Dawn of Man is an ambitious and relatively serious simulation about the earliest stages of the development of humankind that is an unusual fit for consoles. Despite its muddy colours and slow gameplay, however, there’s an addictiveness to this one that meant I ploughed over thirty hours into it in less than a week.
To be honest, regular readers of BigBossBattle will already know that I love strategy games and management simulators that make their way onto console. As you may have noticed in my War Party review, I also have a soft spot for games that have a historic focus — or in the case of these two examples, a prehistoric focus!
Whilst Dawn of Man and War Party might share a tenuously related theme, the two games couldn’t be more different. Dawn of Man isn’t a real-time strategy game in any way, and it’s quite rare that players will take direct control of their populace. Instead, you’ll be planning the daily workload by assigning approximate “work areas” and then managing the effort that goes into each one by choosing the maximum workforce and the limit of each resource that you want to collect.
This is important because where Stone Age — and later the various metal ages — are concerned, there’s never really enough time in the day to get everything done. Hunting is time-consuming and dangerous, whilst fishing is more reliable but delivers a considerably lower yield. Agriculture becomes viable about halfway through each play, but early on, your people won’t know anything about how to plant seeds and grow crops.
Initial buildings will be made from gathered sticks and animal hides, whilst basic tools will soon be available for production in bone and flint. As the use of these tools develops, access to logs, tanned leather and bone become available, and so it goes on right through to copper, bronze and iron smelting to create tools. Across a single game (which could last ten or twelve hours) you’ll take your civilization from having basic tents around a fire to being a wattle-and-daub walled city.
Whilst the development of new technologies feels fairly organic, it is tech tree driven and controlled by the player. Knowledge points are gained by achieving minor milestones within the game — collecting ten sticks, then a hundred, then five hundred, for example. With the appropriate number of knowledge points gained, the player can then invest in a technological leap — such as the ability to domesticate dogs.
I think I would have liked an option for the game to deliver these leaps for me (taking away my choice) because it might have felt more like my people were learning, but I do appreciate that this is quite a niche criticism, and had it been the only option, I’d be campaigning for the opposite idea. The key thing is that there are lots of techs to go through, and when all of those from an age have been researched, the player can then save up a lot of points in order to advance to the next metal age.
Starvation and illness/hypothermia are the biggest risks early in the game and the tribe will need to establish a system for hunting or fishing, then drying their food for storage throughout winter. In addition, the tanning of hides is essential for clothing and better buildings, including storage buildings. These things together provide the early game challenge, but by the mid-game, only rapid expansion or poor management of workloads will result in starvation.
Around this time, Dawn of Man cleverly introduces the idea of raiding into the equation, forcing the player to begin producing more combat tools. This isn’t such a huge issue at first, since knives, slings and bows have multiple uses in hunting and preparing food or clothing, but with the advent of metallurgy, swords and shields begin to render weaker weapons obsolete and raiders pose a significant threat.
By the late game, raiders will be a potent (albeit still infrequent) threat that must be dealt with efficiently, and defensive structures become necessary. Initially, these structures will be basic wooden watchtowers and walls, but these can later be replaced by stone and reinforced structures, as well as defensive platforms that afford your people some protection and a better position to attack enemies from.
Alongside this, you’ll also be upgrading your tents to huts and ultimately to roundhouses, the most advanced prehistoric structures that we’ve discovered in Europe — those from around 5-7,000 years ago. One of the most striking things about Dawn of Man is both the look and feel of how your tribe develops from the beginning to the end of each play — it’s very satisfying to begin with nothing and finish, a fair chunk of time later, with a fully defended and functional city, complete with fields, domesticated animals and perhaps even a stone circle or two.
On that note, one of the more unique features of Dawn of Man is the inclusion of monoliths. These huge, individual stones can be carved and then transported (usually by multiple people across several game months) across the map to form large spiritual installations. The largest of these might require six stones, representing a huge amount of resources, time and effort on behalf of your people, but rewarding the player with huge prestige — which in turn attracts more people to the tribe.
On the downside, I’m not aware of an actual end to Dawn of Man, except if you lose. Basically, if you reach the Iron Age and research all of the “modern” technologies, you’ll have done everything that you can, but there isn’t a reward or a finish line as such, the game just allows you keep on playing. There are some specific milestones to unlock within the game, but these are certainly not as satisfying as a classic “end of game” cinematic or similar.
Dawn of Man is perhaps my favourite civilisation management simulator currently on console, and it’s certainly up there with the likes of Surviving Mars and not far behind Frostpunk, as long as you enjoy the theme. Personally, I think it needs a little refinement to polish it to a fine edge, but nonetheless, it’s a fun and engaging experience that is highly addictive. It’s slow pace also means that the joypad controls are no issue whatsoever.