We recently got the chance to spend a day with a pre-alpha build of Humankind, the next release from the people who gave us endless Endless games (Space, Legend, Dungeon of the, and Space 2), Amplitude.
It’s looking really good, as I will enthusiastically tell you in my Humankind gameplay preview. But if you also fancy just reading about its inner workings in a no-nonsense list format – as I would, were I you – then we’ve got you, ‘fam’. We present herewith a slightly polished version of my raw gameplay notes, with plenty of detail on how Humankind handles things like exploration, exploitation, extermination, and all the other things that a decent 4X should have that don’t fit neatly into the genre’s acronym. Stuff like wonders and technology.
My demo began in the late Neolithic Era and ended with the transition to the Classical Era, meaning I played the entirety of the Ancient Era with the science-oriented Babylonians. You should also know that diplomacy, religion, and trade were all switched off in my demo, so there’s plenty more of the game yet to see.
Here’s everything that stood out in my time with the game.
Humankind City development
Cities can build a number of different entities, including but not limited to artificial wonders (see below), units, quarters, and infrastructures. These very roughly correspond to units, districts, and buildings in Civ VI. Units are obvious enough: mobile entities, such as military troops, which you can order around the map.
Quarters are effectively a city expansion in that they must be adjacent to the existing polis, and depending on their type (farmer’s quarter for food, campus for science, etc), will increase its yield output. Different terrain types are more suitable for certain quarters – all of this will be familiar to Amplitude veterans as it was present in Endless Legend and likely inspired Civ VI’s districts system. There are some special quarters called extractors which can be built on resource nodes anywhere in your empire’s territory, conferring the benefits of that resource on the nearest city.
Each city can only build one infrastructure, and they’re not placed on the map but will directly improve the city, and interact with quarters and other entities in unique ways – a millstone is one example.
Humankind Civics and ideology
As you play, you’ll get event pop-ups that, as leader of your people, will ask you to make executive decisions that will shape your civilisation’s outlook on the world. Some of these are triggered by things you are doing as you play: when I build five military units, I’m asked who should fight for the empire? Conscripts or professional soldiers? Others, though, seem more random, answerable only to the twists of fate that throw us all. A few choice examples: should we follow a solar or lunar calendar? Should scribes, moneylenders, or tithe collectors be the first to apply the radical mathematical concept of ‘zero’? And should we use cats or ferrets to hunt the mice infesting our granaries?
Some of these decisions – like the army composition one, as you see in the image above – enable you to pass a law by spending a Civics point, unlocking a permanent buff (conscription means 20% cheaper units, while professionalism means +1 stronger troops), while others, like dividing by zero, steer you down short event chains that might help or hinder your empire on the world map. All decisions will, however, nudge your empire along one of four different sliders that represent your outlook. These are geopolitics (nationalist vs globalist), economics (individualist vs collectivist), politics (authoritarian vs liberal), and culture (traditionalist vs progressive). Each slider confers a buff of some kind, which gets stronger at its extremes: a more authoritarian government gets more FIMS (food, industry, money, science) yields on the capital, while a liberal one gets more FIMS on cities without an administrator – the obvious choice if you’re playing ‘wide’, in strategy parlance.
These systems determine your success in projecting soft power. A ‘tall’, well-developed civ, with lots of civic buildings, no instability from rapid expansion or conquest, and plenty of investment in influence, will be able to build a powerful culture that’ll have a strong impact on its neighbours. The people of rival civs may demand that their leaders adopt laws similar to your own, may rebel against them if they don’t, and may resist if they try to go to war against you.
Oh, and if you’re wondering: apparently cats are bigger and won’t catch all the mice, but they’re more resilient. Ferrets are smaller and more efficient, but also more fragile. The former is judged the ‘traditional’ choice and the latter the ‘progressive’ one, so basically Humankind is saying cat lovers are fascists. Correctly.
Humankind Cultures and Civs
As you probably know by now, you don’t play a single civilisation from beginning to end in Humankind. Rather, you start as a regular nomadic tribe, and choose a culture to assimilate into your chimeric civilisation as you transition into every era. I won’t list all the cultures we know about so far – Reddit has done an impeccable job of that already – and you can read about how cool this assimilation mechanic feels in practice in our gameplay preview. Rather, we’ll note what marks them out.
Each era offers ten cultures from which to choose, but you can’t have copies of the same culture – if someone beats you to the Classical Era and picks those sexy Romans, you’ll have to make do with someone else. If you meet the criteria to move to the next era, you can do so whenever you wish, but you might not want to delay if you want to be sure of grabbing your preferred culture. You can also stick with your current culture if you want, gaining no new bonuses but bonus Fame for anything you accomplish.
Each culture has one of seven focuses: Merchant (making money and trading), Agrarian (growing food and population), Expansionist (acquiring territory), Builder (internal development and feats of engineering), Militarist (ass-kicking), Scientist (science and research), and Aesthete (cultural accomplishments, influence, stability, civics, citizen wellbeing). These focuses indicate each culture’s strength, and confer appropriate special abilities: scientists can switch their cities to ‘science mode’, converting surplus food, industry, and money into science.
Each culture also has three unique traits inspired by its history: a cultural ability, an ’emblematic’ quarter, and an emblematic unit. As builders of the ancient world’s most impressive wonders, the Egyptians get -25% off the cost of artificial wonders as their ability, the cultural pioneers of Greece get the amphitheatron as their emblematic quarter (+1 influence per era and adjacent extension, and +1 public servants for the local settlement), and the English get their famous longbowmen (nicked from the Welsh, but whatever) as their emblematic unit in the Medieval Era.
