Ara: History Untold maybe could've used a better title—it makes me think of a Las Vegas show, like the Luxor hotel's King Tut Experience—but it's interesting: a historical grand strategy game from developer Oxide Games (maker of Ashes of the Singularity), published by Microsoft, with ambitions to deliver "an evolution" in the genre.
Much of what we saw during Ara's segment in today's Xbox Developer Direct (embedded above) is very Civilization-ey, so I'm not quite convinced by the "evolution" talk yet. Ara's "Prestige" scoring system, for instance, just sounds like another way to frame the classic Civilization victory conditions: culture, military, science. Also mentioned were "Triumphs," monuments like the Great Pyramid of Giza, and leaders with special traits, which are also Civilization staples.
It's definitely not just 'Civ 5 but new,' though, with the biggest difference being that Ara resolves each player's turn simultaneously—both in singleplayer and multiplayer—with "generally speaking" little downtime, according to lead designer Michael Califf. That should distinguish Ara quite a bit from many grand strategy games, creating analysis problems and opportunities for bluffing that you don't get in games that process turns one at a time.
Ara also gets granular about production in a way Civ doesn't, with a "crafting" system that has players turning natural resources into goods like boots and weapons. "The crafting system in Ara encourages thoughtful advanced planning," said design director Michelle Menard in today's presentation. "It rewards players who can see the strategic outcome of all their collective decisions and not just the individual ones."
There's wildlife, too. Apparently, mountain lions were found to be too aggressive during testing—"I think we ended up in a good place with the overall threat level of mountain lions to a player's citizenry," joked Califf. I'll be curious to see how much of a role ecological considerations play.
Ara: History Untold is scheduled to release on PC this fall. It's got a Steam page, and will also be added to PC Game Pass. If you're curious about its take on grand strategy, Oxide has been publishing dev diary videos that go deeper on individual aspects of the game, including crafting and simultaneous turn resolution.
Today's Xbox Developer Direct also included our best look at Obsidian's first-person RPG Avowed so far, and the reveal of the Indiana Jones game from Bethesda and MachineGames.