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Dawn Of Man Review: Slow-Paced Stone Age Survival

It takes a lot to stand out in the city-building genre. While the era of Caesar and SimCity is long past, Anno, Tropico, and Cities Skylines still dominate the landscape. Many city-builders, when not set in modern times, tend to look for the future, or perhaps the very recent past when it comes time to vary the setting. Madruga Works decided to go one step further with the time scale, while including elements of survival strategy in their second game, Dawn of Man. The result is a slow-paced game set in prehistory, rich with detail and the occasional cave bear attack.

In Dawn Of Man, players build and nurture a settlement of prehistoric people through the ages. The game begins in the Stone Age, with only a few tents and a handful of people, and tasks such as hunting, gathering, and crafting will allow your small tribe to gain knowledge and unlock new technologies. Over time, your people will grow and learn, progressing from the Stone Age through to the Iron Age. Players must help their people to survive, expand, and evolve, all the while keeping them safe, warm, and fed through the challenges which nature throws at them.

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Game Modes

Freeplay is the default mode and likely where players will spend most of their time. It involves choosing a place on the map for your settlement, and then guiding your people towards self-sufficiency, in spite of whatever nature throws at them. Nature, in this case, throws cave bears.

The challenge of Freeplay mode, beyond surviving, is achieving certain milestones - acquiring certain population numbers, constructing a stone circle, and so on. Achieving these milestones will unlock new maps for Freeplay, and the next two modes of play, Challenges (with twists on the existing gameplay, like having you guide a herd of mammoths through the snow) and Creative (the game's sandbox mode, with no threats but also no achievements).

Game Mechanics And User Interface

Playing in either Freeplay or Creative, the basic mechanics are the same as most city-building games. You can micro- or macro-manage your tribe, having individuals perform certain tasks or just creating "work zones" and letting the tribespeople figure out who's going to be gathering sticks this season.

Overall the interface is reasonably intuitive, despite being quite bulky in places.

It took me a while to discover a couple of things, but mostly the UI is sensible and sections are added over time as your settlement evolves, giving you the chance to get used to the menus. The management menu is slightly confusing, containing a couple of sections I can’t see a need for. However, the information is generally helpful and in a game like this, I’d rather have too much information than not enough.

The Slow Pace Of Hunter-Gatherer Life

One thing to note is that if you like fast-paced games, then Dawn of Man is not for you. It offers reasonably slow and steady progression, rather than a quick rush to the Iron Age.

In the beginning, you start with simple huts and primitive resources. This part is the most challenging. Winter will severely hinder your ability to gather food and resources, so you must plan well and stockpile.

In the early game, your choices also seem to more greatly affect your settlement. Choosing between being able to produce better weapons to enable easier hunting, or food preservation to allow for better stockpiling, will have more consequences than you may first realize, and there are only enough sticks to do one or the other before winter comes.

The first age isn’t particularly difficult to live through, so these early consequences are often short-lived. However, you do have to be careful not to expand too fast or you will struggle in the second age.

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Once you have farming and defenses up and running, the game does lose some of the challenge, especially since raiders seem to be mostly easy to repel. There is, however, a hardcore mode, which allows other tribes to advance ahead of yours, offering an extra challenge for those who want to live dangerously.

Visuals And Sound

Graphically Dawn of Man is of a standard I would expect for a game of this type. There are several nice little details, including the way hunters crouch and creep up on their prey before throwing their weapons. Watching the tribe go about its business is enjoyable, and the amount detail put into the tribespeoples' movements is much appreciated.

The music is mostly soft and light, adding a background which is relaxing rather than distracting. I haven’t noticed any change in music if danger approaches, which would be nice; for now there is just a brief notification noise which can be easy to miss.

Managing Your Settlement

Issues with your settlement are flagged up by these notifications in the bottom left of your screen. While this allows you to manage some things easily, there are limits. Only five notifications appear at once and they vanish quite quickly when there's a lot going on, and sometimes the same issue will appear twice in this list if you don't solve it quickly enough.

In terms of work management, the "work area" system makes things much easier than some games of this type. Setting areas for your people to hunt and gather is much easier than specifying individual tasks. You do need to keep an eye on the notifications, however, as areas will run out of resources and the brief notification is the only obvious flag.

Still, there are a few issues with the system and this sort of "hands-off" approach to managing your tribe. For example, a person's needs will flash above their head, but there seems to be no way to manually help them solve their problems.

I also cannot figure out how to get people to drop their terrible weapons and pick up the more advanced ones I’ve crafted. If anyone knows how to do this, please tell me, because it’s driving me crazy. The best I can do is craft nicer ones for the extra people who come after I’ve researched the new technology, but that old man is still hunting moufflon with a wooden spear when there's a flint one right there waiting for him.

The Downsides - And How They Might Be Fixed

While Dawn of Man is fun to play, I can see how it may get old quickly, especially if you like a challenge. Playing in different sections of the map doesn’t vary gameplay too much, especially past the initial stages, and the Creative mode removes any obstacles completely.

The challenges themselves offer something slightly different, but personally, I just found them to be frustrating. There are also only four of them, so if you are good at these kinds of things the challenge won’t last long.

The hidden gem to combatting this may lie in the community tab, a section which allows you to download and play scenarios created by the steam community. Steam offers a guide which tells players how to create their own scenarios, including goals for players to meet. I've yet to explore these, but I am looking forward to trying them.

My biggest gripe is that the help system is not very intuitive, and a few times I had to hunt through Steam comments for something as simple as figuring out what certain ingredients were useful for. I’d like to see a little more covered in the tutorial, as well; I felt a bit like I was shown the absolute minimum then thrown into the game.

The Verdict

Dawn of Man is a relaxing and enjoyable stone age simulation which covers an era not often touched upon by these type of games. It has a nice relaxed pace, and a few different modes.

Content is, admittedly, a little lacking. The developers have promised that more is to come, and I'm looking forward to whatever they add to the game. There are a few niggles I’d like to see addressed, but overall the game is fun to play, and a relaxing way to while away the hours (except when there are cave bears).

4 out of 5 stars.

A copy of Dawn Of Man was requested by TheGamer from Madruga Works for this review. The game is available now for Microsoft Windows and MacOS.

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