Review: Some late early impressions

Pfeffersack

Deity
Joined
May 10, 2003
Messages
3,167
Location
Germany
Disclaimer before a long wall of text: I did not receive the game for free, so I’m justing posting my impressions because I have the desire to do so – and that’s also the reason why I do it that late: I wanted to have at least two playthroughs completed and my playstyle paired with my preference for big maps and slow speeds just takes time.


Overall I’m really impressed with Humankind – the devs were brave enough to bring a lot of new ideas compared to Civ6 instead of cloning left and right. The result is a good and fun game, which even already overcomes Civ6 is some aspects - you could even come to the conlusion that HK did a good job targetting especially the Achilles' heels of Civ(6), while its shortcomings (more on them later in this post) are consequntly related to trying to reinvent the wheel with a less round result in some regards.

The things I particularly like about Humankind...


1. The map: It simply looks gorgeous and incremental elevations plus tons of different terrain features like craters, rocks and caves just take in to another level (now one only does need to make a SMAC mod ASAP!) For my taste, the dependency beetween the „district puzzle“ and the map geography is stronger than in Civ – and I really like it!


2. The neolithic pregrame: It adds a lot to immersion to spend some time hunting and gathering first before getting sedent sooner or later. The civ series either ignored this period completely or at best hinted at it with the animals in part 4 - but even then without giving you options or time to interact). Humankind lacks the pressure to just advance ASAP – instead providing you with decisions how to shape your future way to the game. The balance might not be perfect here, but the mechanis feel a lot more organic.


3. Warfare: My prasise here starts already way before your units arive one the battlefield. Humankind does a fantastic job with attaching a real pricetag to a militarized society. Units costing population to built and draining soon huge sums of Gold to maintain, upgrade or instaheal makes the inevitably possible „just conquer everyone“-strategy at least more difficult to pursue. It also creates interesting decision between having around a standing modernized army or disbanding outdated units. Pillaging is no magical potion to create rewards out of thin air for the attacker in no time – it requires effort and the main gain is hurting the opponent (without leaving the victim defenseless though).

In the moment the action starts, Humankind replaces Civ’s frayed unit-vs.-unit warfare with epic tactical battles including all kind of shenagians like terrain, positioning, initiative, unit counters, LoS, support or reinforcements. Sieges make no exception: The militia concept is a double-edged sword for both sides – the attacker looses either time or risks increased losses, while the defender gambles with the lives of his/er people.


4. AI: Despite what manuals and introductions often suggest, I have the habit of playing the first playthroughs of a new game with the difficulty level which puts me and the AI on equal foot (or at least closest to this scenario) – both because I think it’s the best approach to learn a game (you avoid getting used to moves/startegies only working because of the AI being behind) and to see what quality the AI brings to the table without cheating/boni.

To the extend I can say after I single full game and with some caveats, I can say that I’m impressed of the AI so soon after release! They tend to put up a good fight in the tactical battles – I lost more close ones than I won so far. Because the AI is aggressively going to war and enforces battles where and when they like them, I often struggle to get a get a good setup giving me a chance at all. The strategic/economic AI is probably less competent when it comes to optimizing district puzzles or choosing synergetic culture comboes, but it was good enough to clearly defeat me in my first game.

A part of this experience is surely due my own mistakes or misunderstood game concepts and I can’t say yet whether the AI also handles situations like amphibous invasions that well – but it is promising that it understands at least the basics fairly well. BTW, only tangently related observation: Like in Civ, slower gamespeed do seem to help the Human player.


5. Reduced MM: Humankind nicely reduces the inevitable late game chore in any 4X game. Having to administrate an increasing absolute number of units and cities, while each of them contributes less and less to the whole, isn’t exactly fun - especially if the game is already (pre)decided anyway.

Moving armies instead of individual units saves at lot of time – a lection even Civ6 has learned in basics by offering permanent Corps and Armies. But HK goes deeper and further here: You don’t sacrifice total strength for comfort, you are free to dissolve the army and you can move up 6 units that way.

