From Dust was hatched by French developer Eric Chahi, and first introduced at E3 2010 as a “Realistic Nature Simulation”. It was love at first sight, and From Dust has been at the top of many a play list since that time.
I expected something quite a bit different from what From Dust turned out to be. Most online sources of information have the title listed as a “Simulation” and / or a “God-Game”. I can’t say that I agree with those classifications, and although From Dust is a bit of a genre-bender, I would have to say that it is primarily a real-time strategy. A gorgeously designed, dynamic RTS containing advanced nature scenarios, but still an RTS. At its first introduction, people assumed that From Dust would provide a robust sandbox experience. Alas, there is no sandbox. However, after completing a map you can back to it to have a mess around.
From Dust consists of a single-player story and a single-player challenge mode. Story mode is made up of thirteen levels, during which you will meet a Tribe of people that seek knowledge of their forgotten past. You control the “Breath”, which is the tribe’s guide (also known as your cursor!).
As you work your way through the levels you must save the Tribe from natural disasters such as tsunamis, wild fires and volcanic eruptions. With each level comes new found knowledge in the form of powers and new pieces of the “Memory of the Tribe”.
Each level begins with an objective which must be completed before you can move on through the passage to the next world. Sometimes levels must be completed within a set amount of time, and others can be finished at your leisure.
For example, a typical map might require the following actions:
- Call humans to a totem which has been left behind by the Ancients.
- Assist the humans to reach the totem by clearing or building a path (example: using dirt to build a bridge over a stream).
- Build a second village at a new totem.
- Make the area surrounding the new totem habitable by absorbing water from around it.
- Send out a villager to retrieve a relic which will provide you with a new skill.
- Help the tribe reach 100% vegetation on the map in order to unlock new memories and challenge maps.
- Enter through the passage to the next level.
In the Challenge mode there are 30 levels, each of them unlocked by completing more of the Story and spreading vegetation across each land. There are leaderboards for Challenge mode, and the game also comes with 12 achievements to unlock.
The powers in From Dust are used to repeatedly get your Tribe out of hot water (literally). Each power is earned by either creating a village around a totem or finding a relic. Powers can be used in combination. Some of the powers you will encounter include:
- Jellify Water: used to freeze water and / or clear areas or paths through rivers to allow the Tribe to pass
- Infinite Earth: very helpful when you require large quantities of sand
- Amplify the Breath: allows you to pick up more matter in one scoop.
- Engulf All: allows you to quickly drain all matter from an area for a limited period of time.
- Put out Fire: puts out all fires on the map for a limited time.
There are also repels which the villagers will use on their own, such as repel water to hold back tsunamis and repel lava.
Certain types of trees can also be used to aid in the completion of missions. For example, explosive trees can be used in combination with a heat source to blow up rock walls.
There is no micromanagement in From Dust, so you cannot directly control villagers. Your ability to complete a timed level relies in part on the AI of your tribe, so it’s a good thing that the AI is quite solid. However, you may run into pathing problems from time to time. For example, if you call your villagers to a passage they will attempt to take the clearest and most direct route. You can change their route to some degree by building bridges or draining bodies of water to provide them with more options. Yet sometimes villagers will start yelping for “Help!” even when a path appears to be clear. Usually it’s because they feel the cliff they are on is too steep to go down. The best way to get them moving again is to dump water on them and force them to face their fears!
While speaking of the villagers, I’d like to note that the only time you see villagers close up is during cinematics. Outside of that, there is the option to put the camera on a single villager and follow them around, but it’s a goofy view that you won’t use much. So whether you are using the global view or the regular view, the villagers will always look like ants.
Villagers can die, but it’s usually as an indirect result of your actions or your inability to protect them. You can flood a village, but the men will regroup and re-build. You can dump sand all over a village, but that will just help them to grow vegetation. Pouring lava over the little critters seems to take them out, but outside of that they are quite resilient.
Game controls do take a bit of getting used to, but they are simple and binds are few in number.
From Dust is an epic strategy game, the likes of which have never been seen before. It’s definitely a sight to behold, but that doesn’t diminish the challenge factor. It’s a frustrating rollercoaster ride of victories and defeats.
For $15 you can expect to get a good 40 to 60 hours of game play out of From Dust, which is pretty damn good. If you’re an RTS master then From Dust is a must. It’s going to challenge you from start to finish. It’s going to frustrate you to no end, yet you’ll find yourself going back for more abuse. One map alone took me over four hours to complete, and I’ll tell you, I really wanted to kick some Ubisoft ass during that one! Ultimately, From Dust is going to put hair on your chest. Maybe.
On the downside, the game can be feel quite repetitive at times, but that may just be because it usually takes me anywhere from 5 to 50 tries to complete a level!
One of the things I like the most about From Dust is what might lay ahead. It has been said that if sales do well enough then we may see a whole lot more content rolled out; such as multiplayer scenarios, an advanced weather system, world editor, and maybe even a proper sandbox. I’m not a fan of DLCs, but for a game like From Dust and the type of content just mentioned, I’d be all for DLCs and lots of them. It just works for a game like this.
From Dust is a cruel mistress, but if future expansions are released, you’ll definitely want her to hurt you some more.