The Ancients Early Access Review

The Ancients is entering Early Access in a state of unprecedented bugs and glitches, even for an EA game.
The Ancients Featured

The Ancients is a 4X game about early humankind, representing life before cities and civilization. It attempts to mix up your typical 4X game with a more nomadic approach and has a highly historical and educational theme that hopes to teach you a little bit about where we all came from. While the game is still in Early Access, I found that it was host to a swarm of bugs and underdeveloped features and probably should have been internally tested more before even entering Early Access.

Gameplay-wise, The Ancients is a 4X game without the city building. Suppose you’ve played the early game of Humankind. In that case, you have an idea of what the gameplay of The Ancients is like: Navigate the map, gather resources, and try not to lose your tribe to the natural dangers of the world while you develop from a nomadic group into more of a roots-in-place tribe.

The game has your typical 4X tech tree as well as some more nuanced mechanics, such as managing the health of individual tribe members and dynamically developing your tribe’s language and culture as you play.

The Ancients Tribe
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The gameplay is pretty alright, and that’s honestly all I have to say about it, as many of the game’s bugs and glitches made trying to appreciate it very hard. Before I get into that, however, I’ll get some minor nitpicks out of the way.

Graphically, the game is unimpressive and pretty ugly to look at. If you turn the graphics up to epic, it looks a little better, though poor optimization can cause a serious drop in your framerate, which then also affects the movement speed of your tribe across the map. The biggest issue with the game’s graphics is its textures and flat terrain; everything is brown and ugly, and it looks like it’s made out of construction paper instead of looking like an actual environment your tribe is navigating.

The Ancients Camp
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

It becomes a little better in forested biomes but still looks pretty bad and inconsistent. Mountains, trees, and other changes to the environment look stamped on rather than nature changes in elevation, and overall, the world looks pretty fake, which doesn’t feel intentional with how focused on realism the game feels.

The user interface is something I’d like to see changed through The Ancients’ development time.

The Ancients uses a stylized user interface meant to mimic the cave art of prehistory human tribes. I’ll admit that it’s a unique idea and a little charming. However, in practice, at least how it’s utilized in the game, I just find it kind of ugly and hard to look at. At times, it’s also a little confusing to navigate, and it can be hard to read text when it pops up.

It reminds me of computer games of the 90s when things were more experimental. Again, these are points for creativity, but I think the concept needs some serious refining, and I wouldn’t release the game with the UI it has now.

Nitpicks out of the way, the game feels too buggy to play, with progressively concerning bugs and glitches that can outright ruin your attempts to play the game.

I found that the game’s camera could easily be broken and was hard to control. If, for example, you clicked on the “focus on quest location” button, your camera would jump to said location and lock onto it, not unlocking or returning to your tribe. I also found panning the camera to be inconsistent, with the controls randomly breaking and locking you out of moving the camera at all.

In sandbox mode, Biome generation feels like it can outright break, with massive, 20×20 stretches of hexagons spawning as the same resource. I watched my tribe die of dehydration as they walked through massive deserts of flint or huge turnip vineyards with not a single water hex in sight.

The Ancients Flint
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

I’m not totally sure if this is intentional or why it would be intentional, but if you lose a level and restart, you do so with all of the previously unlocked technology on the tech tree still unlocked from your last playthrough, and this carries over across multiple failed attempts. Aka, if you unlocked four or five techs in your first playthrough, they will continue to be there when you fail that run and start again.

I’m convinced this is a glitch because, to my surprise, this also continued across games, with technology I unlocked in the campaign mode being available at the start of a new sandbox game. This essentially means that no new game is actually a new game, and you’re just blasting through the tech tree at a breakneck pace because failure doesn’t actually reset any progress.

You can reset this bug, but quitting to the desktop requires you to relaunch the game. So, I guess when you want to start a new game, you just have to remember to relaunch the title altogether.

The Ancients Extortion
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The game seems to block off certain hexes inconsistently, making you unable to traverse them for reasons that aren’t explained and seem utterly random. One turn, you won’t be able to cross into a totally empty hex, but on the next, you can. If you’re playing in sandbox mode, this can quite literally lead to you spawning into a box you can’t walk out of, locking you to a tiny section of the map and forcing you to restart. In the campaign mode, this is less likely to happen, but you can see your tribe starving to death or being widdled down to nothing by a predator attack because the game chose to prevent movement seemingly at random.

If your tribe has multiple clans or “units,” there is no reminder at the end of your turn to move them or an easy way to cycle between selecting multitudes of them. Sometime, the game will outright refuse to allow you to select your other clans, and you just have to watch them slowly die of starvation or predator attack as they are left defenseless and without direction.

Pros:

  • Something of a unique idea, with a focus on education about the time period.
  • Unique and cool changes on the 4X genre make it feel more like a primitive tribe simulator.

Cons:

  • A host of bugs and glitches that can outright make the game unplayable.
  • Ugly graphics and UI.
  • Overall, it’s an underdeveloped game that feels like it needed more time even before launching into Early Access.
Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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