My ape hobbles along the jungle floor, one of the last of his clan. He’s bleeding out and behind him I can hear the growl of a predator getting louder with every step. Moments pass, then suddenly from out of the undergrowth the expected threat rears its head. A wild sabertooth charges. The ape jumps clumsily to the side and quickly collapses in a heap at the foot of a tree. I try to make him climb the trunk to safety, but by now he’s far too gone. He hasn’t got the energy and so succumbs to the large cat.
It’s safe to say my first playthrough of Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey was a total disaster. I couldn’t work out how to craft items or how the evolution aspect worked, and accidentally managed to skip the few scraps of helpful information that the developers included with the game’s initial PC release. As a result, I spent most of my time aimlessly wandering around its world, unable to craft any handmade tools and scratching my head trying to troubleshoot using the all-too brief help tips available from the menu. Needless to say, my clan quickly fell victim to the elements, leaving the remaining apes to a dismal fate.
This is where my adventure with Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey could have ended. Luckily for me, though, it didn’t. A few weeks later I found myself booting up the game, intrigued once again by its documentary-like aesthetic and its singular approach to survival mechanics. However, this time, things went a lot more smoothly, with my playstyle evolving to pay closer attention to my environment and unlocking abilities. I started to take better care of my ape family and developed my senses further. Ever since, I’ve been hooked.
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Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey doesn’t really tell you a lot about its systems. Placed in control of a clan of apes, you’re tasked with slowly growing your numbers and uncovering new territory to unlock evolutions, fending off predators and taking care of your proto-humans as you go. But how you do any of these things is not exactly forthcoming. You’re encouraged to explore, experiment, and familiarize yourself with what ingredients and actions are needed to recruit new hominids, heal wounds, and conquer your primal fears. All of this makes for a deeply unwelcoming first impression, but once you ascend this steep learning curve, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey reveals itself to be a refreshing take on an oversaturated genre.
For one thing, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is one of the few survival games that manages to keep the emphasis on actually surviving. There’s no large inventory to scroll through or complicated recipes to learn, just what your ape is able to carry in their own two hands. As a result, it never really becomes a game about the accumulation of stuff. It stays focused on what’s most interesting: the constant struggle to survive against whatever the environment can throw at you.
Whereas my first experience was punctuated with broken bones and general bewilderment, my second playthrough came much more easily as a result of my newfound approach and the experience I’d picked up from my disastrous first run. I was able to learn how to evolve my apes, have children, alter items, and eventually created an entire army of hominids armed with pointy sticks. On top of that, I made daring rescue missions across a jungle filled with hungry predators, discovered beautiful oases in the distance, and turned my enemies against each other for my own entertainment.
I probably still have a lot to learn about surviving in Ancestors’ world, but now instead of frustration and confusion there’s an excitement about the prospect of uncovering its secrets and its world. It still isn’t the most hospitable game, but it is a unique one. And with the game releasing on consoles tomorrow, it’s a great time to give it a second chance.