An evolution simulator that takes too much time to work.
Deep into my first lineage in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, I had begun to hit my stride. After starting with no information or supplies, I had developed neurons, garnered knowledge, and passed through a few million years, so I was beginning to feel safe in my survival abilities. Immediately after this, my clan was attacked by a panther in its settlement and had no way to escape. I had to restart from the beginning with none of my evolved skills or upgraded characteristics. I just wanted to get back to the freedom and satisfaction I felt when I was evolving and exploring, but the frustration I felt in repeating the tedious early hours of the game made me unmotivated to get there.
“Good luck, we won’t help you much,” Panache Digital promises before sending you back 10 million years to the human predecessors roaming the jungle. It keeps that promise. Immediately, it throws you into control of an ape with no sense of direction, threat, or survival in the middle of a jungle. It gives you one simple task of evolving from the creatures you’re controlling to modern-day humans, and you learn from the ground up how to do simple tasks like eating, sleeping, and mating. You will need to do to these to keep yourself alive and pass to another generation, which leads to progressively learning more complicated forms of communication, dexterity, and intelligence. With the option to skip a tutorial and minimize the HUD, it is possible to completely forgo any assistance Ancestors tries to give you, and, because of this, there’s organic enlightenment and true exploration in your quest for evolution that will likely result in the deaths of some apes but benefit the clan and the species in the long-run.
"“Good luck, we won’t help you much,” Panache Digital promises before sending you back 10 million years to the human predecessors roaming the jungle. It keeps that promise. Immediately, it throws you into control of an ape with no sense of direction, threat, or survival in the middle of a jungle."
Every activity contributes to upgrading certain neurons of a lineage, opening the door to upgrade abilities and see improvements between generations, despite a limit on skills that can be passed through generations. Using your hearing or smelling to identify objects will improve your senses, while climbing and jumping improves your motricity. The survival loop to achieve these upgrades is engaging, especially in tense moments of fighting off or intimidating a predator or in finding a new food source to narrowly stave off starvation. Frequently, though, the actions required to upgrade neurons become repetitive because of the game’s encouragement to consistently upgrade them. For example, upgrading senses and intelligence happens primarily through scanning the environments to identify useful objects or to locate other animals, but this quickly devolves into scanning every marker in the area and seeing the same few objects repeatedly with the hopes of upgrading a neuron. In the early hours, this is a much more prominent problem because of the urgency of evolution and the limits to the gameplay.
As the evolutions progress and millions of years pass, gameplay opportunities begin to open up as you learn how to fight, conquer territory, and thrive. It ultimately becomes more fun to play as years passed because the gameplay becomes more diverse and survival more certain. The most rewarding experiences are the Evolution Feats that prove your lineage’s superiority and adaptation to the world around it, spurring the ability to evolve more quickly through the years. The best of these are in combat, especially the first time you kill a predator or bring two predators together to fight and kill one another. They are the ones that make you feel powerful and, more often than not, show tangible evidence of your improvement and evolution.
However, these happen most often later in the game. There is a problem with the balance of activities, especially early on, that makes it become repetitive and frustrating at points to play without the satisfaction necessary to keep you going. Certain activities offer benefits much more easily than others, meaning you will naturally gravitate toward them, even if this isn’t what the game intends. For example, during points where a predator attacks an ape, it’s often easier to sleep on a tree branch with the predator underneath to heal a broken bone or return to the settlement, than to climb a tree and find the item required to stop bleeding. The time jumps, which come from giving birth, passing generations, or completing true evolutions through hundreds of thousands of years, often became crutches that saved my lineage from potential issues than the signs of triumph over the time period they are meant to be.
"There is a problem with the balance of activities, especially early on, that makes it become repetitive and frustrating at points to play without the satisfaction necessary to keep you going. "
Later in the timeline, when the evolution has created significant new abilities for the lineage’s survival, these crutches are less necessary, but the imbalance in the early hours is frustrating. It’s very easy to get blindsided by a tiger or python, and, though avoiding them is as easy as hiding in a tree, you have very little ability to protect yourself or your clan before you can counterattack. You will often be traveling with your clan, and, though you may be hiding, they can still be attacked and killed. More than once I had a lineage killed because I was attacked from seemingly nowhere and was powerless against the attacks, forcing me to begin a new lineage. Every new lineage starts from the beginning, and the lack of a manual save prevents salvaging a lineage before it is killed off. Though this gives the perma-death the weight it deserves to force you to be careful and mimic how humanity’s ancestors would have acted, it amplifies the frustration of the early hours, most notably when it comes through hysteria and losing the animal for a reason that feels out of your control. Having to restart after multiple hours multiple times was frustrating and made the satisfying later hours feel so far away, especially as the first hours became more stale and repetitive.
Luckily, when you eventually get to those later hours, you are rewarded with much more vast and diverse environments. Nearly every evolution will bring your clan to a new location, whether it’s a new jungle or a sandy open field. Seeing these new places is not only rewarding because it breaks the monotony of the early hours, but it also signifies your progression and feels like you’re succeeding.
The environments themselves, though diverse and enjoyable to explore, don’t look incredible, especially after seeing the same textures for an extended period of time. Textures are muddy, and it can become almost unplayably dark at night, even with the moon shining. Looking out over a sea of trees and into the distance, though, is always beautiful. Playing with a mouse and keyboard also had input problems, so it’s recommended to play with a controller to avoid them, even on PC. The largest performance issue, aside from some stuttering and a crash, was a persistent pop-in that covered a significant amount of the ground. Even after a reinstall and graphics settings changes, it remained and, though not game-breaking, made it very difficult to see certain objects on the ground.
"The environments themselves, though diverse and enjoyable to explore, don’t look incredible, especially after seeing the same textures for an extended period of time."
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey presents a survival game that needs a lot of time to work. If you are ready and willing to spend dozens of hours building your clan and risking a restart, it offers some truly rewarding progression and exploration without having to tell you much. It offers a satisfying loop that rewards you over the course of your time, but in its first few hours, which you will inevitably have to replay multiple times, it’s too tedious, unbalanced, and repetitive to warrant a recommendation for anyone who doesn’t like the genre.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Rewarding exploration. Satisfying late-game environments. Interesting evolution simulation.
Tedious and repetitive first few hours. Muddy graphics. Often unbalanced.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey has rewarding survival gameplay at its core, but it has too much early imbalance and repetition before you can find it.