Scavenging for sticks and flint might not be an enjoyable Saturday morning for the most of us in 2019, but back in the Neolithic era, such resources were necessary in the face of a cave lion breathing down your neck. Dawn of Man is a survival city-builder strategy game that was developed by two people, and quite spectacularly; it could be the spiritual successor to the ever-timeless classic Age of Empires.
A beautiful, nostalgic atmosphere radiates from the beginning. From luscious alpines crawling up the snow-covered mountains to rivers flowing through fields filled with bison, the imagination of the Neolithic era has been materialized with incredible detail. Even the tents feel like an updated version of the mud huts seen in the Age of Empires series; the inspiration behind Dawn of Man is obvious, but incredibly charming at the same time.
Dawn of Man is divided into six ages, with the Stone Age itself split into three, revealing where much of this city builder focuses its gameplay upon. To move from age to age you must research technologies using knowledge points. Knowledge points are earned by hitting achievements based on number of animals killed, number of buildings built, or number of resources gathered. Due to the nature of the game, it’s wise to focus on killing animals to earn knowledge points at the beginning, because a number of these animals will become extinct (or rarer) as the game progresses. The attention to detail with these Ice Age phenomena shows incredible foresight by the developers.
Because earning knowledge points is vital to progress, the pace can be rather slow, which can have both positive and negative consequences. The game is particularly laid back, with minimal threats that impact the player; the odd cave lion and invasion by raiders are easily repelled, while a storm might have the random chance of lightning striking a villager. This creates an experience that relies on hitting numbers. It’s easy to vouch for building ten breweries, but ten outfitters is a sordid waste of resources.
Fortunately, each technology has recognizable benefits rather than just being a small chain in the link towards something greater. Whether it’s something that allows access to a new resource or a technology that creates a new building, each progression is worth the time put into earning those knowledge points. Conveniently, a trader arrives in the village quite frequently, allowing the player to trade for resources or a new technology at the cost of their own resources.
The happiness of the population is determined by buildings and access to food and clothing. It’s easy to maintain a high happiness level for the villages, but the benefits from this rarely seem to materialize — the most important being population growth. If there’s one thing that stalls the game, it is population growth. The problem is that once the player has domesticated some animals, they will breed much quicker than the villagers. This results in more animals than the human population can maintain, with fields of gold left unharvested, and starving pigs out in the cold. This has other consequences, as straw is needed to build most buildings, but it’s being used to feed all the animals. The only solution is to slaughter animals manually, which can take some time when the animal population hits the hundreds.
Managing the workload of your population becomes vital to the growth of your city. The seasons will work against you, and as such, you have to organize accordingly. Environments look beautiful, and the changing of seasons is an incredibly thought-through dynamic. For instance, the seeds for rye will be planted in Spring, will grow during the Summer, and will be harvested in Autumn. Different plants are harvested in different months, with Winter a barren period that is perfect for constructing walls and buildings.
Building walls has another concern that could use addressing. With gorgeous aesthetics, the potential to build incredible cities which blend into the terrain is incredibly attractive. Unfortunately, the mountains don’t act as a natural barrier, and more often than not, the player can’t build walls across them. This means that raiders have the opportunity to attack the city by crossing through the mountains. Building a Neolithic Minas Tirith would be possible if the mountains were the natural barrier they should be, but quite peculiarly, they become the natural path for raiders to attack.
However, raiders appear on the map randomly, often conveniently close to the player’s civilization, which can be unfortunate for them. With a giant map with so much potential, rivalling villages don’t appear on the map, so there’s a lot of wasted space that can’t be utilized accordingly. Shifting closer to the Age of Empires formula with other Neolithic tribes to encounter would begin to put flesh onto the bones of what could be an incredible survival/city-builder strategy game.
Usually when reviewing a game it’s wise to think about what could be removed from the game rather than what the writer wishes could be added, but for Dawn of Man, it’s easy to see where the game could develop further. This includes sporting a more diverse wildlife; for a game that relies on combating the natural elements, the game does have some glaring omissions, such as the sabre-tooth tiger and terror birds, and wild chickens could also be added to create a new aspect to the late game. When the player reaches the Bronze Age, there’s also a lack of basic armor smithing. Essentially, your population hits the Bronze Age with wonderful swords, but outfitted in rags.
Dawn of Man is a mammoth skeleton waiting to come alive. With a little more content, Dawn of Man could go from a decent strategy game to an amazing, must-buy strategy game. Until then, it must be scored for what it is now, and that represents a decent game waiting to become a prehistoric giant.