PCJune 15, 2013 by Alex Rehnby
The god game genre is one that has been severely under-represented in times of late, and that is one of the reasons why Reus stands out. The other being that the game is not just some rehash of old ideas meant to stir nostalgia. It's an original project with it's own great ideas, in which your job is to control four elemental giants, each with their own unique traits and abilities. They have direct control over nature, and through it, only indirect control over humankind.
After ten minutes of playing Reus, I was charmed. By the unique visuals, with hand-drawn giants and nice little details if you take the time to zoom in on the villages the game is centered around. By the atmospheric and relaxing music that the game employs as well. Moreover, I was charmed by the idea of shaping a planet to my whims. That's the first job. Raising mountains and digging oceans into the earth to create the few different biomes that support human life.
The next job is populating the newly habitable planet with animals, plants and minerals. The tiny humans require these things for projects that they put in place. The projects take wealth, food and technology. This is relatively easy in the early stage. You just have to plant nodes that give out the right amount of whichever resource is needed. However, the farther down the line you get, the more complicated the process gets.
When the townspeople start getting more demanding, there are ways to squeeze every resource you can get out of the land. Primarily, this involves working with Synergies. Every single type of mineral, plant or animal has one. It will be something like "+10 wealth if beside a plant." While that one would be easy to achieve, they can often get specific enough to add a level of challenge to the game. More difficulty comes from the fact that if a town grows too fast, it gets greedy. Greed, in this case, leads to aggression, against other towns and even against their giant overlords.
Outside of a well-done tutorial, Reus has two modes. Freeplay is always an option, but the main mode is the Era. A timed game, starting off with a 30 minutes timer, with an unlockable one hour mode and two hour mode. The way these, and everything else in the game, are unlocked, is through what is essentially an achievement system. "Developments" come from finishing Eras with certain levels of prosperity, from developing specific types of villages, or from special challenges. For example, only using minerals in a town. I can see why the goal of the game simply being to complete an achievement list would turn some people off, but I can also see how it sort-of fits the semi-sandboxed nature of the game.
While after your first half-hour Era in Reus, it's easy to see what the game is all about, but the game's actual complexity is not too apparent. While each giant can only place down a couple different resources to start with, giants, once leveled up, can place their "aspects" on the resources, both adding to what they produce and allowing them to be upgraded into new types of resources. How a tortoise can instantly evolve into a rattlesnake beats me, but if you follow the game's upgrade tree to its end, there are over a hundred different plants, animals and minerals for you to create and for the populace to exploit.
In the end, Reus is an extremely complex game about finding the balance between humankind and nature. It's essentially a puzzle game, where most of the challenge comes from properly managing symbioses on multiple fronts, but it's a puzzle game with tons of solutions, and beyond that, with tons of goals. That said, you could also say it's somewhat stuck between two genres. The lack of an overarching goal beyond achievements is a limiting factor, but one made up for by a little imagination, and by the distraction of some great art and music. The initial charm that the game gives off refuses to fade, even after hours of experimenting with the deep web of logical systems that makes up Reus.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.