Let’s get this straight out of the way. At first glance, yes, Dawn of Man shares a lot of similarities to Age of Empires and Banished, but Dawn of Man creates its own unique identity and expands on the survival and management elements seen in these fine examples. I can honestly say that Dawn of Man was not what I was expecting. It’s a surprisingly deep and challenging game, a challenge that I certainly wasn’t prepared for, but one I thoroughly enjoyed!
For most people, myself included, Dawn of Man came from nowhere. It suddenly appeared on Steam without much exposure or publicity. It’s rare for an indie developer to decide against an Early Access release. I respect developers that back their game and release a final 1.0 version, rather than attempt to gather extra funding and prolong development. This a gamble that has paid off for Madruga Works, a small indie developer founded in 2015 by Martiño Figueroa and Tucho Fernandez. These two industry veterans boast impressive resumes that include such companies as EA and Ubisoft. It’s obvious that these developers are seasoned veterans of the industry, with little publicity it only took a mere 4 days to reach a concurrent player count of 23,700, a record since Dawn of Man’s release on March 1 2019. This is big improvement from their previous release of Planetbase (6,600 concurrent players), a similar concept to Dawn of Man that is based in space. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Dawn of Man lures you into a false sense of security. The first hour makes feel as if it’s an Age of Empires clone. But it didn’t take long until I realised that this isn’t Age of Empires. In fact, I was being challenged far more than I initially anticipated. My Humans were dying from starvation, disease or hypothermia. I became complacent with hunting animals, it became a novelty… until a pack Bears reminded me of where I sit on the food chain. Winter isn’t just a visual effect, food is scarce as animals hibernate, meaning if you’re not prepared for the long winter then your people will not survive. And then after many hours of frustration and a constant learning curve, you finally feel like you’ve grasped the concept of survival… until a pack of raiders come and slaughter your villagers, oh joy!
The concept of Dawn of Man is nothing new. You’re embarking on a 10,000-year journey to guild your settlement from a simple time in the Stone Age, through to the Iron Age. You’ll hunt, gather, build structures, advance technology and at times, fight to survive. I put a big emphasis on survive as there will be many times you’ll barely survive- learning a valuable lesson. This is what makes Dawn of Man a great game. Each Age will provide a new set of challenges, each season forces you to adjust your strategy and evolve. Then when just when you think you finally understand the game, your own incompetence will get the better of you and you’ll be pressing the ESC key, selecting Quit and starting a New Game.
Your settlement starts off small, around 10 humans to be precise. Like the rest of humanity, your humans need food and resources to survive the big new world and to contribute towards developing your settlement. Progressing through civilization requires you to research new technology, you do this by gaining ‘Knowledge’ points. These points are similar to XP and are earnt by nearly every activity you do such as hunting animals, crafting items and catching fish. So, it would make sense to increase the number of humans in your settlement to earn Knowledge points at a faster rate, right? Well this is correct, but it’s not as easy as queuing up 100 humans on a production queue like a traditional RTS. You can only increase your human population via two methods- build tents in hope that random humans find and join your settlement over time, or the old fashion way- sexual intercourse. I had a little laugh when I first saw the notification that a child had been born under my watch. I felt like an over-protective parent, wanting to know who had taking advantage of my innocent people. But this emotion quickly changed to frustration as now I had an extra mouth to feed, extra clothing to provide, all without the production return that an adult can provide as children can’t perform certain tasks. As you progress through the game, you’ll find that the XP you’re earning contributes towards unlocking milestones. Milestones are essentially major achievements and are required to unlock additional game modes- something I will explain later on.
Discovering the right balance between keeping your villagers happy and productivity is the real challenge. Your villagers are happy enough to harvest berries from a nearby field in the middle of a nice Autumn’s day, but they won’t be happy walking miles to chop down trees in the middle of the freezing Winter. With this in mind, you have to be careful not to upset your villagers, they have feelings too (well, virtual feelings). To keep your people happy, you can build a host of spiritual structures and monuments that will lift their spirits when they’re down. This is all part of the game mechanics that continually surprise you. Soon enough, you find yourself playing chess as you’ll be planning ahead of time, ensuring you have sufficient infrastructure in place to expand your population at a rate that you can sustain. Basically, you have to have the supply to meet the demand. As the seasons pass, you’ll find yourself sighing with relief as the harsh Winter passes. You’ll spend the Spring focusing on building structures for expansion, Summer hunting for the blood of animals to increase your meat and skin supplies. Then the glow of Autumn arrives, that means plants are ripe with berries, the perfect time to concentrate on collecting berries, ensuring your food supplies are surplus for the next Winter.
