In Which Godus Utterly Fails at Almost Everything

Way, way back in 1994, a game called Warcraft came out.  Central to the game was the gathering of resources, which was automated by pointing peasants in the right direction and letting them get on with it.  If you had to click on the peasant to have him keep gathering after every load,  the game just wouldn’t have worked.  Endless clicking on menial tasks is pointless busywork.  Game designers knew this decades ago, so why does Godus confuse it with a gameplay mechanic?

Project Godus was to be Peter Molyneux’s return to the god game.  The Kickstarter promised a return to basics, updating the heart of Populous for the modern gaming world, as overseen by its creator.  While I hate to admit that this has turned out to be technically true, it didn’t turn out to be true in the way anyone was expecting.  Freemium is an aspect of the modern gaming world.  It’s just that the pointless clickfest where the player’s input governs tedious chores while the game plays itself isn’t worth the $30 Kickstarter basic-entry tier, the $20 Steam asking price, or in fact the free download asked for by games that aren’t Godus.

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Godus is a game where 99% of your time will be spent doing one of two things- terraforming the land so your followers can build on it, or clicking on their houses to collect the pink spheres of Belief that appear over them.  Belief is the game’s basic currency, easily gotten and used to power almost everything you do.  Creating and destroying land spends Belief, as does setting a waypoint to attract your followers, erasing corruption from the land, casting destructive miracles in multiplayer, and building statues that have area effects.  One of the most useful statues to build is the Settlement, and here is where Godus flies completely off the rails.

The Settlement statue casts out a series of roads in all directions, uniting a group of buildings and siphoning all their belief into a single giant sphere.  Click on that and you’ve harvested an entire area in a single go.  It automates a tedious chore and lets you get on with the job of being  a god, so of course it’s incredibly limited.  As in, you can build four before hitting a brick wall.  The first three cost Belief, each one more expensive than the last, and that’s fine.  Once you’ve got them in place Belief starts pouring in at a decent speed, due to the menial labor of collecting it being removed.  The fourth Settlement statue costs 50 gems, though, and the next one 100 gems.  In the meantime, you’ve got a dozen different areas begging for automation and no way to provide it, because gems aren’t happening.

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Gems are Godus’ ultra-rare currency that, at least in the iOS version, will be bought with real money.  You start with 100 gems and can earn a very small number from fighting the AI battles, but nowhere near enough to enable the tools necessary to make the game worth playing.  You might get lucky and stumble across a gem mine, but being able to harvest it involves earning the resources to fill out the Mining card.

New abilities in Godus are earned by leveling up, fighting the AI, or finding resources from chests hidden around the landscape.  These come in the form of advancement cards, each needing resource cards to activate.  Once activated they’re good forever, adding new abilities to your tribe and pushing them a little bit farther along the road to civilization.  The problem is that resource cards are scarce, although hopefully that’s a gameplay balance issue from Godus being in beta instead of an artificial slowdown of game advancement.  It still makes for a game that sees progress come at a snail’s pace.  Godus has very little sense of progression in its current state, and it doesn’t help that the resource cards you need to fill in the spots on the tech cards are doled out randomly.  Scarce plus random is a terrible combination.

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It is still early, though, and even the loading screen makes it clear that Godus is only 40% complete.  There’s a long way to go before a real review can be made.  The problem is that the things causing Godus to suck are in the core gameplay.  I didn’t mention how fiddly working the landscape can be because beta.  That’s a mechanical issue I’d expect to be fixed.  The entire game being modeled after a free-to-play iOS clickfest is the issue, and that’s not something I expect to see changed.  Balancing systems, adding gameplay modes, and clearing up the more fiddly controls are the usual issues to be addressed.  Completely rebuilding the game after stuffing its freemium influences into a sack and beating it into a mushy paste is a little much to hope for.  Despite all its current problems, though, I have to admit that it’s oddly playable in the way that genre tends to be.  The hours melt away easily, but afterwards you look at what you’ve done and realize that gaming should offer more than simply killing time.  On the plus side, the art design is top notch.  That’s something, right?