Humankind Map and Exploration
There are equivalents of both ‘goody huts’ and barbarians. The former are called ‘discoveries’ and unlike Civ V and VI’s ancient ruins or tribal villages, it seems they continue to spawn well into the game rather than just at map seeding. Indicated by pleasantly gold-glowing icons, they can award science, money, and plenty more. They even seem to scale by era.
You’ll encounter animals in the world, particularly during the Neolithic Era when you’re still a nomadic tribe, at which point animals are important sources of food to help your growth: you’re only able to found a city and enter the Ancient Era when you gather either three units or 25 points of knowledge. Animals can be either peaceful or, er, not: the former include deer and mammoths, and will not attack you unless you attack them first, in which case they can still put up a fight – especially mammoths.
Tiles of different shades of blue once again distinguish shallow coastal seas from deep ocean, but ships are no longer technically prevented from going into the latter. Instead, small ships like pentekonters can’t end their turns in deep ocean or else they become ‘lost at sea’ and simply die. They can cross ocean tiles during their turn, but must end their turn in coastal water. Slightly more elegant than simply drawing an invisible wall across the sea.
Independent people – AI-controlled minor factions – can have armies and can wander the world. They can be encountered in this initial, nomadic state, but they can/will at some point settle and found their own cities, at which point you’ll be able to trade with them or invade them. Like animals, they can be either peaceful or violent, in which case they’ll behave similarly to Civ’s barbarians and attack you on sight if they think they can win. There’s also a Civics decision you can make to determine your relationships with them: make the appropriate choice, and you’ll be able to recruit their armies as mercenaries.
There are two types of resources on the map: strategic and luxury. The former include horses, copper, and iron, and are prerequisites for certain units and structures. The latter include incense, marble, and give a wide variety of economic bonuses for all cities. Armies can ransack resource mines, outposts, and other buildings, taking one to three turns to make off with some plundered money. In our build this was lucrative to the point of being broken, but will surely be tuned down before release.
The world map is divided into territories – large parcels of land. For a financial cost, any military unit can build an outpost in virgin territory to ‘claim’ it for your empire, with the cost rising the further the territory is from your own borders. When this is done, no one else can claim it, and nor can they (lawfully) pass through it unless they have open borders with you. You can pay a further price to annex that territory into an adjacent one, or you can develop the outpost into a new city.
From what we saw this is a fairly direct comparison with Civ. You get a tech tree that’s very similarly laid out and – understandably, since both games are based on real history – contains many of the same techs, including irrigation, fishing, sailing, writing, the wheel, bronze-working, masonry, philosophy, craftsmanship, and so on.
If we were forced to name some differences, Humankind seems to offer slightly more, and more abstract techs, especially as you get towards the Classical Era (which is as far as we could see). Some new ones included rhetoric, heavy cavalry, imperial power, siege tactics, and, simply, ‘conquest’ (a catch-all term for logistical concerns like supply trains and administration, key in controlling newly conquered lands). There’s also a handy filter that enables you to search the tech tree by gameplay domain (science techs, military techs, etc), or by keyword (handy if you’re looking for a specific unit, but can’t find its parent tech).
How to Achieve Victory In Humankind
The overall objective of the game is to accrue the most Fame. There are two main sources of this. World deeds are competitive achievements, like being the first to discover a natural wonder or build a Holy Site. Era stars can be earned by anyone, and represent progress in the game’s seven areas of endeavour (see cultures, above).
You need a certain number of era stars (seven, it looks like) to unlock the next era, but if things are going well, you can stay in the current era to earn more stars and thus, more Fame. Each of those seven domains – science, growth, expansion, money, influence, building, and the military – offers up to three stars, and you get bonus Fame from your culture’s specialism. As the scientist Babylonians, I’m all about researching technologies – I get all three science stars when I unlock 20 techs in the Ancient Era. Militarists want to kill enemy units, merchants want to make money, expansionists want to own territory, aesthetes want to accrue influence, and so on.
There are both natural and artificial wonders. Natural wonders work similarly to Civilization, in that they’re placed on the map at its seeding as special features, and good things happen when you discover them. The Great Blue Hole gives +2 food and +1 vision range, for instance, while being first to discover them may be a ‘world deed’ (see victory and fame, above). If you control a natural wonder – that is, if it’s in your territory – you may get further benefits. From the screenshot of the Blue Hole, looks like that’s +5 influence, +10 stability on settlement, and +10 money on settlement, per natural wonder. Not bad at all.
Here’s how artificial wonders work. They are exclusive, but you don’t unlock them through techs and then race everyone else to be the first to finish building them. Rather, they’re all in a pool, which we’re guessing is limited by era: in our build, the Ancient Era pool contained the Hanging Gardens, the Pyramid of Giza, and the Temple of Artemis. When you accrue enough Influence, you get to claim a wonder from the pool. From then on, only you can build it – it still costs a ton of production, but you can choose to do so whenever you like without fear that someone else will beat you to it.
Here’s what these artificial wonders did in our demo (although, when we said these effects seemed a little weak, the devs agreed and said they’re all subject to further balancing). The Hanging Gardens must be built on a luxury resource deposit and will automatically unlock it; the Pyramid of Giza knocks -10% off the production cost of city extensions; the Temple of Artemis gives +20 faith, and +10 health regen and the Pathfinder ability on all units (to be fair that does sound pretty good, though we’ve no idea what ‘Pathfinder’ means).
Other cool stuff
The AI’s armies start moving when you hit the ‘end turn’ button, but play immediately passes back to you. There’s no downtime between turns, at all: you’re right back in control, with rival armies still running around the map finishing their moves.