Visually, Dawn of Man is good. I really enjoyed slowing down the game speed and zooming in as much as I could, just to sit back and appreciate everyday life within my settlement. The animals look fantastic (my 3-year-old son loved screaming out the animal’s names, even if he was wrong most of the time) and watching your structures advance through the ages is surprisingly satisfying. The environment is also visually appealing, I found myself going on adventures with the sole purpose of looking satisfying my own curiosity of the world outside of my post code. I did find the excessive amount of hills and mountains a bit annoying, especially from a building perspective, but this has little to do with graphics and more of a level design criticism.
They’re three game modes available in Dawn of Man- Freeplay, Challenges or Community scenarios. Freeplay mode is self-expansionary and is the main mode. As you unlock milestones, you’ll unlock additional freeplay scenarios that increase with difficulty. Continental Dawn is an introductory scenario that allows players time to learn the game mechanics in a less hostile environment. The Northlands provides an increased challenge, thanks mainly to the longer winters and shorter summers that also feature limited resources. Finally, Ancient Warriors is the most difficult scenario and will challenge even the most seasoned campaigner, mostly with the constant and consistent threat of raiders. If you’re feeling confident, each scenario is equipped with Hardcore mode that lets tribes progress at their own rate (meaning that AI technology can surpass your own), removes the ability to pause and have multiple save files and increases the amount of raider’s. Challenges provides a mini-scenario with specific goals to achieve. For example, Temple of the Sun challenge requires you to build a Stone Circle and 4 Menhirs around it, all within one of your villagers’ lifespan. This requires building and completing the set objectives on a timer, but also means that when raiders are present you’ll have to pay extra attention to your special villager. If he falls in battle, you’ll fail the challenge. If he dies from disease, you’ll fail. If he dies… Well, you get the point. Replayability is a strong feature of Dawn of Man, thanks largely to the community scenarios that are actually quite good. Currently there’s 25 community scenarios available via the Steam Workshop, expect this to grow and provide plenty of unique scenarios and challenges.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Dawn of Man is the poor animal behavior. Animals appear to be completely unaware of potential threats, in this instance Humans. This works in your favor however, as you don’t have wild animals attacking your villagers while they’re gathering resources. But I would have liked to see a more realistic approach where animals and humans are cautious of each other. Building is relativity painless with no grid limitations, only mountains and objectives will prevent you building in certain areas. I was impressed that people will actually take their time to build structures. You can’t simply erect a structure and seconds later expect it to be built. Your villagers need time to build it and will gather resources bit by bit, rather than insta-build that we see in most RTS. This is what I really liked about Dawn of Man, there’s clearly been a lot of thought involved in the game, even the simplest of tasks are well thought through. The addition of ‘Primal Vision’ is a great aid, especially as you’re learning the game. Primal Vision highlights resources, animals and raiders, allowing you to find near by resources or plan your defense. The UI has all the information you need, with more in-depth information a simple F key away. The ability to trend your resources on a graph is great. The more I explored the UI, the more I was impressed with the information that was available.
Sound is about expected for a game of this genre. The beat of the drums and horns in the early ages remind you of a simpler, more relaxed time. But then the tempo of the music increase, this can only mean one thing… Raiders! Without any thought at all, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, immersed in the game and panicking the defend your land. Animal sounds are decent, but slightly disappointing if I’m being honest. Overall though, the sound quality is more than passable for a game of the genre and my criticism is only a minor concern.
There’s one aspect of the game that has left me disappointed though, multiplayer, or the lack of multiplayer to be precise. Dawn of Man would be a great experience with a friend, much like Age of Empires is. The obvious problem is that Age of Empires is more of your typical RTS that encourages players to eliminate and conquer their enemies. Dawn of Man isn’t about war and domination, but rather encourages you to survival, develop and guide your people through the ages. I honestly believe that multiplayer could work and would be a huge attraction for Dawn of Man. Even if multiplayer consisted of having two players pitted against each other in an epic race to bring each of their civilization’s up to a certain age. In this mode, you’re able to research your own raiders to send to your enemies settlement where they slow down their development by killing and/or bringing back supplies. This is just an idea that came to me during this review. I’m sure that with some time and resources, Madruga Works could greatly improve this concept. Unfortunately, when Madruga Works have been previously asked about the addition of multiplayer for Dawn of Man, the response has been ‘not in our plans’.
Overall, Dawn of Man is a great game. It’s a great mix of a city-builder with elements of a traditional RTS. Much in the vein of Banished, another excellent example of a city building/simulation, but Dawn of War just does it better. I thoroughly enjoyed my 30 odd hours playing God. It was satisfying leading my people through time that left me with an emotion that I rarely experience in games, pride. There was a real sense of accomplishment when I finally evolved my civilization to the Iron Age. All those hours of defending against annoying raiders, planning my yearly scheduled of building and scavenging had finally paid off. The absence of features such as multiplayer and the ability to attack and conquer other settlements is disappointing, but clearly Madruga Works vision didn’t include these features. Instead, Madruga Works vision focused on management, planning and progression. These elements perfectly combine to create an outstanding and underrated game that I highly recommend!
For more on Dawn of Man, check out our previous coverage.