In strategy games that cover broad swathes of human history, it’s always a bit sad that the Stone Age is, at best, an early game sideshow – something to be breezed past in a couple of technological leaps on the way to better things. Not so with Dawn Of Man, which concentrates on the various something-lithic periods to the exclusion of everything else. In this game, pointy bits of iron, ploughs and cheese are end-game tech.
With its frosty, beast-stuffed landscapes, Dawn Of Man does a grand job of making you feel like just another animal in the wilderness, with the hominid brain providing only the barest assortment of tricks up your sleeve to give you the edge over the hairy rhinos and suchlike. As with actual prehistory, this game is all about taking tiny, fierce sips of cultural progress, in the slivers of time not allotted by necessity to the business of raw survival.
It is, as such, a pretty slow game. Progress in this ice age world is appropriately glacial, achieved in meagre increments, and because of this your settlements never develop beyond meagre, hard-won hamlets. Even so, it never feels like a grind. The sheer effort involved in assembling every pitiful hut, or acquiring each threadbare goat, makes everything in your paltry civilisation feel like a treasure beyond reckoning, rather than just abstract units to be hoarded.
It’s getting better all the time, too. Nearly two years after its release in March 2019, the game is still receiving regular tweaks and new features (cheese, indeed, was the most recent), and revisiting it this month I was astonished by how much had changed without diluting the original experience at all. You really should meet these Flintsones.