Review: Reus

I enjoyed the heck out of my first couple of Reus playthroughs. It is palling in the face of the between-games advancement system, but I expect that to turn around once I am past it and have access to everything. Time will tell how much replayability there is.

Reus is a god game , putting in the category of Populous and Black & White. I think of the latter because you control the game through four nature giants who might be cartoony escapees of Shadow of the Colossus. They build terrain, deposit natural sources, enhance sources, and have a few abilities. Your humans build villages, start projects that require resources from those natural sources, grow, and maybe go to war with each other. The basic game is an “era” that gives you 30-120 minutes to develop your little world as far as you can.

The game thrives on emergent complexity from simple foundations. Four giants yield four terrain types. There are two categories of each of three natural sources. Those sources yield three resources, with a few other stats mixed in. Each source has a few possible enhancement types, and those enhancements can let sources develop into different sources. Your humans start projects that demand resources, each project yielding semi-random specialization bonuses. Most of these things have synergy effects, so you want some types of natural resources around each other and some work better with particular projects.

That is almost the entire game. The complexity comes once you start multiplying those through. Those natural sources differ across terrain types, so if you domesticate animals in the ocean, you get mackerel, while you get chickens in the forest. Those then evolve, and sometimes those evolutions overlap so it matters which base plant you used to make strawberries. This gives you a tech tree for each natural source for each terrain. Tie in the other abilities, and you have a lot of toys from a few buttons.

Simple pieces, complex interactions: good. I would appreciate some sort of in-game reference on that, because you have 13 tech trees interacting with 6 summoning skills and 12 enhancers. I feel like I should have the wiki open on another monitor, and play in windowed mode because the tech tree is larger than my monitor. It would also be nice to have something telling me when an “upgrade” will reduce my output because of changes in synergy, like how games with loot give you current vs. new stats in a pop-up. And then as I play more, I am finding that ambassador combinations are needed to unlock stronger versions of the same powers, and I am wondering whether this item is a complex interaction or hidden, unexplained complexity in the pieces themselves.

I have some concerns about unfortunate randomization, but the game seems to provide randomization that enhances replayability without making success a crapshoot. You know what kind of projects to expect on a given terrain but not exactly which one or what specialization bonus it will provide. You have randomization within a range that prevents most perverse results.

My major concern about the game is the advancement system. At first blush, it sounds like my dream game: achievement-based advancement! The game calls them “developments,” and you get an achievement for a variety of things like having a diverse town, having a great town in different terrains, surviving amidst war or dangerous predators, for fishing, whatever. Those achievements unlock more content. You do not start with all the options for upgraded abilities, resource evolution, projects, or time limits. You earn those. This has two problems:

  • Achievements unlock at the end of a game, not as you go along. You earn new options between games, not during them. You can see the options, but they are locked. Thanks, guys.
  • You must play multiple times to be able to play for real. You cannot have deer or iron on the planet during your first game. If you want iron to exist, you need to finish a game with a village that has 150 prosperity and no animals. That’s not so bad, except that there are 67 achievements to unlock content (does not count several dozen that are Steam achievements that are not also in-game developments), and you need to get 28 just to unlock being able to go after all the developments. I am led to believe that most people do not play games long enough to get 67 achievements.

Getting all 67 developments is effectively the game’s win condition. You must beat the game to be able to play the entire game. What at first seems like pacing the introduction of content quickly becomes an exaggerated restraint upon the player.

I enjoy the graphics. It is friendly and cartoony, which keeps the perceived pressure low. No one would describe it as graphically stunning, but it is functional without being overly distracting. I like giant, friendly rock monsters and crabs that act as avatars of nature. Keeping the mechanics but changing the tone and feel, you could have a dark and brooding game where human slaves toil under the fists of their supernatural overlords, where occasionally you put down their uprisings and crush their puny villages beneath your fists. Instead, you are helping the humans, nurturing and protecting them, sometimes against their own misguided aims. These are their projects.

The one gameplay aspect I am adapting too is tearing out resources. I am used to games where you build on top of what you have. Frequently, the best plan here is to tear out what you have and start it fresh now that you have better things. You might run through, spread basic resources around, then go back and carefully develop one tile at a time, possibly tearing out those tiles when new aspects and tiers become available. It’s a big difference from just adding more buildings to your Civilization town.

The big gameplay aspect not advertised in the tutorial is that the forest titan has an empowerment ability that lets you get better tile upgrades. That is huge. The ocean titan learns an area effect version, so you can spam upgrades on half a village. That is very helpful when you are tearing things out and replacing them with what you need/have now.

Recommended. As I said, I do not know how the long run will feel, but it cost less than a movie ticket and has provided far more entertainment.

: Zubon

5 thoughts on “Review: Reus”

  1. Glad to hear it’s decent. :) A friend gifted me his spare copy from Humble so it’s pretty much sitting there right now, but I’ve been meaning to get around to it as I love these kinds of games, I can spend hours on them.

  2. It’s a very good god game (damning with faint praise as that is), and more significantly, it is a pretty good game in general.

    The one thing I found frustrating that you didn’t mention, though, is that most of the game modes have fairly short time periods by the standards of god games: you get to play on a particular setup for fifteen- to forty-five minutes, and then you’re graded and the Age ends. There is a free play mode that isn’t timed, but it can’t be used to unlock Developments.

    That’s nice from one aspect, so you’re never stuck in a Black&White situation of spending hours on the same level, but it does limit the total depth of development.

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