Simulation games have always been some of my favorites: no matter how unbelievably incompetent and incapable I am, these sorts of games give me a chance to feel like I can do things like run a city, start a successful PC build-and-repair business, or make my own video games. However, anyone who listens to the Sick and Wired podcast or has read some of my previous articles could gather that I love story above most other things in a video game, and simulations can really shine here. They give you a chance to write your own story in real time and try to produce the ultimate one. Rather than tell you the specific way that something is supposed to be done, the best simulations allow the player to experiment with different combinations and options in a way so that there is no definitive answer on how to reach the end but also an optimal way of doing so. Dawn of Man falls short of this, as do most games of the genre, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here writing a story.
Dawn of Man thrusts you 12,000 years in the past and give you an opportunity to play out the beginning of civilization. With primitive tools and clothes, you must build a massively popular people by trading, hunting, foraging, and crafting your way to a more advanced time period. However, we all know how harsh the world can be, and this game is no exception to that. At any moment you could be attacked by an aggressive mammoth, wild cat, bear or even a rival civilization. Through this, Madruga Works blends city building with the survival of the fittest.
While there are plenty of improvements that could’ve been made here, let’s look at how well Dawn of Man establishes its atmosphere. Graphically, it could use an upgrade, but this doesn’t detract from certain elements of the design that work to immerse your civilization in the world. For example, I kept getting frustrated when I saw how bears, deer, wolves, boars, and all other kinds of animals would just wander through my little town of people, some of which could attack unprovoked. However, as the game progressed, I found this to actually compliment the time period perfectly. While this certainly wasn’t intentionally programmed into the game, it seems to have been deliberately left in. It makes sense that humanity, a relatively new species, would have to live amongst these beasts and have the same anxieties about whether or not they’ll survive them. Similarly, the trees and other vegetation grows very naturally throughout civilization. They can’t be rooted up out of the ground, only chopped down to their stumps. Everything is very much ingrained within the environment, and there are elements you just can’t get away from. Some of these small details are where the game shines and does a great job of creating something new. While there’s a whole list of these ranging from the way the people worship to the depletion and scarcity of resources, the important factor in all of these is simply that the world makes sense and gives you a lot to work with as a player in terms of discovering the best way to play the game.
The game encourages experimentation in this way. In many city-builder games, it’s far too easy to fail once and almost immediately have to start the whole game over from scratch. I think the first hour or two of Cities: Skylines is a perfect example of this. Dawn of Man does a good job of giving you several grace periods of decline that can warn you of your people’s downfall. You have more of an opportunity to learn and fix your mistake before you’re forced to go back to the beginning. However, your hand is certainly not held. There are many times of trials and tribulations that will try your patience and frustrate you, but it all works to the experience of starting up humanity. This simply tells you to examine your approach and decide on a better way of doing things. Unfortunately, one of this game’s biggest downfalls comes right after this.
You come to find that the best way to play hasn’t been balanced. While I understand it’s a survival game, and survival games are meant to be hard, you should be rewarded for finding the ideal style of gameplay. You don’t see that here. You spend a lot of time building, and learning, and perfecting the way to play, only to find that game hasn’t been fine-tuned well enough for it to make much of a difference. Too much of your success comes down to random chance, specifically the random chance of a raider attack. Raider attacks are brutal and almost always leave your tribe beat down and helpless. The truly evil thing here is that building defenses to protect your civilization actually makes everything worse. Raiders will always just break down your walls anyway and leave you with the mess to clean up.
After your numbers have been slashed in half, you’re now expected to rebuild your walls with that many people. With raiders clearly being the biggest threat to your livelihood, you’d think that there would be some decent way to protect yourself. At the very least, shouldn’t having heavy fortification around your civilization have a greater decrease in the possibility of a raider attack? In addition to all of this, the raiders spawn out of nowhere in the game and don’t actually come from a tribe that exists in the world, so it’s impossible to attack back. You’re stuck in a defensive (or more like defenseless) position throughout the game hoping you can just barely last until it all ends. Not only is this totally broken, it’s simply not fun.
What’s more, this could’ve been sought past if the game was worth playing again to try for that dumb luck. The sad part is that while the game isn’t exceedingly bad, it’s just boring. After a while, you’re just doing the same thing over and over: hunt animals, gather resources, build weapons, level up, build defenses, repeat. It’s extremely draining, especially when the end goal is simply to survive. Going back to Cities: Skylines, Paradox Interactive’s title suffers from a similar problem, but it’s balanced with all kinds of different variables and limitations that you need to get around or over. There are also all kinds of different objectives and cool new buildings to experiment with. Dawn of Man fails to do capture your interest all the way through and keep you interested in trying things in a new way.
While in a technical manner this game more than flips the bill, it lacks a certain vastness and effort on the design part of things, and it leaves the game dry and filled with content that in the end feels meaningless and destructive to the game’s idea and concept.
This review is based on a 10-hour playthrough of the PC version of Dawn of Man. A review code was provided.
A city-builder with plenty of technical prowess but too little excitement or intriguing design elements.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.