Till an eagle comes around and scoops you up.
That’s what I loved about Ancestors, the unpredictability and thrill of even doing the most mundane tasks. I found myself paying attention to details and sounds, panicking even at the sound of a distant roar, keeping an eye out for escape routes if I got cornered.
If your entire clan dies, you will have to start a new lineage and lose all your progress. Starting over can be a huge frustration for some people, especially when you are midway through but on the positive side, you are now more knowledgable and can avoid making the same mistakes.
This crushing difficulty and consequence for failing is something that I feel is suited to the game. These days, difficult games are usually souls clones or cheat the player to bring in an illusion of difficulty. Ancestors does difficulty with grace, as it manages to implement unique mechanisms that fit the game’s narrative in a good way.
After all, the game serves to remind you of the hardships and constant state of fear your ancestors had to go through, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have an option to load a checkpoint in case things went wrong.
Experimenting and learning new possibilities perfectly embodies the experience that our ancestors endured and as a player, you get to be involved in the many choices that led to us becoming the species we are today.
All of this immersive gameplay wouldn’t be complete without visuals. And Ancestors delivers on this too. The environments are gorgeously done, the scale of trees perfectly rendered. As I climbed up the huge branches and reached the top, I would find myself staring at awe at the beauty of the world.
The way your apes move about and interact with each other seems lifelike, and the same goes for the other wildlife. The feeling of adrenaline rushing as you swing from branch to branch and dodge predators is awesome.
Unfortunately, the range of animations when it comes to certain things isn’t really varied and you will find yourself looking at the same animation a dozen times.
Ancestors The Humankind Odyssey is one of the most innovative games I have played. Its repetitive grind can cause monotony, and the difficulty can be a hindrance to some people. But the game deserves to be celebrated for taking such bold steps in such a saturated market filled with casual RPGs and action games. It is a unique game that can give you that special feeling of achievement, as you truly learn to do something for yourself. It’s not for everyone, but people looking for a challenging game with deep mechanics will find themselves at home here.