Being a god is a strange thing. Infinite power is something that appeals to almost everyone. The opportunity to impact lives through decisions, to sculpt surroundings, to be worshipped, taps into a deep-rooted desire inherent in almost everyone. It's this desire that 22cans intends to satisfy with the Kickstarter funded Godus.
Godus is the spiritual successor to 1989's Populous. The first thing to mention is that Godus is only 40% complete. The Beta we've been playing is, as acknowledged by the devs, still a long way from the final product. There's plenty of promise but also plenty of problems.
Players have a finite amount of power to use. Godus utilises 'belief' as the fuel that drives what players can achieve. Dependant on number of followers, belief is collected from purple bubbles that hover over homes. Settlements start small and grow rapidly. With every new house comes more belief, with more belief comes more power, with more power comes better abilities.
Unfortunately, collecting belief is the first of many cracks that appear through the charming surface. To collect belief players must click on each and every dwelling. Each time belief is gathered a musical note is played, collecting five in a row reveals a simple but enjoyable note progression. It's a nice touch but does little to reduce the monotony of endless clicking. When the game world has expanded into a massive sprawling network of various abodes, collecting belief is an incredibly tiresome chore.
An ability to turn areas into 'settlements' offers some relief. Settlements pool all belief from a small area to one place. Initially these are bought using ever-increasing amounts of belief. That's fine, belief is available in abundance. The problem is that eventually gems are needed to unlock the settlements. Gems are much more difficult to come by.
A definite bone of contention, gems act as an alternative currency. They can be mined in-game, but only after certain conditions are met, and even then they're still a limited resource.
An in-game menu suggests it's possible that when the full game comes around they're going to be available for cash via micro-transactions. Although this remains unsubstantiated, nothing has been confirmed or denied by 22cans, this has irked many early backers. They feel that they have already paid for the game. They funded it's development, they spent money to get early access. If Godus is going to try to squeeze more profit from paying customers, it's the ultimate middle finger to the Kickstarter community.
There's a strange compulsion to sculpting land in Godus, a key mechanic. You make terrain accessible and inhabitable for followers. Sculpting is very simple, controls are easy to handle. You either click and drag, or double click mouse buttons to raise and lower terrain. Before long the simple process will have you obsessed with creating ideal areas for settlements.
The simplicity, while appealing, has downsides too. It's easy to double click somewhere in error, causing land to jut out and demolish the abodes you spent time providing the perfect area for. This can be an advantage, I wanted rid of the small houses in my world, so I manipulated the land to force followers to abandon their dwellings. Other times it's an annoyance, especially when you want to collect some belief, but end up destroying the home of a small family.
New god-abilities are unlocked by winning AI or multiplayer battles, or finding resources in hidden chests. There's a great feeling of accomplishment with each new ability, it represents another step to being truly powerful, but scant challenge in unlocking them.
The randomly generated unlockables can hinder progress, but this seems to be a bug rather than a mechanic. There's no opposition AI in the main world, instead there's an option to compete in what, at the moment, are incredibly easy mini-games.
Amongst the unlocked abilities are 'Beautify', where you can make the land sparkle and followers don't die, 'Swamp', where the land becomes putrid and followers drown in the stagnant depths, and a handful of divine intervention abilities. My personal favourite is 'Meteor Strike', which allows you to smite those pesky followers with a ball of fire from the sky.
The only obstacle to overcome is the space needed to expand. It increases with each shrine followers build. No strategy is needed, followers get to shrines as they spread to the corners of the available territory. All followers conjure materials out of thin air, so you're not even managing resources.
Hopefully followers will have more interesting and varied roles in the finished game. At the moment they build and they die. I'd love to be able to assign them roles like in Molyneux's 'other' God-game, Black & White. I'd like my decisions to impact their behaviour too. It's all well and good being a god, but what does it matter if nobody notices your impact?
There's plenty of work to be done in the next 60% of development. Though in spite the limitations, I admit I spent a massive amount of time playing Godus. Creation is hugely enjoyable. The appeal of tweaking something or innovating improvements kept me glued to the screen for hours.
Hopefully 22cans listens to the Beta feedback, reduces the amount of clicking, finds new ways to create challenge, and avoids micro-transactions. If that happens, the inherent appeal of being all-powerful could lead to Godus being a very enjoyable game.
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