Peter Molyneux's latest game is out on Steam. We clicked on through to find a game all about... well, clicking.
By James Pinnell on September 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm
I’ve noticed a distinct similarity between the delusional ranting of politicians like Bob Katter and Clive Palmer, and the incredulous claims that have come out of Peter Molyneux over the past 15 years.
Arguably, Molyneux was one of the best games developers during the 1990′s gaming golden age, with a hand in most of Bullfrog’s best work — from the dystopian squad cyberpunk of Syndicate to the witty, clever, stockade-crafting strategy of Dungeon Keeper. But his ascension to Lionhead in 2001, and with it the severing of his connection to one of the most talented team of creatives Britain ever conceived, seemed to expose his lack of ability to transform his astonishing claims into actual mechanics.
Fable, once described by Molyneux as “terrible”, was followed up by three other titles (also atrocious, according to the man himself) that were distinctly lacking the “revolutionary” game modes promised by the months of hype that preceded each title.
Before long, most gamers, even the diehards who relished every ounce of glorious goodness that Bullfrog produced, had given up expecting anything with genuine scope to come out of Lionhead. Critics, equally jaded by years of ridiculous hype, denounced Molyneux as a loudmouth media tart. It didn’t help his cause all that much when it was revealed that the first project out of 22 cans, the indie studio he co-founded, was going to be an “experiment in social cohesion” where players mashed away at smartphones for an “unbelievable prize”.
The prize, it turned out, was to be the temporary grand deity of his first new IP since the original Fable – Godus, the spiritual successor to one of his most treasured early creations, Populous. Kickstarted late last year, Molyneux was unsurprisingly keen to tout the many advantages of his new engine, that promised the “cunning battle-psychology of Dungeon Keeper, the living, changing world of Black & White and the instinctive, satisfying gameplay of Populous”. Quite a feat.
Godus hit Steam Early Access recently, promising about “40%” of the core experience, with 22 cans stressing that the game is still missing quite a few advanced features, including multiplayer and some of the more detailed terrain management abilities. What is available to play is… interesting.
It arguably sets the tone for what is a very modern rendition of a top-down god simulator, with an interface that screams “Tablet”, generous amounts of clicking, and a future store that promises to offer microtransactions. 1989, eat your heart out, the Populous of yore is certainly not here to make a comeback just yet. I must stress, however, that as this is a game sluiced right between the stages of alpha and beta, it isn’t feature complete and is also quite buggy. My impressions, then, are wholly based on what is on display.
Godus drops you straight into a world where your influence is limited. There are two settlers, hopelessly banging away at some rocks, before your divine intervention enables them to establish some shelter and attempt the beginnings of civilisation. Clearing trees and boulders alongside some basic terraforming provides free land for housing, (and hopefully later on, cultivation), and your flock are quick to take advantage of it. Before long, there are a bunch of houses, and as the population grows, so does your influence over the landscape.
You can release civilians from their houses to work, but, strangely, most of them end up acting like pure lemmings — to the point where if you leave them derping around the landscape, waiting for others to breed or for you to clear available space, they’ll just literally die. What they die of exactly is unknown. My guess is boredom.
I seemed to cap out at around 200 before my flock started dropping like flies. It was then I realised a key element — players don’t have to exist outside their homes to be part of the population, but will not continue to breed without larger dwellings. It was during this epiphany that I noticed else something else quite interesting — Molyneux was actually forcing players to learn from their mistakes.
As it stands, the title provides only very limited guidance over your abilities and even less over any direction. A clever starting location and “influence creep” guides players to their first settlement (essentially an organised town, where influence is pooled for less clicking in the center) and on to their first conflicts with AI players. Battles are currently against AI bots, alongside some pre-written dialogue designed to mimic the interactions with real players down the track.
Many players have balked at the amount of clicking, and I agree that it’s far too heavy and manual to be a sustainable input trigger. That said, I found this “Diablo” phenomenon reduced slightly as the game wore on as I began to understand the mechanics of settlement management.
Frankly, I have more issues with the ease it takes to accidentally terraform land while harvesting influence or clearing rubble — the number of houses I’ve destroyed or people I’ve accidentally dropped into the ocean is irritatingly high — as it’s completely unnecessary to keep everything limited to a single button when you have a whole mouse and keyboard available. Before a settlement is established, however, it’s ClickFest 2013. Hammering the left mouse button is the only way to collect influence or keep people motivated (I swear, they die of boredom) and across a large map it can feel extraordinarily monotonous.
The game uses a system of cards, unlocked when certain targets are reached (such as population or resource levels) or via chests on the landscape, to assign new abilities and to unlock new buildings that can be developed. The way cards are dealt is still quite confusing and unclear, and hopefully this will become more obvious as the game wears on. They are also likely to be part of the cash store, as gems — the primary currency for items — are limited to various “mining veins” and are scarily similar to artificial limitations found in a lot of F2P casual games.
22 Cans needs to treat mighty carefully here, as this is not a free game nor does its target market expect it to follow those same trends.
As it stands, the jury is still out on Godus, particularly due to the fact that large, important areas of the game just don’t exist, and there are too many questions regarding how gems will ultimately define the late game. As it stands, there is just not enough to do, outside of basic expansion and limited combat, nor are there any significant abilities to allow automation of your flock. Get ready for carpal tunnel my friends.
Molyneux still has an enormous amount of work ahead of him, if he wants to prove that Godus is not just another social experiment folded into the genre he himself created — where the various inklings of a phenomenal game risk being flooded by the great rains of hype and delusion.
Godus is available on Steam Early Access for $19.99.