Peter Molyneux has a reputation that means you either love him, hate him or hate to love him. He's been responsible for some of the finest games around, particularly through Lionhead Studios, and did a good job as creative director of Microsoft Games Studios. Unfortunately however he often ends up promising on more than he can deliver. Having grand ambitions for your game isn't necessarily a bad thing, after all who are we to thwart an artists visions of what they want to make, but when we buy a product on said ambitions and find missing stuff it can be disappointing and somewhat infuriating.
Then Molyneux quit his job as head of Lionhead Studios and Microsoft Games and founded a completely new company, 22 Cans, and spiked mystery and intrigue through their mobile-based "game" Curiousity, which involved tapping on layers of a cube to reveal the mystery inside. The gimmick was that everyone was competing with each other and that only one person would gain acess to the contents (which turned out to be not that special) but it revealed that Molyneux would be returning to the genre he invented, the God Game.
It should be said that I never played Populous however I spent hundreds of hours on both Black & White games but the idea that a supposedly fresh take on the genre was around the corner spiked my interest. Having missed out on the Kickstarter, I bought Godus via Steam Early Access for £15 (the most I've ever paid for a game through the client) which I saw as both a way of thanking Molyneux for his part in some of the best games I've played as well as to have a full copy of this 'game-changer' when it's released.
So what is it?
You play a God (duh) who has to see the evolution of a tribe of primitives into (one imagines) a thriving advanced race of intellectuals. You do this by expanding your population and discovering cards (either through the single/multiplayer modes or discovery) which allows you to 'level-up' your civilisation through around 15 different eras. Housing plots are automatically generated on empty land and you then click on full houses (houses with a flag) to send out a civilian to build the new house. You have to be careful however as they will only travel a certain distance to build and once out of a house they won't go back in, meaning they will wander the map until they die (it happens, a lot).
There is no resource gathering per se, however most of the actions require 'Belief' to function. Belief is generated automatically through houses, which generate pink bubbles above them, and you click on them to collect it. The more advanced your houses, the more belief you get. It should be noted that until you unlock the Settlement card, you are required to click on houses a lot to get enough belief to do your thing while the Settlement pools together all the belief in one convenient location.
One of the big selling points of the game is the ability to freely sculpt the land to your desire, which you have to do a lot of to ensure there are enough empty plots for your population to grow. This has been a big issue for many people as it results in having to do a lot of clicking to remove vast stretches of land. You can shift the land either by dragging, which can sometimes destroy buildings accidentally, or by double clicking, which smartly forms the land around a certain area. Obviously double-clicking times a minute just to make a passage through a mountain is enough to make anyone annoyed however I've found that it can be just as easy (if not easier) to drag the land as, once you have unlocked the ability, you can clear multiple levels at the same time.
Sculpting land is also necessary to uncover certain shrines and hidden chests. Shrines offer special abilities, such as increasing the land available or offering up God Powers, while the chests contain cards needed to help your civilisation progress. The God Powers themselves are pretty effective. I've only used the Meteor Strike so far but I can safely say it does exactly what you would expect it to do (I accidentally released it over a crowded area which resulted in a drop of my population by around 400). Other God Powers are either still locked or not really useful.
The design of the game is odd to say the least. On the one hand the art-style is very basic but it works for this sort of game and it's incredibly colourful that you can't help but forgive it's not photorealistic. This is a game that's about the mechanics of gameplay rather than putting together a fancy presentation for the gamer and hoping they ignore the fact it's pretty bland on the inside.
So what do I think?
It's obviously got a long way to go but I'm really impressed with what I've seen so far. I've currently reached the limit as to how far I can progress but I've apparently clocked in over 50 hours doing that, more than I've spent on most triple-A titles.
The whole clicking debacle is an issue but the system they have is just so intuitive I can't really see how else to go about it. At the end of the day, if clicking a lot annoys you then you should look elsewhere.
Should you go about and buy into the Beta?
If you have a craving for a new God game then yes. This game has a lot of potential and we keep getting promised so many big ideas that even if they only deliver half of them, it will still end up being a remarkable achievement. It also means that you only pay £15 now rather than (probably) more on release.
On the other hand, the game is still not halfway finished so there's no rush to jump in now. The best thing to do is watch those cursed "Let's Play" videos and see if you could lose yourself in the game.