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Dawn of Man - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • "One more season" addictiveness
  • Reasonably accurate depiction of prehistoric life and development
  • Each age feels distinct and well-defined
  • Gradual accumulation of knowledge from practical experience
  • Areas automate certain tasks

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Overwhelming explosion of features and content in neolithic era
  • Difficult to prioritize right actions
  • No UI for conveniently managing existing work areas
  • Don't bother using hunting areas
  • No other settlements for you to trade or compete with
  • Dogs feel under-developed

Overall Impression : C
If the A.I. and U.I. are improved,
this game will be an easy recommendation!

Dawn of Man - cover

Developer:
Madruga Works

Publisher:
Madruga Works

Platforms:
PC < (via Steam or Good ol' Games),
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $25 USD

Original release date:
1 March 2019

Genres:
strategy, simulation, pre-historic city-builder

ESRB Rating: N/A

Player(s):
single player

Official site:
madrugaworks.com/dawnofman/

From what I've read, Madruga's indie management sim Dawn of Man has proven to be far more successful than the developers had ever imagined. The game made it onto Steam's top-sellers list the month that it released and was a surprise hit. I've actually had the game on my radar for quite some time. I saw a preview for it back in mid 2018 in a YouTube video about "upcoming strategy games for 2019". I watch those from time to time to see if any new games are coming out in the niche genres that I enjoy -- like city-builders, strategy games, and horror games.

My two favorite PC games are the Civilization games and city-builders like Cities: Skylines, so a management sim / city-builder set during the stone, bronze, and iron ages seemed right up my alley.

A prehistoric city-builder is an idea that is right up my alley!

Like any good management sim or city-builder, Dawn of Man has a "one-more-season" addictiveness that kept me playing into the wee hours of the morning trying to balance my food stockpiles and finish that next set of construction projects before saving and quitting. I'd tell myself that I'd play it for an hour or two, then switch to Sekiro, or work on a Civilization strategy guide, but five hours later, I'd be building palisades and watchtowers to protect my little neolithic farming village from plundering raiders, or sending an expedition halfway across the map to hunt one of the last few remaining wholly mammoths.

Learning by doing

You start the game as a small group of 7 paleolithic humans (half of which are children) living in a handful of animal skin tents. You hunt animals, gather sticks and stones, pick berries and nuts, craft simple tools, and eventually expand your handful of tents into a bronze or iron age city -- complete with walls and an army.

Your progress through the eras is governed by the accumulation of knowledge points. These knowledge points are gained by completing certain tasks or milestones within the game. Your people effectively learn by doing, and through repetition. Each "first" within the game will earn a knowledge point. Build your first hut: gain a knowledge point. Hunt your first deer: gain a knowledge point. Craft your first composite spear: gain a knowledge point. Plant your first crops: gain a knowledge point. And so on.

You accumulate knowledge points by
completing in-game tasks or milestones.

After that, you gain further knowledge points by repeating certain tasks or stockpiling certain resources. Crafting 10 bows will be another knowledge point. Drying and curing 100 units of meat would be another knowledge point. And so on.

You're constantly and gradually earning new knowledge. You can turn in lump sums of these knowledge points for new technologies in a technology tree.

I like this mechanism of "learning by doing". There is no place-it-and-forget-it "research" building or school that passively accumulates knowledge points like what you might see in other strategy games like Civilization. Learning is an active process for your little simulated people, even though most of your knowledge points will come from activities that are automated anyway.

This drip feed of knowledge makes the first couple of eras go by fairly slowly, without much for you to do. It's all just hunting and gathering, and the occasional hut-building. Then you hit the neolithic era, and the content, features, and options suddenly explode into new possibilities! Hitting the neolithic era was actually kind of overwhelming in my first few games, and my first couple villages collapsed because I tried to do too much too soon.

The game explodes with content and features when you hit the neolithic era!

I thought I had a grasp on the methodical hunting and gathering, the production of simple tools and goods, and a handle on my food acquisition and storage. Then, suddenly I have access to farming, mining, and domesticated animals, and I have to build fortifications to defend myself from aggressive raiders, and more. It felt like it was too much to manage all at once, and this is where the few (but significant) failings of the game started to become apparent.

Worker's Comp

Managing a small settlement of a couple dozen people is easy. You can automate certain tasks by assigning a work area to a region of the map. Villagers will automatically travel to that area to complete whatever task is assigned (gathering flint, fishing in the river, or so forth). You can set how many people will work the area and how many of the given resource to store. Early work areas will probably all be right next to your camp, so villagers don't waste much time in transit and are relatively efficient.

Work areas automate the collection of most resources.

With 7 to 20 people (a good third of which are children who can only perform simple tasks anyway), it was easy enough to micro-manage everybody. When you get up to 60, 70, or 80 population, things start to get harder to manage.

