In From Dust you are cast as the formless entity known as The Breath, and your sole goal is to protect a tribe of people and help them build new villages during their journey to find the Ancients. You are basically the god of these tribal folks, although your power as god is quite limited at times. With that limited power, you’ll also face palm as you accidentally set a village on fire (or flood it trying to put the fire out).
As The Breath, you can manipulate the elements (water, lava, sand, and some special trees) to help make pathways for the villagers to get around the world and to protect their villages. You do this by absorbing and releasing; if the plants in a village catch on fire, pick up water and sprinkle it on the fire to put it out, and pick up sand to dump in rivers to help make a land bridge.
This all sounds simple, and to a degree it is, but things aren’t always easy. While you likely won’t encounter too many problems during the games campaign, there are a few maps/stages that will give you fits for a little while. That’s actually a good thing, as the hardest maps are easily the best and most fun to play; they tend to be frustrating in the best possible way by throwing both volcanoes and flooding rivers at you along with submerged Totems.
The tribal guys and gals build their villages around Totem poles left behind by the Ancients. Each Totem pole grants a new power to The Breath. Some maps will only have two or three villages that can be built, others will have four and the powers do vary. While all powers have their usefulness (Put Out Fire allows you to quickly save a village that is on fire), some are more splendid and fun to use than others. My personal favorite was Infinite Earth combined with Amplify The Breath, which allows you to dump as much sand as you’d like in a certain time limit. That power, particularly, Infinite Earth, is the only reason I got past the level called “Movements”
Getting into gameplay a little more, I only have two complaints regarding the game. The first complaint is that the AI is pretty lousy. There were several times I had to redo certain things or even restart a map because the AI decided that it wanted to do stupid things. While trying to get from one village to another Totem pole, villagers would often get lost despite the fact that they had a pretty clear path over some water. This is not a good thing considering these guys move pretty slow, and this can add up to be disastrous if you’re trying to get Repel Water knowledge back to a village before a tsunami can reach it.
The second complaint is the camera and control. Never once did I feel like I was able to precisely deposit anything exactly where I wanted to put it. The camera, which you can control, would at times get a little wonky to the point where I’d be forced to zoom out into world view. The zoomed out approach makes dropping anything where you want it that much harder. Little things like building a bridge from one island to another with lava can be tricky because you can’t perfectly line it up or drop the exact same amount. It gets to be a little tiresome when you finish the bridge only to see that one section is just a smidge higher than the part preceding it, which of course makes the tribal folks stand there screaming for you to help them. Using sand makes things a little easier, but isn’t always an option. This same problem can arise when trying to lay down lava and yet you end up setting the woods on fire because you apparently got to close to the vegetation even though it didn’t look like it.
Thankfully, these issues didn’t arise often enough to make the game any less enjoyable. They are annoying quirks that will frustrate you, sometimes a lot, but it does kind of force you into slowing down a little bit and thinking things out a little more clearly. This is after all a strategy game, and I’d say it contains some puzzle elements as well. I certainly failed maps due to carelessness and rushing, and you can’t play the entire game that way. Some maps are puzzle like that will force you to adapt and stay on your toes until you have that “aha” moment where you figure out the best way to go about it.
Graphically, From Dust is a gorgeous and simple game. With the exception of The Breath itself, everything in From Dust looks amazing and reacts wonderfully. It’s visually stunning for a $15 downloadable title, and you’ve never seen better flowing lava in a video game before. The graphics get even more impressive when combined with the physics in the game. Creating a mountain, flooding a village, burning a village, and watching the earth rise and fall is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Almost.
During my playthrough, I put a good seven or eight hours into the campaign before beating it and I did not do everything there was to do within the story. I didn’t get 100% vegetation on every map, nor did unlock every piece of the Ancient’s story. In addition to the dozen or so story maps, there’s also a challenge mode that contains 30 levels that require you to so something different. I didn’t try too many of these yet, but know that they definitely add a lot more value to the game and will provide many more hours of gameplay. Or at least they will for me; the first challenge map I played I have failed four times and still don’t have a clue how I’m supposed to beat the challenge. I refuse to look up the solution online though.
From Dust has god-game elements, but don’t go into it expecting to be all powerful and able to do whatever you want. Instead, treat this one as 90% strategy. You have the freedom to burn down or flood a village, but ultimately that doesn’t get you anywhere. If you lose all the villages and villagers (which on some maps is easy to do), you’ll have to restart that level and try again. Outside of one map, the shackles never really come off to where you can be the ultimate creator. I do suggest, especially during some of the later stages, taking a quick view of the entire map as it is at the beginning and then giving it a final once over before moving to the next one. You’ll be amazed how much you can change the world you’re given.
Those amazements are the highlights of the game, and you’ll find yourself playing in a map long after you could have already moved on just to see how much the world can change and to spread plants across as much of the world as possible. Spreading my plants bring in animals; large things that move around, nothing you’d recognize as an animal.
From Dust never gets boring or repetitive, despite the fact that you are ultimately doing the same thing in each world. The maps are different enough to insure that each has its own unique flavor and challenge. You can easily playthrough this again and again and never complete a mission exactly the same way you did on your previous playthrough. For $15, From Dust packs a lot of value and a lot of fun. If you are a fan of strategy games and/or god games, this is definitely one that you will want to experience.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.