The other big plus is the reduced number of cities – you can focus your attention to a few productive hubs instead of having to care for each little village extra. This even goes so far that you can produce multiple things (e.g. units) in a city in one turn, if you are productive enough.Also, cities founded later come with prebuilt early infrastructure – taking away the pressuring feeling that only early settling is worth.

Not all of the attempts in this department are positive though – sure, ressource trading takes up less attention and time by making it „fire-and-forget“ as well, but here the reduced workload cuts into depth and the simplification comes with side-effects I don’t like (see below). And I find myself in need to MM my city yields, as the governor is bad about managing pop growth.


6. Tall vs. Wide: The territory system paired with the strict city limit and the attachment mechanics together create an interesting gameplay. Since every direction comes with steep costs, your territorial decisions matter. Civ is simply about cranking out settlers (and any anti-growth mechanic the series tried is merely centered around diminishing returns)...Humankinds perfect irony is - when its own Settler unit becomes available the main question is... Should I build one at all and if, more than a single? In Civ, the answer to the question whether you should build another city is – if you have the settler, why not? In Humankind I carefully question myself, whether I need another city – or even a new outpost to attach.

There is also a huge difference in how to pick the city location – city placement in Civ6 is a small, local puzzle. It is about what ressources you get into your economy and when it happens, plus some considerations about terrain and combat. But aside from having longer ways with your units, spreading out cities is not a big problem – as each city is independent and even mechanics like corruption (Civ III), increased maintenance (IV) or regional buildings (VI) change little about this.

HK has the local puzzle as well (albeit a bit different: as you claim the entire territory immediately, the exact city position matters most for where you can start development and how good you can defend the city), but you simply can’t ignore the cities and territories you have. Each new additional area has to fit in the big plan – or it might cost you more than it does you good it the end.


7. Building a society: HK does a nice job to mimic the building of a nation. Instead of having a fix government type, the shape of your society forms by your decions about events and the laws you enact. One of the best features about those laws is the escalating costs you incur, if you try to run many of them. You often have to make the though decison, whether an old law doing you good service has to go for new one offering perhaps even better effects.
As fun and interesting the nearly dicatorical freedom is you have with policy cards in Civ6 regardless if you ran an Autocracy or Democracy – Humankind does is better for my taste, as it rewards long term planning more. Civ6‘s policy cards are strongly centered around „playing the bonus“; several of them are clearly optimized for a strategy of activation for only one turn. While this perfect-timing-puzzle can be fun itself (though it often feels stressing as well...), it totally distracts from immersion, if e.g. in the middle age you have to time you worker builds finishing all in one round to grab the two bonus charge of the temporarily activated Serfdom card.

Humankinds four-axis-model also allows for a more gradual impact of ideological similarities/differnces on foreign relations and consequently it doesn’t stop here: You don’t have to conquer your neighbour to force a regime change – the laws your neighbours enact can be demanded by your own population by the feature of „law osmosis“. I’m not entirely happy with the brute -50 stability hammer hitting you if you refude (see my rant on those rough edges in HK below), but the concept itself is interesting: You spare the direct influence cost for enacting, if you give in to an osmosis event – but even if you like the direct effect: Is it worth the increased cost of the next you want to install yourself and the potential axis shift?

Speaking about your population, the mechanic of military units „containing“ your citizen adds a lot to strategy: Pops serving in the army don’t contribute to economy – and in the worst case they are permanently lost, if the unit dies. Beside representating the civil casualties of wars, this also naturally goes together with how the law decison „Conscription vs. Professional Army“ is worked in the game: Will you recruit cheaper units in masses in terms of need? Meaning those pops can work in peace times, but also have a bigger risk to loss their lives on the battlefield? Or do you go the route of fewer elite units acting as standing army, draining your treasury with maintenance and unit upgrades?


8. Stability/Bugs: Finally, I think it is worth to mention that Humankind allows you play a map like Gedemons Giant Earth one without crashing (and even with decent turn times) – unlike Civ6 which suffers from non-CPU related crashes one huge map sizes, which aren’t fixed up to date.

