From Dust is a rich, engaging experience, jam-packed with challenging situations. Despite its flimsy cursor, one of a very small number of issues, From Dust offers a powerful and memorable look at the fascinating god game genre. The game’s at times simple formula is compromised by what seems to be forced mechanics but the experience is still extraordinary and unique enough to stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

A god game in its own right, From Dust gives you minimal god-like powers, instead of giving you complete control over the land, including water, lava and rock. The main objective is to manage the land, protect tribespeople from natural disasters, and ensure each village uses nature and the land in the most effective ways (for example, food crops).

The control you have over the land compounds the relentless and aggressive presence of human nature, with the game constantly reminding you of how tough nature can get: a seemingly never-ending bombardment of natural disasters and other issues continuously compromise the livelihoods of the tribesmen you’re tasked with watching over. It’s powerful, engaging and memorable, thanks to game’s uncanny ability to frustrate, challenge and intrigue all at the same time.

As the game progresses, as does nature. The landscape changes and molds itself around the natural disasters that never hold up, constantly crashing the land with anger and hopelessness that only you have the power to alter.

Seeing magma and water move across the land so naturally provides that extra incentive to ensure the landscape’s survival, as the game’s stunning design makes devastation almost like a real-life travesty of nature.

Rewarding challenges

The main aim in From Dust is to guide the tribespeople across the land, introducing them to new totems so they can set up villages and agriculture around them. The totems act as your inventory of skills, providing godly powers that allow you to manipulate the land.

You’ll have to use water, lava, rock and other things to protect each tribe, with each populated totem leading into a new map. Leading the people to new totems and ensuring their survival against devastating natural disasters makes for a highly rewarding experience, as the game’s difficulty gets progressively harder, so much so that any success you achieve in the later levels should be celebrated with the utmost excitement.

Cultivate the land

From Dust is as much a game about cultivation as it is about being god and doing whatever you wish. You have complete control over the land and certain elements, and so it’s your job to ensure the landscape is ready to deal with the most devastating of natural disasters.

The game’s focus on this objective gives you obligation and purpose, and restricting that power, as opposed to just giving you the power to control everything, allows the experience to be definitively focused on one main objective: protect, mold and transform the landscape to ensure survival.

Replayability

The replayability factor is what gives From Dust so much of its value. The earlier missions are easy enough to introduce you to the main mechanics, but later missions can be so frustratingly difficult, packed with challenges that demand patience and time.

Returning to these challenge maps give the game plenty of replayability. While the game is only six or seven hours long, there’s plenty of reason to go back, as each map can be manipulated and changed any number of ways so as to counter any natural disasters that may occur.

The first half of From Dust is calm and collected: you’re introduced to the mechanics slowly, with new powers and elements generally introduced one at a time with the unlocking of a new map.

However, the game takes a rather sharp turn about halfway through and the tussle between human nature and mankind turns fierce, so much so that it often feels impossible to complete. Extra elements are introduced more frequently, and these elements have considerably more aggressive purposes on the landscape, created to compliment the sharp rise in difficulty.

The game has its fair share of unpredictability later on, but that’s ultimately what hurts the experience the most: the game is at its best when it’s giving you the time to plan and control the land and elements, but more challenging maps give you very little time to actually enjoy what you’re doing.

Such difficulty would have been welcomed later on in the game, but half of the entire experience is spent reattempting maps that initially appear impossible to complete.

Inconsistent controls

The game’s difficulty in the second half of the experience contributes to a more fast-paced experience, which can lead to frustration thanks to the game’s flimsy and at-times inaccurate controls. The cursor’s flimsiness is manageable early on, but later, more challenging missions can lead to real frustrations as the game stamps down on you.

From Dust is a highly engaging, thoroughly challenging and powerful experience. It might be fairly limited when it comes to the powers you actually have – it isn’t as “god like” as other games in the genre – but the control you have over the landscape is a perfect compliment for the ways in which the game challenges you. Relentless difficulty later on compounded by flimsy controls may frustrate, but the reward is far greater than any respite you may have.

Categories: Reviews

Lauren Richard

Dr. Patterson's research interests include ethnobiology, community-based conservation, biocultural diversity, and sustainable development. He has worked extensively with the Maijuna and other indigenous groups of the Peruvian Amazon. Dr. Patterson helped the Maijuna establish an indigenous federation in 2004 and has worked with them on community-based biocultural conservation projects since 1999.

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