It shames me to say it, but sometimes the thing that makes me decide to play a game isn’t the sales pitch from the developers, the reviews, or the game concept – it’s the screenshots. One look at Reus was enough to pique my interest for this artistic little god-game. Was my judging of a book by its cover rewarded? Let’s see.
Since I just confessed to picking this game based only on visuals, it should stand to reason that I am, in fact, a big fan of the visuals. The game is played on the surface of a small planet. The playable characters are giants that represent different aspects of nature. The mountain giant is a craggy mass of jagged rocks, the forest giant is a sort of monkey-tree, the ocean giant is a massive crab, and the swamp giant is an accumulation of moss. All of them have an almost hand-painted quality, and everything from their idle animations to their abilities have a subtle but undeniable personality to them. Conjuring a forest causes a mystic sweep of fertility across the ground, and watching the ocean giant hammer its claws into the ground to create an ocean is strangely rewarding, especially in certain specific circumstances which I shall discuss in the gameplay section.
A major part of the visual appeal is the scale. The giants are towering and the animals and plants they conjure are tiny, yet highly recognizable and detailed. I actually learned quite a bit about botany and zoology from this game. For instance, this was the first time I’d ever heard of a wisent, and until now I never knew what a ginger plant looked like. The villages that form to take advantage of your bounty fill with people who have little sim-style discussions with word balloons. They actually hunt the animals, gather the plants, and mine the minerals. When a war starts, they march in adorable little phalanxes, and when you smite them they leave behind itty bitty little tombstones. Rolling the mouse wheel in the opposite direction allows you to zoom all the way out to a global view, which not only permits easy navigation, but lets you see the full scope of your planetary works.
If Reus has one weakness in the graphics department, it is the presentation of certain types of information. Most of the time, the data that matters most is flawlessly displayed. The primary natural resources show up as counts underneath each plot of land, the cities, wars, projects, and other such info are handily summarized in the corner. All of that is great, but some things are less clear. There are lesser resources, for instance, like Awe and Natura. Finding out how much of each is present in a plot of land is as simple as clicking on it and looking at its summary, but with all of the other information presented so clearly it often slips my mind to monitor such things. It also would have been handy to have some sort of clear visual indicator of what creature, plant, or mineral would result from initially placing something in its given biome. Such hints exist for any transmutations you might create, but it is up to you to remember the first form. I’m not sure how I would have solved these problems, but for now they stand as room for improvement.
Reus is, in essence, a two dimensional version of god games like Populous or Black and White. Actually, gameplay takes place on the continuous loop of a tiny planet’s surface, so technically it is a one dimensional version of those games. You control four giants who in turn control the forces of nature. Each game follows a fairly linear progression. You start with a wasteland, which must be converted into a life-sustaining environment. Then you must provide some sort of resource, be it wealth, food, or technology. This will attract humans. It is at this point that things get tricky. You see, you have no control over humans. They will begin projects, each of which has certain criteria for completion. The primary criteria is certain quantities of resources in use, but later they’ll get more complex, like requiring a town to have wealthy neighbors, or even requiring that you destroy a rival. The completion of a project will earn you an ambassador, who will unlock and improve your giant’s abilities, depending on what biome they call home.
The primary game type is called “Era.” In it you are given a set amount of time, at the end of which your giants will sleep. Your goal is to build as much prosperity (which is total amount of resources in use by your humans) as possible. Now, “high requirements of prosperity” + “limited time” = “create prosperity as quickly as possible”, right? Well… yes and no. If you help a village to grow too quickly, it will become greedy and start sending out armies to conquer neighboring villages. If a village dies, you can kiss its prosperity goodbye. If people get greedy enough, they will even attack your giants. Losing even one of them means game over. Thus, one of the keys to a successful game is managing greed, and as is the case with every aspect of this game, there are plenty of ways to do it. One way is to grow the villages gradually, thus keeping them from becoming greedy. Another is to introduce danger to a village, which keeps them too busy defending themselves from snakes and wolves to worry about building armies. The most entertaining way is to let them get as greedy as they want, then smite the heck out of them when they get out of line. I won’t lie, one irritatingly warlike little village wiped out both of its neighbors, then nearly killed one of my giants, so I decided that the world needed a new ocean, and the village was the perfect place for it. (It turns out I’m a petty and vengeful god.)
Initially, finishing projects and getting ambassadors is easy, but in the late game you’ve got very little space to produce the necessary resources. That’s where the complexity of the game really starts to shine. Every plant, mineral, and animal has something called a “symbiosis”. This allows the object in question to produce more resources if it is paired up with certain other things. Blueberries, when placed next to strawberries, will produce much more food. Things can also be enhanced by “aspects” which increase their resource levels, and even allow you to transmute them into more advanced forms. This can be problematic, because each form has its own symbiosis, and thus simply upgrading even one element of a well structured ecosystem can cripple its output. Further complicating matters are the projects humans produce. These have “specializations”, which massively increase resource amounts for certain types of objects. Maybe each plant will earn you an extra 15 food, for example, or maybe every plot of hemp will boost your technology.
A lot of the game is random, including what projects people will create, and what level of aspect a given casting will grant. You can manipulate these things to a certain degree (like destroying unwanted projects and making ground fertile before casting aspects) but in the end the interplay of all of the different elements will become a phenomenally complex balancing act. How complex? There is a link to the wiki for the game on the main menu of the game itself.
As a fun aside, achievements are a vital part of gameplay. Earning these achievements, which in-game are called “developments,” enables you to unlock longer eras, and thus providing you with more time to develop your world. You’ll start with 30 minutes and work your way up to two full hours. Alternately, you can just do free-play, which has no time limit but doesn’t award you any developments.
The gameplay is a lot of fun, but its gradual nature isn’t very conducive to a short play session, and people who prefer not to look at a wiki are liable to get pretty darn frustrated.
The sound is exceptionally well-suited to the gametype. Most of the time the music is soothing, though when things like war are afoot you’ll hear something a bit more intense. There are subtle audio cues and crowd noises too, but no real dialog.
“You” are technically the planet. You long to have your surface thriving with life and civilization, but every time you awake from your slumber, something has wiped out those rascally humans and you need to start over. That’s as far as the story really goes, though if you play as haphazardly as I do, you’ll quickly realize that the thing that’s been wiping out humanity was the rest of humanity. Silly humans, always with the war.
I really enjoyed Reus. The complexity had a way of seizing my mind, and even when it got frustrating, unleashing my righteous fury had its own rewards. As with any game with such depth, it could get a bit confusing and frantic at times, but overall it is a veritable masterpiece.
9.1 / 10: Reus has a great visual style and engagingly complex gameplay, making it an excellent addition to the god-game genre.