Planting and harvesting crops in the spring and fall takes up a lot of manpower, which strained the ability of my villagers to do any of the other tasks that were assigned. A back-log would start that would quickly spiral out of control, causing my villagers to become unhappy and less productive.

Farming created a massive back-log of tasks that spiraled out of control.

The game doesn't let you set up seasonal schedules for your work areas, so I couldn't tell my people to avoid working the stick and stone-collection, mining, hunting, or tree-cutting work areas during the busy planting and harvest seasons. I tried going from work area to work area, reducing the workforce to 1 person, but that only barely helped. I had to delete many work areas altogether.

However convenient those work areas were in the earlier stages of the game, when it inevitably comes time to delete work areas because your village is overworked, you're gonna have a hard time. There's no list (that I could find) of all work areas that allows you to conveniently manage the number of work-loads, view the resource availability, or to delete unwanted areas. Work areas also aren't highlighted on the map, and there's no mini-map to let you see where they all are.

The little banners for them are also really small -- no taller than a hut. Trying to find them all requires manually panning the camera across the entire [unnecessarily large] map and hoping that you can spot the work area banners behind trees, rocks, or other obstacles.

You should micro-manage your hunters to hunt in groups and surround the prey.

Failures of the work areas don't end there. The hunting areas just flat-out don't work efficiently at all. The core problem is that sending a single hunter out to hunt almost anything is a bad idea. Many animals will run away and can outrun a person. I would make up for this by manually selecting a group of three to six hunters and sending them out on expeditions to hunt as many animals as they could. I'd even go so far as to manually position my hunters to surround the prey whenever possible. That degree of micro-management was tedious and annoying, but I found it to be essential to keeping my neolithic (and later) villages running efficiently.

The hunters that go automatically to a hunting area are not smart enough to do these things. They almost always wander out one-at-a-time and then either fail to catch the animal altogether, don't have enough inventory space to carry all the meat and skins back, or get themselves killed by an errant bear or wolf during the walk. By the middle of the game, animals also seem to have learned to stay away from humans, so they spawn further and further away from my camp. I've also seen hunters die while they're out hunting because they chase prey for so long, that they don't have time to get back to camp before starving or freezing to death.

Workers go to hunting areas one-at-a-time, resulting in lots of prey escaping.

The inefficiencies of work areas (the hunting ones in particular) lead to workloads and food reserves spiraling out of control. The lack of hunters reliably bringing in fresh meat leads to starvation, which decreases the population, which increases the backlog of tasks, which makes people less productive, which leads to even less getting done. Once this starts to happen, it can be hard to diagnose the problem and fix it. I've abandoned several settlements and just started new games with the intent of slowing down my progress through the knowledge tree and stockpiling more resources before a new era.

More generally, it's hard to prioritize important tasks. You can set construction tasks to be "high priority", but they can easily be blocked if your accumulation of necessary resources is slowed, or if those resources get diverted to other tasks. Some tasks cannot be prioritized at all. I've had times where one super-important task just isn't getting done, and I can't seem to get my people to do it. For example, I once fell into a downward spiral of starvation and needed to butcher my livestock and pack donkeys in order to feed my human population. But nobody would bother to actually kill the animals! I would even try selecting an individual character and manually assign him or her to butchering the animal, only for the game to highlight the animal red and not give me any indication as to why I'm not allowed to butcher it. Is somebody else already assigned to this task? If so, where are they? And why did it take a whole friggin' year for them to get there?!

In one case, the game refused to let me butcher an animal.

These sorts of frustrations really hurt the game. Settlements don't feel like they collapse because of bad strategy, bad planning, or bad management on my part. They collapse because of the difficulty in diagnosing and correcting hiccups in the game's task prioritization. Or even if you did make a bad decision (like domesticating too many animals and running out of food for you human population), the problem might spiral out of control because those A.I. hiccups prevent you from taking the steps needed to correct the problem and save the settlement.

Hope for some post-release improvement

It's a shame that these U.I. issues create such a burdensome degree of micro-management, because the underlying game is very good when it's all working smoothly. This idea of a "pre-historic city-builder" is a genuinely novel concept, and the execution is (from my layman understanding) as accurate a depiction of the development of early man as you're likely to get from a management sim video game.

If the developer Madruga releases DLC or expansions, I'll probably be very interested to check those out. I'd especially like to see the game extended to include a nomadic era, in which your little tribe of people wander the map and taking shelter in caves, before finally settling down. That would definitely help to make more use of the massive amount of space that the game's maps provide, but for which I've ever only used a small portion.

Maps are massive, and very little of the actual space is used.

If you've liked games like Banished, then this one is definitely worth checking out. Dawn of Man doesn't have the same level of polish that Banished had, but it could reach that level with a good patch or two. With some UI improvements, better management of work areas, and maybe some slightly better A.I. for using work areas, I'd be happy to bump Dawn of Man up a grade point (or two). If you're reading this review at a point after the developers have patched those problems out, then this game gets my highest recommendation.

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