Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a complex game, there’s no other way to define it. It can be slow at times, but it’s a rewarding experience nonetheless.
Considering what life is like today it’s easy to forget where our species came from. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey takes you back some 10 million years back and shows you the humble beginnings of humans.
The game begins with a cinematic that reminds you that there is always a bigger fish and that you will never truly be safe. You take control of a young hominid after losing a parent to an oversized eagle and by this point, it is already made clear that the game will not hold your hand and that you’re pretty much on your own.
You are momentarily introduced to the fear mechanic and your first—and one of the only clearly marked tasks—is to get somewhere safe. You’re somewhere unknown, you can hear weird sounds around you, you feel like something is watching you, to overcome this fear of the unknown you will have to rely on your intelligence and senses.
So that’s exactly what you do, using your intelligence you scan the environment and try to find a safe place. You can either locate your home or a hiding spot and be saved by an older hominid later. After this, you continue from the small oasis where your clan is positioned and the game truly begins.
From this point on, your only real objective is to evolve, and absolutely everything is up to you. Every success and every failure is your fault, and your fault only.
You will have to eat, drink, and sleep to stay healthy and be able to explore the world. At the start it’s pretty easy to do this since you have everything you need in your oasis, but as you start exploring you’ll try new foods that might not be good for you or you might find yourself in locations where it isn’t safe to sleep even though you’re tired.
The only things you can rely on to help you on this journey are your intelligence to identify items, food, and predators, and your senses to recognize and remember your surroundings. Every time you use your intelligence or your senses you gain evolutionary experience which slowly improves your skills and unlocks new abilities.
Talking about the skills, forget about tools and fire, you have to first learn how to use both of your arms for separate things. Then once you can actually hold more than one item, you can start experimenting with different combinations, a good one is a stick and a rock. You’ll also notice a prompt to stand up when you’re using your intelligence, click it often.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is built around our nature to explore and discover. Since you don’t have clearly defined objectives, you will do something seemingly basic, but it will still feel like an achievement when you do it.
As time passes and new generations come, you will have to explore further and further from the safety of your small oasis. You’ll go deeper into the jungle and even venture into different biomes, alone or in a group.
You will experience fear very often and you’ll have to rely on your intelligence to overcome that fear. On your adventures, you will learn new skills, taste new foods, meet new predators, but most importantly, you will pass all your knowledge down and evolve further.
No game is perfect, and Ancestors has its own set of flaws. The vast world is filled to the brink with places to explore and you’re given complete freedom to do with it as you wish, which is as amazing as it is bad.
I enjoyed the freedom since it’s so rare today for games to let you do as you wish, but I still had moments when I would have preferred there was a specific objective I am working towards. It’s easy to get lost in this game, and there are moments when it feels very repetitive.
Because of this, a lot of people won’t invest enough time in it and drop it after only an hour or two. It can feel very overwhelming when you first start, it takes time to get a feeling for the mechanics and to really understand the way it’s meant to be played.
Even worse is that your clan dying puts you back to square one when you start a new game and you have to explore all over again and do things you’ve already done. So it’s not hard to imagine someone deleting the game and never playing it again at that point.
It wouldn’t be fair to attack Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey for this since that is exactly what it’s supposed to be. It makes it a bit of a niche game, but it is a breath of fresh air.
On the other hand, something that we can absolutely call it out on are the animations. The animations feel incredibly janky and make playing it hard at times. A pretty big thing is climbing stones and trees, and running across branches while you’re exploring, so if that isn’t smooth it will impact gameplay.
The other issue is selecting objects you want to focus on to interact with them. I had to shuffle around very often to get something specific in focus. Continuing with the controls is the fact that a keyboard and mouse are seemingly things the devs forgot exist.
If I start a PC game and the “best experienced with a gamepad” message shows up, the first thought that crosses my mind isn’t, “Oh lovely, let me get the controller”, instead, it pisses me off. This is mostly because that message makes me feel like the devs couldn’t be bothered to bind the keys to a keyboard in a way that feels natural. Seriously, you released a game on PC, why is the controller set as the default and I have to switch to keyboard and mouse and then rebind the controls so I don’t have to constantly check what they are?
In conclusion, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a very specific game and deliberately so, thus making it a bit of a niche game. It’s a lot like Death Stranding, you either love it or hate it.
The world is amazing and full of opportunities to explore and learn, but you have to want it. The concept is new and very enjoyable, but you have to invest yourself in it. The technical details are keeping the game down, but hopefully they will get patched.