Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a game like no other that I have experienced before. Patrice Desilets, creative director of Assassin’s Creed I, II, and Brotherhood has spent the last 5 years creating a new experience for gamers. Ancestors is set 10 million years ago in Africa and you play as an ape of some sort. The overall goal of the game is to learn and evolve. The game does not hold your hand at all. Prehistoric humans didn’t have anyone telling them what to do and neither do you in this game. You the player have to live, explore and discover as if you were an ancient clan of humans.
You are on your own
Again, this game does not hold your hand when you start playing. This can be a little frustrating at first but you are learning as you play, just like one would learn to survive 10 million years ago. Ancestors is all about discovery and learning the world around you. Early in the game, you are playing as a baby ape and everything in the world around you appears dark and scary. This is how Ancestors portrays the unknown to the character. When entering new environments, the player becomes more uneasy. As you evolve and start to learn about the environment around you, the world becomes a lot more open and brighter. You learn each new environment and the various plants and wildlife.
The team over at Panache Digital Games did a really good job of putting the player in the shoes of the character you play. I am going to assume that most people will do a bad job when first entering the game and getting a hold of the mechanics. These mistakes play an integral part in human development. Just like real life, mistakes will need to be made in order to grow. There are more difficult game modes in Ancestors but they are not available until a certain amount of progression is made in the default game mode.
Progression in Ancestors comes purely from being inquisitive and exploration of the world around you. You do not play as just one character. You play as an entire clan. It is said that the game could span about 50 hours of gameplay. As you examine plants and wildlife, you discover new tools, health items, and weapons. As you use items, switch them between your hands, and alter them, you improve your dexterity and knowledge. You unlock points that allow you to lock in these skills and evolutions and you pass them on to the next generation. Also, as you learn, your tribe also learns the same skills. If the character you are playing dies, you move to a different character in the tribe with the same skills. That being said, remember that you can switch between different members of the clan. Playing with a member that is injured could lead to their condition worsening and eventually death.
The progression chart in the game is represented as nodes in the human brain, when you learn something new, a new node is unlocked and a new skill can be learned. There is a crazy amount of skills to be learned here. Everything is not meant to be scientifically accurate but I enjoyed digging deeper into all of the things that could be unlocked. It really gives you an idea at how complex the human mind is and how far we have come.
Danger Around Every Corner
There are many ways to get injured, sick, and die in this game. The discovery mechanics could lead to you finding a new food source but it could also cause sickness. You can fracture limbs by missing a hundred foot jump or being attacked by a predator. There is permadeath in this game. Once a character is lost, they are lost forever but their knowledge is passed on. If the survival skills and evolutions you unlock are not locked in, they won’t get passed down to the next group.
In a way, this mechanic is similar to a roguelike. With each death, injury, and evolution, you are sent back out into the world with a greater knowledge. Even though this knowledge is obtained, it does not mean that you are safe. Mishaps will always be a possibility and the act of discovery will always lead to a new and greater threat.
Beauty in Discovery
Ancestors is a very good looking game. The review copy given to us is for the PC and the requirements are not too hefty. The rig that it is running on consists of an Intel I7 process and GTX 1060. This easily runs the game at high settings. We have no doubt that when this releases on consoles down the line, it will look just as impressive. The game is full of lush environments and detailed character models. There are a ton of animals, vegetation, and other structures that make up the beautiful regions of Africa where the game is set. You start in a jungle type environment but you can also migrate your clan to other locals such as deserts.
Overall, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a very interesting game. This is something that no other developer has attempted when it comes to survival games. I have to say that the game is not going to be for everyone. It will take time to learn and master the mechanics but I think that is intentional. Ancestors has the potential to become the building block for a lot of games as we move forward. If you are a fan of a slower paced, methodical exploration game with the occasional hit of adrenalin, this is the game for you.