My feeling is also that HK has overall less bugs than Civ6, regardless whether you compare with vanilla Civ 1.00 or the latest patch concluding NFP. I concede that at least a part of this might be related to HK being less complex in a number of ways, having less content and me being new to the game (= less time to encounter bugs or encountered bugs are falsy seen as intended game mechanics), so this might be neither completely fair nor objective...but...the feeling is there.


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So after my personal candystorm for HK above...why did I still feel occasionally, but also regurlary tempted to save my game and start a Civ6 one while playing Humankind?

It’s not so much that some stuff is just missing (world congress, espionage) or feels less worked out (strategic ressources system) – the main reason is that lacking documentation/Information and weaknesses in the interface make playing a chore in some moments. Also those shortcomings fuel another inherent issue with Humankind – becoming attached to acting parts of the game: Humankind does an excellent job to get immersed with the map, the units, (at least most of the) gameplay mechanics, even the 60 civs itself – but it fails at a higher level:


9. Changing cultures: I’m aware that Civ’s „Play-one-civ-6000ys-with-an-eternal-living-leder“ is by no means more realistic – but at least for my taste, it plays way better. You get sucked into your civ, develop a plan and hope to stand the test of time. Humankind feels like a face-paced „play-the bonus“ when it comes to culture-switching and while the latest part ov the Civ series rides that mechanic with several features (heurekas/inspirations, policy cards), the difference for me it that HK strains the immersion a lot more by applying in to the heart of the game.
Again, I’m not arguing from the point of realism...I don’t even have a problem with adopting a new culture per-se...but it should be done in a more organic and less mechanic way. At least you have control for your own civ and can stick with your first choice...but I’m already dreaming of a mode (and hoping for a modder to do it), where you pick of the 60 cultures after leaving the neolithic age...


10. Religions: ...suffer from the same problem: You have all kind of Polytheisms and Shamanisms around, named after the culture it founded them – and that name sticks then. I’m not mocking so much about the generic feeling they have attached – my complaint comes from a practial direction:

Civ6 can throw odds combos of civs/religions at you, but the religion name is one word, it contains no name of a pastly used culture and it doesn’t produce multiple sub types of certain religion „type“ At least for me that makes the book-keeping of the various religions a bit easier – and results in getting a bit more attached to religions, even if they come in an odd combo. Humankind even denies you from renaming foreign religions (you can only do that with your own)


11. Independent Tribes: They way they are implemented reminds me a bit of Civ4‘s barbarian cities plus the option to use them as mercenaries or integrate them peacefully. Back than, they would have been nice feature...but in the light of what Civ5 and 6 have set as a standard for CS NPC’s Humankinds implementation pales. It is kind of consequent, because those indepent entities have an inbuilt „life cycle“ and aren’t meant to stand the test of time anayway...but I can’t help but feeling that the implementation is a bit effortless, even if you compare it only to the minors in Endless Space 2/-Legend. Maybe here is some room for improvement with a future DLC?


12. Diplomacy: Too much black-box. An AI is pestering me every turn to switch religion, I deny their demand, they they take it back….just to bring it up again next turn. The funny thing is that I’m not even able to clearly say that this is „stupid AI behaviour“ – Hks diplomacy system is so opaque for my taste and the AI often so suprisingly competent with mechanics of this game that I could even imagine that they are doing technically „the right thing“ here (or at least nothing what hurts them) The problem is just a frustrating user experience and another case of breaking the immersion. Yeah, I’m aware that I can „sit out“ the demands alternatively...but well...diplomacy in Humankind constantly reminds you that you are playing game.

The war support and score system also comes with its own issues – sometimes your are encouraged to game the system to reach your goals by delaying victory.


13. Interface/Documentation: It is the area where I think Humankind falls way behind Civ, which is sad...as it seems so unneceassary.

I ranted about lacking minimap, map tacks and lacking renaming options already, but the problem goes beyond this. For my taste, the game lacks to provide you with basic information, e.g. like certain things contribute your income – either the information is missing completely, vague (what exactly means the gold „from trade routes“ diplayed in my cities?) or spread out instead of being centered in one screen. I just miss Civ6's overview screens!

