Gamescom 2010: From Dust First Impressions - Divine Intervention
Written Tuesday, August 31, 2010 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
Formerly known as Project Dust, From Dust is a game that pretty much would have stolen the whole show if it hadn’t been for that little thing known as Bioshock Infinite. Of course, when you then realise that this title is merely - if you can put it that way – going to be an Xbox Live Arcade title, then what has been accomplished here already becomes even more impressive.
The majority of people will still have no idea what From Dust is and what it represents in terms of the future quality of the XBLA service, as when a game can look this good on the XBLA platform, then other titles really have no excuse. Famed creator of the 1991 Another World and From Dust’s Creative Director, Eric Chahi, was on hand to guide us through a game that should be on everyone’s list. To say he got a bit excited is an understatement, but then again, so did everyone else so we’ll forgive him this time.
At the most basic level, which would be missing the point entirely, you could say From Dust is a god simulator, as you are given the lofty position of looking after a string of tribes and ensuring their wellbeing. Obviously any tribe worth their salt can expect the perennial threat of tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes to trouble their day, so the question is: what are you going to do about it? The answer is to sculpt the world as you see fit in order to look after your charges.
The technology on show was simply jaw dropping, as you can pick up a ball of water from one place and then use it to create a river or a pool in another. You can sink earth to create a stream, grab molten rock to create land, and then roll up a bunch of trees to create some lush woodland. The simplicity behind the controls is astounding and the breadth of options at your disposal is staggering; not to mention the realistic way that the land and water responds to your interaction. Every alteration is realistically depicted, such as plants propagating and erosion taking place when you place water; the whole thing is gorgeous to look at.
The only thing you cannot do is create caves through the landscape, but considering what else is at your disposal, that seems like a trivial complaint. It is hard to do the breadth and scope of the game justice with mere words. Suffice it to say that when Eric sneakily showed us the ability to tear up a whole chunk of land, we watched, jaws dropping, as water streamed off the edges. It was plain to see exactly how easily this game could draw people in.
The basic mechanics are very simple: you look after a tribe on an island, helping them to find new abilities and building them a safe haven. As you get more successful, you will then gain access to other tribes on an island, and might try to do the same for them. Help out enough tribes and you will be able to migrate them to a new location and begin the challenge anew. The overall aim is to reach a mythical safe haven where all of your tribes will be protected from the constant struggles of day to day life.
Your villagers can be given simple tasks to do and will follow your commands fairly diligently. You can uncover various rocks to grant them powers over water, earth and so on, but in order to activate them, you have to guide a villager there. A simple click will do the job, but any red lines on their otherwise green path hints at trouble, and you will have to sculpt the path to help them out. Want them to have a shortcut back? Just take away the earth under their feet and they will be washed down the river towards the village, where you can build some land ahead of them for them to wash up on and begin to trek the short distance back. It is a simple concept, but one that offers so many opportunities for invention.
The powers that your tribe gain also directly affect your abilities as well. If the tribe has power over water, then they can fend off a screen dominating tidal wave – which would have otherwise obliterated the village – and watch as the water slowly ripples out over the land instead. As the village deity you can then briefly freeze water and mould it to whatever shape you desire. Each power brings with it a specific perk and you can guarantee that they will all come in handy.
Unlike most god style games, there will be no technological advancement and a bare minimum of weather patterns. Your tiny towns will be impacted by natural disasters, but the real emphasis is on having fun and just interacting with the villagers and landscape. At such an early stage there is plenty of refinement to be made, including a final decision on how the campaign mode (for want of a better word) will play out and the addition of wildlife to each island. There are no plans for multiplayer or co-op though, so put that out of your mind for now, as the team are very much focused on getting the core gameplay right. What has been promised is that each location will offer its own share of unique challenges and options.
It is safe to safe that Ubisoft Montpellier are very proud of what they have here, and so they should be, but things are still at an early stage yet. We can only hope that the finished product has the same scope and potential as this tantalising teaser did – as we will all be in for something a little bit special if it does.
From Dust is scheduled for a March launch on the Xbox Live Arcade.