From Dust was the very long awaited next game from Out Of This World designer: Eric Chahi. Moving away from the plat former genre, From Dust was looked at as the latest attempt at the God Game genre. While it fortunately doesn’t require divine intervention, it could use some Ambrosia.
The story is that you are “the breath”: a spirit guiding a wandering tribe in search of an ancient people. Your quest will take you to numerous islands where you’ll have to settle the land before moving on. Your main source of interaction with the world is being able to lift up and put down matter. This allows you to alter the lay of the land, whether that is using lava to create rock walls, or sand to set up paths across water. The physics engine of the game is one of the high points and I really liked how the elements flowed realistically. A high enough wall can dam up a river and create a lake, and it was a sight to behold watching lava flow.
You will also be able to direct your tribe to totems on the map where they’ll be able to settle villages. Most maps feature natural disasters that hit periodicity which can destroy your villages. You can usually find a repel stone that will teach your villages how to block either lava or water which can be taught to your other villages. Each village also gives you a spell that can be used, which usually plays into completing the level.
Sadly that’s all there is and where the issues with From Dust begin. Each level follows the same pattern of settling your villages and dealing with the token gimmick. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like a God Game where each level has only one real solution but a puzzle game. The game also falls into one of the annoying traps of strategy games where the levels require trial and error to solve. Later levels will have the player getting hit with a disaster shortly after founding their first village.
The problem is that the player will have no idea how the disaster will affect the land until after it hits. Such as how the lava will flow during an eruption or where to set up walls to protect their village. A very annoying case in point being the second to last level, which hits the player with scripted events not allowing the player to prepare for it without knowing about it beforehand.
While the use of matter and the physics engine are great, the same can’t be said about the other mechanics. When your tribe is moving across the map, they have trouble changing paths if you make an easier path. As the game goes on, the ability to move your villages along with special trees are introduced. However outside of a scripted event, there use is just unneeded. As the basic mechanics and village powers are more than adequate to solve every level. The final level is essentially sandbox mode, allowing the player complete control over the elements. But with such limited interaction with the mechanics, it doesn’t feel as rewarding as it could have been.
Reviews also criticized the controls of the game. Playing the PC version, the mouse is used to move the breath, instead of having the mouse be the breath. This makes it hard to get fine control but to be honest; it wasn’t game breaking for me.
It’s a shame, as the core mechanics of shaping the land were fun. But the game feels more like an appetizer instead of a full course. I would love to see the base mechanics included in a game with more city building or strategy design. Imagine shaping the land to create a river or lake so that your followers now have fresh water, or creating a mountain so that miners can harvest iron for weapons. I’m surprised we haven’t seen a strategy game go full God powers in its design. Like creating a tsunami to wash away enemy troops while you’re dealing with a tornado. I would just be happy with a “release the kraken” button to hit.