Sapiens is Nothing But Potential

Sapiens Preview

Sapiens is nothing but potential. Maybe you’re like me. Sometimes you get tired of the same game, but want something similar. But then you realize that you’ve played everything worth playing. So you start furiously Googling, “Games Like Rimworld,” and find a hundred different lists topped by Minecraft or some popular game that doesn’t capture that feeling you’re looking for. Every so often though, you find a real gem; a new favorite. Sapiens isn’t there yet but has the ambition to take its place in the pantheon of great colony sims.

A Gathering of Guys

Sapiens is an early access title from a brand new dev team. It wants to impress you. Once you’ve chosen some basic settings, a planet is procedurally generated. Your first task is picking a spot to start. It is a shock when you realize just how far you can zoom into the planet, watching jagged lines become mountains and coastline. After figuring out the sort of climate and environment you want to survive, your view drops down closer to the ground.

If you have some experience with the genre, you know what comes next. You meet your little tribe of half a dozen guys. You send them to pull up some grass, maybe collect some sticks and stones. Then you are making a centrally located bonfire, tools, and buildings. You’ll choose a path down the tech tree. Eventually, other guys will start wandering by, and you can send your most charming guy to invite them into your tribe.

None of that is particularly novel on paper, right? Those are pretty standard colony sim tasks. And none of that has the scope of those initial moments looking down at the planet. Eventually, it’s supposed to. In Sapiens, you are supposed to lead your little tribe of guys sleeping in the dirt to an elaborate quasi-medieval nation. That’s an idea with scope! I’m fond of town builder Dawn of Man, but that’s more like an RTS, plonking down buildings and stretching out walls. The construction system in Sapiens is closer to something like Valheim, where you place down each wall, door, and floor tile. When you see the elaborate creations the devs have put together, you can see the potential of the building system.

Early Early Man

In my time with Sapiens I didn’t quite get there. You’ll always find a learning curve with these sorts of games, and I made a lot of mistakes before falling into a groove. But a lot of the coolest ideas in Sapiens still feel like they need some smoothing out. The construction system is powerful, but I rarely had enough wood to keep up with my plans. I would mark trees to be cut down, but stacking up orders can confuse your guys; they have trouble distinguishing between priorities.

There are a lot of finicky interfaces in Sapiens. I can see underlying strength in the ideas. Each guy has skills that correspond to the tech tree, so you can send certain guys to specialize in certain tasks. And more experience let’s your guys do higher-thinking tasks. You can also click a resource on the ground, then send a big radius around it so that your guys know to gather all the sticks or rocks or berries or what have you. The interfaces look slick, but I was constantly clicking just a bit off, or exiting from the construction menu into the pause/save/load menu again and again. Information is sometimes buried a few menus deep, and you have to click around to get the info you want.

So it goes with some early access titles. I think Sapiens could have used some more time to cook though. The balance doesn’t feel tight yet, and those interfaces can be rough. But those things aren’t too hard to fix when you have a strong underlying structure, and Sapiens is made by a team that obviously loves the genre and wants to leave their mark on it. You can feel the care and thought that went into every mechanic.

What’s Your Story?

Where Sapiens failed to grab me though, was in the emergent narrative. Rimworld fans know that game is extraordinary for turning random encounters into a thrilling narrative of triumph, disaster, survival, and sometimes betrayal. My tribe in Sapiens were a bunch of peons with randomly generated names. They don’t look different from each other, or have personality traits (beyond aptitude for different skills). The names are functional, but not particularly evocative. The promise of watching your tribe over generations as your guys meet and reproduce doesn’t feel that interesting yet, even though it sounds great on paper!

There’s a roadmap for Sapiens filled with cool stuff. It’s a game that I’ve become excited to follow as it makes its way through a slow early access development cycle. I’m a sucker for these kinds of games, and I’m always looking for the next exciting thing. Right now Sapiens is functional, but it won’t blow your mind. But given some time, I could see it becoming a cult classic colony sim.

***PC code provided by the developers for Review***