In my impressions piece for Reus, I hesitated in placing the 2D game in the god-game genre as I felt that the scale of abilities was too small. As a divine power, one would expect to be able to start floods, burn cities, create lightning and cause lots of other natural disasters. In short- I associate ‘god-games’ with having some Old Testament powers and while Reus does allow players to terraform the earth and move upon the waters, it has none of those other shock and awe abilities. After lots of time with the game, it has become apparent that the smaller scale of the mechanics is what’s brilliant about Reus. Instead of the Old Testament, the book of mythology I should have been thinking of was Theogony, a definitive work about the Greek pantheon. Though Reus frames the game as the player being a Gaia-like planet who controls monstrous Titans, the gameplay is more like having the powers of a lesser god.
The four giants controlled by the player each represent a different biome- sea, forest, rock, and swamp- and have abilities that correspond to those biomes. The rock giant can create mountains and mines. The ocean giant can create oceans and clouds that pour bonuses over land and sea. Using these abilities, players turn the barren planet that works as the game’s environment into lush habitats for people to create civilizations on. After creating as many or as few environments they want, players use the giants’ abilities to provide resources to the land, which are categorized into food, tech, and wealth. While each natural source that a giant creates has a general description, the details of it are determined by where they’re placed. For instance, the ocean giant can create an animal that has high food production and it will create a plot for chickens when the ability is used in the forest. That same ability applied in a water tile will create a mackerel. It’s no just an aesthetic difference though, as the chicken has a higher food output when next to a blueberry bush, while a mackerel expands their food output depending on how many other mackerel are next to it. The resources add up to a Prosperity score that creates a nomad- a human that will settle a city once it finds a location with desirable resources.
Cities then use these resources to grow, and that’s where the real strategy of the game comes in. Whereas many games require that players have a minimum food level to maintain cities, Reus uses these resources as aspirational tools. Every so often, a city will decide to create a project that requires a certain amount of resources to finish. The projects are mostly determined by what type of land the city is settled on. Forest cities create projects with a heavy food focus, swamps focus on tech and deserts focus on wealth. While early projects are simple, later projects start demanding more from the player. Suddenly, it becomes necessary to detail land plots and what resources are being used. If a player enjoys optimizing, this is the section of the game will be a delight as natural sources can be upgraded to deliver more resources.
Aside from just the base stats and synergies of a natural source, each of them has the ability to evolve. Using different powers from the giants called ‘aspects,’ players can direct the growth of a natural source. For instance, a chicken created by the ocean giant can be enhanced with the hunt aspect from the forest giant and turn into a beaver that has its own unique resource benefits and synergies. This makes the game exciting as it creates for a large variety of scenarios where the player is altering the land constantly, but unfortunately it hits a snag in the road due to the game’s UI.
While the game has lots of important information all over the screen, it doesn’t convey the details of what the natural sources evolve into. Sure, the game will tell you what dandelions turn into and how to do it, but it doesn’t display the details of what those evolved sources do. There’s no Civilization-style tech tree that gives a clear roadmap for players to follow. The game includes a link to the Reus wiki, but that brings up its own set of problems. Even assuming that one has a constant and reliable internet connection, alt-tabbing out of the game or using the crash-prone Steam overlay is burdensome and I can easily imagine this being too much of an inconvenience.
It’s not only natural sources that can change, but the giants as well. Each giant has some skills locked out from the beginning of the game which can only be used by having an ambassador associated with them. Ambassadors are created when a city finishes a project and are themselves representative of what type of city they came from (swamp, forest, desert). This opens up another strategic avenue for players. As an ambassador can only be tied to one giant, players should be conscious of what direction they want their cities to take.
All of the game slowly blooms out- with abilities, natural sources, and projects all getting bigger or better in someway, though Reus does have a hard limit to most matches by giving players a time limit of up to 2 hours for each game. While a free-play mode is included with the game, it’s only in timed games that players can earn developments- achievement-like goals that allow for more resources when completed. All in all, developments are a smart solution to the end-game that allows for players to experiment with the systems in Reus.
I’d also like to note the game’s musical and artistic directions. Reus’ art remains wonderful and vivid. I gave high marks to the visuals of the game in my impressions, favorably comparing Abbey Games’ work to that of Klei Entertainment, and I stick by it. The world is wonderfully bright, the soft figures of giants, humans, and structures move from blending and then contrasting each other. The slow animations of the giants give the right impression of weight as they stroll across the planet’s surface. The game’s music is fantastic as well. It fits the game’s open ended play by being ambient enough to not take attention away from the gameplay, but having enough form and direction to pleasing when attention is payed to it. The focus on low-tech instruments fit the primordial sense of the game perfectly, with much of the credit due to the fantastic choice of the rhythm’s section big drums and wood pieces. In combination, both art and music serve to convey a world that is equally gorgeous and whimsical.
While Reus‘ small-scale gameplay and relatively short matches was a bit off-putting at first, it’s a scale that fits the game’s systems perfectly. Aside from ridding the problem of having a big end-game to worry about, the short matches wiped the slate clean and allowed me to explore different aspects of the game and- combined with the developments system- encouraged me to create cities with various goals. While the lack of a tech-tree is a big let down, those who are willing to work through it will find the rest of Reus a delight.
+ Great visuals
+ Wonderful music
+ Engaging complexity
+ Short games allow for exprimentation
- Lack of tech tree may be too tall a hurdle for some players
8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.
Reus was developed and published by Abbey Games. It was released on May 16th, 2013, at the MSRP of $9.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.