Humankinds is also sparse with explaining the math behind formulas like the one for laws influence costs or those for setting up outposts, developing them into cities or attaching them. You only get the imrpession that the costs escalate quickly and can guess some factors – basically „the more you have, the more expensive it gets“

The enceclopedia does a decent job for listing numerial values of game elements, but it doesn’t provide in-depth information – take e.g. battles: What determines the location of the flag? Why can the AI ambush me sometimes by moving units, when its my turn? Which armies can reinforce and which are too far away? In case of the deployment area it even provides inaccurate information: It’s not only the number of units which determines the size of that area – terrain can sometimes cut you off in away that you have exactly one tile for deploiyng an army of 6 units, resulting in you getting decimated one-by-one without being able to react. That lack of information also creates a constant ungood feeling, whether you are just playing bad because of missing out the rules or facing bugs/AI cheats.

I’m even struggling to save my cities from starvation – unless you heavily MM every turn, there seems to be no „governor“ setting which reliably avoids starvation (you can just delay by priorizing food – then starvation happens when you can no longer increase food production)

And OTOH, the game allows zero customization to filter the „news“ every turn – I get spammed with warnings about territories getting under the influence of someone. Maybe it’s my playstyle – but that information is of little value for me. Currently, I neither know why nor how I should react. Same for getting grievances vs. XYZ. Yes, I’m aware that this could help me to go to war – but wouldn’t that be that perfect reason for letting me to filter those news to get them only for a certain AI persona I don’t like?


14. Ressources: I miss Civ6 quantified and stashed strategic ressources, but Civ6 didn’t had them before GS and the older parts of the series never...so that’s not my main complain. HK is fine as long as you control the ressources you need by copying a Civ – but it fails completely with what it tries, when it comes to trading for them:

You pay a quite high lump sum in advance – for a deal ful of X’s. It starts with with the math and guesswork you have to do to find out which deal helps you most (% or flat bonus of what kind of yield) and whether it is worth the price at all. A part of that „work“ is typical business of a strategy game and it is fine to debate whether giving out more information here would ruin some fun or add to it (I’m in favor of the letter – it is a bit like if you use Infixos mod for the policy card effects in Civ6 – I can’t life without it…). However, even if you fully accept the workload HK throws at here, it doesn’t stop – if there are multiple sources of a ressource offered by a player, you have to click on each to find the best deal...and aside from the wisdom that transport costs matter, it is impossible to determine what causes sometimes huge differences it the base price.

And than those deals are as fragile as eggs, as soon as the diplomatic situation changes. What sounds good on paper (incentive to keep good relations and to maintain save trading routes) feels intransparent (what interrupts routes only temporarily, what breaks them permamently?), arbitrary (why do I pay -only!-upfront for a turn-by-turn supplay of ressources?), unbalanced (the deals feel more like bets – either you win or you lose way more than you invested) and exploitative (since there seems to be no penalty itself for „breaking“ a ressource deal by whatever means, I can only imagine that their is exploit potential vs. the AI, ones you have learned rules around it)

For the moment, my conclusion after two games is to abstain from purchasing ressources as often as possible – Gold is too precious to be wasted, so better invest in grabbing the ressources for yourself and let the AI pay you for them – the nice benefit of this approach is that the risk is then theirs and you don’t


15. Rough numbers and tresholds: Above rant about trading also highlights another problem I see with Humankind – the math behind it is a bit to 0/1 for me. Instead of gradual and granular effects, HK often uses the hammer. Examples:

- Stability system: 29/30 and 89/90 matter, everything else is meaningless (except for acting as cushion)

- Osmotic events for laws: Refuse and you get instantly hit with a temporary -50 malus. Accept and you likely will get soon hit with the the next demand. Ignore and the same osmosis event comes up again and again, but the -50 doesn’t stack.

