One of the most daunting, profound, and equally terrifying yet interesting questions we as humans ask is where did we come from? Well, evolution hopes to be the answer to that question while Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey hopes to portray the action behind that answer in full control for the player.
Ancestors starts 10 million years ago, and you are shown nothing but a screen, our alleged original ancestor, and a huge world ahead of you. The game itself will warn you that you will not receive help, you will receive very little guidance, and you are encouraged to explore on your end. Seems fitting considering our ancestors were doing the exact same thing. Sometimes, you will find the lack of much guidance of the game frustrating, but the reward will ultimately be worth it to many who appreciate the challenge.
You are given at least a brief introduction to a few controls before you are set to your own devices. You must climb trees, traverse lands, find your camp, and even mate with other members of your clan. The story sets the tone of a dark world from the eyes of a confused, scared child who just wants to return home. This storytelling is present in many moments of the game and you will find yourself immersed through what time was like before computers and navigation systems. You may find yourself inadvertently breaking bones from jumping too high from trees, eating berries that you should have inspected for ripeness beforehand, and even using a stick instead of sharpening it first to create a piercing effect. All these elements and more are what you are going to find yourself discovering as you explore this vast world, all without being shown how. You will learn how to use your senses to navigate certain sounds and avoid others, use certain smells to find the right berries and foods to eat while avoiding others for fear of intoxication, and even which animals you should intimidate by your sheer size and which ones you should try to defend yourself from. Ancestors is all about exploration and understanding the story of our ancestors while still surviving for as long as possible and keeping your lineage alive.
There are some elements that can feel too real at times, and that is something you will just have to learn to accept. The hysteria, fear, and mental health mechanics of the game are some not seen in many games, but that could be for good reason. You will find yourself getting over your fears, quite literally, when trying to find that hidden alligator or sabretooth, but you may find yourself also stuck in a loop that if you die, the next character you control is also near a sabretooth. This can create an experience that takes you out of the game, but fortunately those moments happen few and far between. You will more often learn from your mistakes and feel better knowing how to better prepare for the battle ahead.
One of the more interesting mechanics of Ancestors is the way it handles mating and evolution. The mating system is simple: You find a male, you find a female, you mate, you have a baby. What is more creative and original is the way traits are passed from character to character and how your lineage is benefited from this way of passing down traits through mating. You want to move on two legs? Make your character move around more to know what his fine-motor skills are like. You want to understand which berries to pick without even having to inspect them? Inspect them more and get a feel for how they acclimate to your stomach. These will grant you neuronal energy that can be given to power up traits, and then passed down permanently from generation to generation. This mechanic is Ancestors’ version of a skill tree and it is very impressive.
There is so much to explore and discover in Ancestors that reviewing everything about it wouldn’t’ do it justice. This is a game about exploration, wonder, and achievement and to spell everything out would do the development team a disservice. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an amazing story of our means of survival, what our ancestors went through, and where we have come from. And I have to say, it was amazing to be a part of their world, even just for a moment.