God in search of worthy... game
The god game genre hasnít had a good few years as of late. Spore was extremely promising in theory, but ended up falling prey to its lofty ambitions and suffered from a lack of depth in the later gameplay stages. From Dust was likewise an interesting attempt at tackling the genre, but it lacked polish and was riddled with graphical problems that prevented it from being enjoyed properly. There hasnít been a truly great god game since the Black & White series, and its been over a decade since the original was released. Which is a shame, because when done properly god games can be incredibly rich and rewarding experiences unlike any other genre on the PC.
I was frequently reminded of that last bit throughout Reus, the first game by Dutch developers Abbey Games. I raised mountain ranges from arid land, grew fertile forests besides deep oceans, and spread resources throughout the planet so I could watch humanity grow and flourish. After which I crushed them like ants beneath my feet because they decided to go to war against one another. Honestly, humans are such fickle little creatures.
Godís little helpers
Like other god games, Reus revolves around you (God) breathing life into a barren world and guiding it to success. Unlike other god games, Reus takes place on a planet that is viewed only in 2d. Sorry folks, thereís no controlling a giant avatar of destruction on a 3 dimensional plane here. Not that it is a bad thing; on the contrary, Reusí style helps separate it from its predecessors. Not to mention that the art style of the game is simply wonderful. Its simple cartoonish style drew me into the fate of my little barren rock, and I often zoomed in all the way just to watch the little details across its surface. Its minimalistic to the core, yet it conveys much information with great accuracy. Just one look at an area will tell me how well its doing, without ever having to use a menu.
At your disposal are four giants, each representing a different part of nature that can be used to shape the world (those four being ocean, forest, rock and swamp). Starting off with a barren planet, you use each of these giants to first shape the terrain of the planet to your whim before you pepper it with resources that will allow for settlements to grow. Itís a simple matter at first; place an ocean here, grow a forest next to it, give them some food and minerals, and watch them slowly grow and expand. But as you progress further into the game and unlock more and more content, the simple thirty minute sessions turn into hours long sessions trying to prevent different settlements from being overcome by greed and war.
This is made possible through three mechanics: projects, symbiosis and ambassadors. As you create settlements and get them started, the villagers will eventually begin work on a project. These projects show the player what resources are required to grow the settlement further, enabling more efficient resource gathering and larger projects to be started. The most basic projects, such as a granary, only require a few resources to be completed. But when those larger projects begin to appear, the two other mechanics begin to play a larger role.
Symbiosis is simply the placement of resources to ensure the best growth possible. A bush of berries may provide more food if you place a quarry adjacent to it, while animals may grow fatter if some wheat grows next to them. Not all symbiosis has to make sense, as it serves to merely advance the stages of growth. That being said, it is a neat way to manage resources, as you will eventually have to delete resources and place new ones on the top if you have any desire to see your settlements grow.
And, finally, there are ambassadors. By completing projects and growing your settlements, villagers will volunteer as ambassadors and sit on the shoulders of your giants, increasing their abilities and allow for more powerful resources to be developed. Using an ability of the forest giant may alter your berry bushes and turn them into another plant, which allows for more projects to be developed and new symbiosis options unlocked. This creates an ever-repeating pattern where you strive to maximise your efficiency in order to get your planet stable.
But gods are greedy and want more
And thatís what I like about Reus: it constantly pushes you to create the best possible world through experimentation, whereby the gameplay constantly changes alongside your goals. It is fun, and it keeps the game enjoyable even when the modes themselves are limited. Thereís a tutorial, three different timed sessions and a freeplay mode, and thatís it. I wouldnít have minded for some more gameplay modes, as playing timed sessions starts to wear thin after several hours. It also doesnít help that the planet you build on is relatively small in size. Different planet sizes would have been a welcome addition, as I would have loved to play a session on a jumbo sized planet, trying to manage an even larger variety of cultures and settlements.
After having spent some time with Reus, I can say that like Spore and From Dust it has its share of problems. But unlike those two games, Reus still manages to remain a fulfilling experience that surprised me more often than it let me down. It may not be filled with as much variety as I would have liked to see in a god game, but Reus nails down its core mechanics and creates a very enjoyable game in the process.
Great art style, fun and engaging gameplay, a proper god game with decent replayability
Lack of gameplay modes, planet a bit on the small side.