One of the great things about video games is that game developers can make literally anything. While we may get an almost endless supply of down the barrel shoot stuff titles, there is an ever-growing number of games delving into areas left relatively unexplored. There are also those taking a well-worn idea and reimagining it into something new and fresh. Game designer extraordinaire Patrice Désilets of Assassin’s Creed fame has put his buckles and swashes behind him to take on a very different type of open-world adventure with his new development house Panache Digital Games.
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an epic open-world survival game with a strong focus on exploration, discovery, learning, and evolution. Over the course of 8 million years, you will guide your clan of primate hominids from early prehistory to the beginnings of man. It is undoubtedly an exciting premise, but sadly the game is anything but.
At its core Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a survival game. You control different members of your clan, learn what is dangerous and what is advantageous through observation, experimentation, and conflict. Completing various tasks will trigger an evolution or gain you new knowledge and thus allow both you and your clan to improve, adapt, and overcome the various pitfalls and predators found throughout the world. This sounds like an excellent idea for a game, but sadly the execution here is either infuriating or tedious. There are numerous things scattered around the world to investigate. For these you need to use your ‘senses’, which in this case means you will stop where are, push a prompted button to “use” the sense, focus on the on-screen pop-up, and get some bit of lazily presented information, which then may trigger another on-screen notification that you have in some way evolved or improved. It is so artificial, arbitrary, and inorganic that it actively detracts from the very premise of the game.
In addition to the discoveries you can make while braving the untamed wilderness, there are also a series of social interactions you need to fulfil in order to ensure the survival of the species. Now I am an adult, and I understand the need for procreation and social bonding, I did not need to hear the excited groans from amorous apes, nor did I really need to go through the overly tedious act of monkey fondling to get a little (pri)mating action. At some points, I was seriously wondering if there was perhaps some underlying pro-furry activism at work. The core issue here is that these social actions, much like those undertaken while exploring the world, take too long to complete, are needlessly involved, and in many cases must be repeated multiple times. In every case, they go on for too long and are never any fun to undertake. Additionally, the payoffs are so inconsequential. More often than not if it was not for an on-screen notification telling me what new skill or evolutionary advantage I had earned, I would have had no idea anything had actually changed.
That said, there are some significant and life-altering improvements you will discover. Your clan will learn new skills, be able to build shelter, weapons, and tools. You’ll evolve to be better able to exploit your surrounds and improve your diet, which in turn increases your opportunities to explore further. But don’t you dare die! Death is permanent, and you’ll need to relearn those skills by repeating the same actions you had done previously. Your species may have evolved, but knowledge is not so easily passed on it seems. It’s a frustrating mechanic put in place for the sake of what I can only assume is the notion of realism, but in reality, it just cost me a whole bunch of time and even more enjoyment for no payoff whatsoever.
There are a couple of things that Ancestors does well; exploration and world presentation. From the deep jungles to the sweeping plains, the world of Ancestors is brimming with life and places to discover. Jungles are dense with a high degree of verticality and attention to detail. All of the regions you’ll explore have an almost tangible sense of realness to them, but sadly this is not enough to save this game from being a joyless slog. At no point did I enjoy my time with this game, every design choice seems to have been made to make the game needlessly difficult with no real sense of achievement, and again this is a game about evolution.
I wanted to like this game; the premise is intriguing, and I would love to see what can be done with the idea of a micro-level civilization builder. Sadly this first attempt is severely lacking and not something I can recommend to anyone.