Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey starts with a warning that it won’t help you much. As we pointed out in our review, “No shit.”
Diving into Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is baffling and often frustrating. There’s an underlying logic to the game, though. It just takes some work to figure it out. This guide is here to walk you through the game’s first hour (or so). Each section is a step along your evolutionary journey, and we’ll fill in what you should be learning from each. Before we get into the walkthrough, through, let’s talk about the point of the game.
Survive for eight million years
Your goal in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is to guide your lineage through eight million years of survival and (small-scale) evolution. You’re not going to evolve your hominids into humans. You’re just going to learn to be better hominids.
You’ll do this by earning Neuronal Energy, which you’ll use to make new connections in your hominid brain, unlocking new skills and abilities. Those skills and abilities make your survival easier. Over time, you’ll learn to lock these new neurons so they stick around in subsequent generations. But for now, let’s just get you through your first hours on Earth.
Hide as the infant
When you first take control of a hominid in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, you’ll be the infant from the game’s prologue cutscene. The jungle is full of spectral hyenas and scary sounds. But they aren’t real (for the most part).
This is an introduction to the game’s fear of the unknown mechanic. Your job as that infant is to face your fear — ignore the spectral dangers — and get somewhere safe. That’s it.
Pull up your intelligence, and start looking around. You don’t care about any plants or items right now. You’re just looking for a hiding spot. When you find one, memorize it to make it a persistent icon on your HUD, and then start making your way there. Once you’re safely hidden inside, control will transfer to an adult.
Retrieve your clan’s lost infant
The next goal you’ll have in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is to retrieve that lost infant you just hid. The confusing part is that there’s no guidance about how to do it — to the point where you can just completely forget about that lost kid. But this is your goal for a reason.
It’s here to teach you two things. First, you should always carry an infant with you. Carrying an infant earns Neuronal Energy that you’ll use to learn new skills and abilities (to evolve). Second, it’s to show you that infants usually survive when an adult dies — and then someone else can go retrieve them.
When you take control of the clan’s adult, follow the river downstream (or go to the downriver end of the clan’s shelter). Get very close to the edge of the cliff, pull up your senses, and then switch to hearing. Look around until you see a yellow spot to focus on. This is probably the infant. Listen close and identify the sound. If it’s not the infant, keep looking. Once you identify the missing kid, memorize its location, and then set off.
Soothe the infant
We’re breaking this one out as its own step because it too subtly teaches you another of the game’s underlying mechanics — rhythm and sound.
When you approach the infant’s hiding spot, you’ll get a prompt to soothe it. Your goal is to successfully soothe it a few times so it comes out to you. This is visually represented by the rings above and below the gauge closing. Just mashing the button won’t work. There’s a call and response aspect to soothing the baby — hit the soothe prompt, wait for the infant’s response, wait a beat, and then do it again.
This rhythm and sound mechanic is going to come up a lot. There’s a prompt, you hold down a button, there’s an auditory cue, and then you release the button. It happens in grooming, making stone tools, fishing, and prying up liftable rocks. It’s super subtle and never explained, but knowing to think of it this way will help you immeasurably through your eight million year journey.
Return to the settlement and evolve
Once you’ve retrieved the infant, head back to the clan’s settlement. Pull up your intelligence and look back the way you came. You’re looking for a diamond-shaped icon with blue leaves.
Climb back up to the settlement to return the infant, and then find the sleeping spot. It’s a pile of cycad fronds surrounded by blue flowers.
You can lie down anywhere to take a nap — which you’ll need to do when your dopamine levels get low — but you can only evolve (and mate) at a sleeping spot. Lie down, and then hit the button to open the evolution menu.
The menu is a representation of a neuron (and your current store of Neuronal Energy is represented by the white circle in the middle). There are four points that branch off of it that correspond to four ways to interact with the environment: Motricity (dexterity and movement), Kinesics (communicating with your clanmates), Perception (sensing your environment), and Memory (intelligence and identifying things in your environment).
In Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, you (and the infant you’re carrying) learn by doing. Moving around, climbing things, and jumping will train Motricty. Eating, sniffing, and hearing things will train your Perception. Training these neuronal branches will unlock additional neurons down their paths.
Right now, only worry about Motricity. You want to make sure that one’s unlocked. (If it’s not, move, climb, and jump for a while.) This allows you to switch items from one hand to another. And that means you can …
Alter items (and collect some honey)
Altering items will open up a lot of new things to do. Let’s start simple. The video below will show you how to do everything listed here.
Look around to find a natal grass cycad — there are plenty around the clan’s settlement. Hit the button to switch it to your left hand (it was LB on our Xbox One controller). Now, hold down the same button to alter it. With the first button held down, the alter prompt will switch to another button (RB on our Xbox One controller). Your goal is to hold it down just until you hear the chime prompt. While you’re learning, aim to release too early — if you wait too long, you’ll destroy what you’re trying to alter. When you’re successful, you’ll create a natal grass cycad’s stem.
There’s a couple things to note here. First, this is to show that your right hand is active, while your left hand is passive. When you alter something, you actively use the item in your right hand to alter the item in your left. (If you get mixed up, you just have to hit the button to swap hands.) This also means that you only interact with the environment with the item in your right hand.
With your new stem in your right hand, climb up above the clan’s rock shelter. Turn and head toward the waterfall. Look above you along the cliff to spot a beehive. Climb up next to it (ignoring the beestings) until you get a prompt to dip. This dips your new stem into the beehive to retrieve some honey. Climb down and eat it.
You don’t have to do this, but we walked you through it to teach you several survival tools. First, you altered an item to make a new tool. Second, you accessed a food source you couldn’t before. And third, the honey you ate buffed you against a condition. Let’s talk about conditions.
In the bottom left of your HUD, next to the eye icon, there might be a series of tiles to indicate your current condition(s). These include things like thirst, broken bones, cold, poisoned, and bleeding. If you’re suffering one of these effects, the tile will appear with a shaded background to show the countdown until the condition goes away.
Certain foods will buff you against these conditions or alleviate them if you contract them. These appear as the same icons with a shield around them. The buff’s countdown is the blue shading behind the tile. The honey you just ate, for example, buffs against getting hurt by animal venom (like snakes). Horsetail heals and prevents broken bones. Kapok Fiber heals and prevents bleeding.
These buffs and medicinal uses appear around the item’s icon in intelligence mode. For non-food items, like stones or branches, the tools you can make out of them will appear instead.
All rocks are not the same
Speaking of stones, not every stone in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is the same. Altering a granite stone with a granite stone will make a granite grinder. Altering an obsidian stone with an obsidian stone will break the stone you’re altering. Altering an obsidian stone with a granite stone, however, will create an obsidian scraper.
A quick side note: Creating a stone tool means several successful rhythm timings in a row. It takes practice and patience.
Place your obsidian scraper somewhere safe, and then find a dead branch. Strip it by moving it to your left hand, and then altering it with an empty right hand to create a stick. Now, move your stick to your left hand and pick up your obsidian scraper. Alter the stick with the scraper to make a sharpened stick. You can use this for fishing or defense.
Explore, experiment, and learn
You’ve got a lot of tools (both figurative and literal) at your disposal now. We’ve also introduced you to some (most?) of the game’s underlying and unexplained mechanics. The rest is up to you. You won’t always be successful, but that’s OK. Learn what you can, and try again.