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Humankind Together We Rule review - filling in the blanks

In our Humankind Together We Rule review, we find the first major expansion to Amplitude and Sega's 4X game simultaneously essential and lightweight

Our Verdict

The new features simulate an essential aspect of humanity and do help Humankind feel more complete, but seldom have the impact you'd hope for from the 4X game's first major expansion.

In last year’s Humankind review, I said it didn’t feel like it had reached its final form yet. It’s a pretty typical sentiment in the age of digital games – even the latest Call of Duty is a bit skeletal, according to our review – and the good news is that after our Humankind Together We Rule review, Amplitude’s Civilization-baiting 4X game feels reassuringly hefty. And yet, though I missed the new mechanics when they were absent, their presence hasn’t made all that much difference to my games.

Apart from a cheeky Classical-era flirtation with the Achaemenid Persians, I played one of the new diplomatic cultures in every era. I kept a beady eye on the map for any caches of leverage, the new currency for diplomatic schemes. I tried to use the Congress of Humankind to do interesting things. It all basically works and lends the comforting sense of a more rounded humanity simulator – though religion mechanics remain woefully underdeveloped – but every way you can play other than diplomatically is more consistent, controllable, and satisfying.

Leverage nodes spawn on the map where rival empires have encountered one another. Collecting leverage, like killing enemy units or researching techs, can earn you era stars, with diplomatic cultures gaining more fame (Humankind’s score currency) from doing so. They can also collect leverage with any unit type, whereas other cultures will need to use the new envoys, who can cross borders without penalty.

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It’s quite an investment to gather leverage. It isn’t all that common and tends to spawn far away from your own borders, meaning that even as a diplomatic culture I relied on envoys to gather it – on the occasions when I did have military units in a neighbour’s territory we were, as you’d expect, well past the point of diplomacy. I also found the AI had little compunction in attacking my envoys even when we weren’t at war. Renouncing grievances is a much better source of leverage, though it relies on grievances cropping up. For all these reasons it’s much more plentiful later in the game.

Not that you can do much with leverage until you’ve built an embassy, a new unique district which is available early but is a steep investment until you’ve got some industry going. I built mine in the Classical Era and only had two interactions available at first. ‘Placate’ can drain a rival’s war support, but is useful only to forestall conflict, as it does nothing to solve whatever issues may be driving said grievances.

Two players who each have an embassy gain access to a new set of potential agreements, which need good relations to sign but are quite powerful. Sign an arms deal to get access to your partner’s emblematic unit; agree diplomatic cooperation to get 50% of one another’s leverage from new intel; or contribute to building their wonders in return for a big payout in leverage, influence, or money.

These are a cool new set of toys, but to say they coalesce into a definite playstyle or a wide-reaching set of strategies is to overstate their impact. These are situational, tactical tools, say to forestall a war, start one on more favourable terms, or bolster your efforts in other fields.

The Congress of Humankind is more exciting because of the crisis system. When you have tabled a demand against another empire, you can escalate it to the Congress to arbitrate, with the loser of the resulting vote forced to acquiesce to the international community’s decision or declare an unsanctioned war. The AI is sometimes still willing to do this, so an exciting and historically authentic game of international brinkmanship emerges: how many demands do I press, based on their personality and the balance of power? And in cases where I’m willing or even eager to provoke a war, it’s immensely satisfying to press every petty grievance – from treaty refusals to trade interruptions to civics adoption – against someone I don’t like, see the world unite against them, and them bankrupted as they pay me tens of thousands in fines.

This is what I hoped to see more of; it’s the kind of diplomatic play that Civilization’s World Congress should have enabled but never has. You can be confident of a vote going your way if you’ve developed your friendships and your international sway – a kind of global aggregation of your leverage – and it can give diplomatic players some real teeth. You can further bolster your sway by interacting with independent peoples, who are getting a rework in a free update that’ll land alongside the Together We Rule expansion. The certainty of dominating votes is an effective and flavourful incentive to put in this work to become a ‘benevolent’ sponsor of the world’s minor powers. The rest of the Congress’s agenda is similarly flavourful, with mechanisms to enact international laws, but harder to manipulate for your own ends, and didn’t ultimately have much impact on my games.

That’s Together We Rule in a nutshell, really. It somehow feels both essential and lightweight: a 4X game about human history would not, and did not, feel complete without more robust diplomacy, and yet most of this expansion’s features either don’t make a huge difference to my plans at all, or only kick in quite late in proceedings – although, in fairness, you could say the same thing about complex diplomacy in real history.

The crisis system is an excellent exception to this rule, but I’d feel better about the value on offer here if more of the expansion’s features had the same impact, or if it were to fill in religion as well – the potential is clearly there to earn era stars through faith and add a religious culture type, and without them, Humankind is still lacking a satisfying model for another essential aspect of its subject.

Check out our Humankind review for our verdict of the base game, and our list of the best strategy games for more great games like it. Humankind: Together We Rule is out tomorrow and will set you back $19.99.