- Unit upgrading: Flat price only based on the old unit which doesn’t take in account to how advanced the new unit is

- Combat damage formula: The way different unit strengths affect damage is hard to understand and leading to odd results (for details, just read the deep analysis someone did on it)

- Paying out grievances: The non-alterable gold sums needed are so high that this mechanic is non-usable

Honestly, it puzzles me why the devs went this direction in those case, while they perfectly went the route of fine differences elsewhere (e.g. more granularity in terrain yields or elevation)


16. The pace: Humankind seems to suffer from the opposite extrem of what plagues Civ6: While the latter lets the techs fly by left and right without giving you the time to use all the fancy toys, Humankind is so concerned with offering „shorter“ games that you seemingly have no chance to even „reach“ everything, because the turn limit stops you way before explored what the last to eras in the game offer. I concede that you can play against this tendency by focussing on science (like you focus in Civ6 on production), but in my opinion such a bottleneck limits variance and replayability.



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In conclusion, I have a very positive feeling with Humankind – if the devs use patches and DLC for ironing out issues, adding more depth/content in certain area and allow modders to turn the game upside down, than then final result may beat Civ6 in my personal ranking. For the moment it’s a clear draw for me between the contenders – but I think that’s already quite a success for a freshly release game vs. one with a year long and now ended development
 
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Cherenkov

Warlord
Joined
Sep 30, 2017
Messages
111
Location
Colorado
Totally agree with your conclusion. The Sept 17 patch broke so many things but I still enjoy the game. They need to fix the game breaking bugs asap and adding more depth and content and DLC will keep me entertained for a long time. I was going to write a review on Steam but I want to wait till they address the major bugs introduced in the patch which is going on 18 days now.
 

mitsho

Deity
Joined
Nov 3, 2003
Messages
8,197
Location
Europe, more or less
Good read, my comments:

2. Yeah, the neolithic pregame should be longer and maybe even a bit broader (boats! monuments! slingers!).

6. Yeah, the balance isn't perfect as there still exists the age old problem of the race to fill the map, making the colonial age not colonial... I'd like to have a lot more cities (city names give flavour!) and fewer outposts - or just the ability to contest a foreign outpost with your own. But that's for Humankind 2.

9. After playing a few games, I like the changing cultures, but I think 6 times is too much. Three changes would be enough as the three phases - ancient/classical, medieval/early modern, industrial/modern - would still give enough opportunity to specialize your civilization and kinda make historiographical sense. You can still keep the eras and may allow for a decision between "more fame" (transcending) or a goodie - or you could expand on the idea and make the three phases really (!) distinctive gameplay wise. Maybe four changes is better for variety, but to me, six are really too many. But that's for Humankind 2.

10. That's a simple fix to make the AI change the name of their religion - I feel all the work the developers put in there gets lost when the AI doesn't do that... The religion game could also benefit from latecoming religions (a fast spreading Islam) or splits and reformations. That is for an expansion I guess.

11. What annoys me there is when one of those tribes attack me - and I can't see their name in the pre-battle screen...

12. Disagree, it takes a learning curve, but then it's really cool. I do agree though, that it is one of those not-really-rounded-out systems which they can and should improve with patches and expansions.

14. I agree that this can be a lot of clockwork. too much so. And on top of that, I don't really see them on the map sadly... And yes, the numbers are too high for my taste.

I would add two things of my own here: The naval gameplay is lacking (but again, that feels like a good DLC focus) and (un)surprisingly, you don't actually write anything about the Late Game. I had high hopes that Humankind could beat the "just click end turn"-problem, but it really didn't. The modern era is not satisfying to me.
 

Pfeffersack

Deity
Joined
May 10, 2003
Messages
3,167
Location
Germany
(...) (un)surprisingly, you don't actually write anything about the Late Game. I had high hopes that Humankind could beat the "just click end turn"-problem, but it really didn't. The modern era is not satisfying to me.

I would have loved to write something - my problem is just that HK so far didn't allow me to reach the final era at all (see my comment 16. on pathing) :( I lost my first game and won the second, but both were over soon after I got railways. Yes, I could have continued for the sake of exploring the late game mechancs - but that somehow didn't feel right to me as "first impression" for those things.
 
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