Pity the poor God game. Once upon a time it seemed there was a new one coming around the block every month or so. OK, I'm also dating myself there, but with gaming having largely divided into casual games and shooters there didn't seem to be any room for those who craved god-like powers to create their own world. High profile strategy/simulation duds like SimCity probably didn't help, either. But this all seemed set to change a year ago, when the, well, god, of god games, Peter Molyneux announced his return to the genre with his new company 22Cans. The game actually got started with 22Cans' release of Curiosity-What's Inside the Cube, a game where players tapped on a cube to dig deeper, with only the player eliminating the last cubelet winning; that victory made the player the god of gods in Godus, Molyneux's reimagining of the god game.
Described as the spiritual successor to Molyneux's Populous and funded through Kickstarter, Godus was released as a paid beta on Steam last fall; the game claims to be 41% complete, though what's in the remaining 59% remains largely under wraps. The developers do seem to be actively seeking feedback from beta testers, and there is an active Steam forum dedicated to the game, where you can find tutorials, FAQs, and discussions on a variety of subjects related to the current and future game. If you're interested in participating, be warned that current assumptions are that you will lose your beta game when the full game is released, sometime this year.
So enough backstory, on with the preview! The 41% of the game that does exist provides enough to get a good sense of the game. The game starts with a nice flyover of your land and stops at an island where you have a couple of followers to start with. As you would expect in a god game, you have control over your world, which you initially wield to provide places for your followers to build dwellings. You do this by creating flat places to build houses; when you have a large enough flat area, places to build are automatically created and your followers will begin to build. Houses generate more followers and belief; followers will build more houses as you create more spaces, while you harvest belief by clicking on the houses with the pink (fuchsia?) bubbles.
To date, much of the game involves this clearing of land for followers to build bigger and nicer houses as your realm grows; along the way you will also come upon treasure chests with cards you need to collect and shrines you need to repair, some of which increase the size of your territory and some of which open up new areas of gameplay. You need to collect the cards to advance your civilization from a primitive state to more advanced ages, and you'll get more cards when you participate in online (against a bot so far) challenges/battles against other gods and their civilizations. These battles are necessary to get some of the cards you need to advance your civilization, so Godus seems set to join the ranks of games requiring online play. As mentioned above, however, so far your battles are against a bot that has no desire to beat you. As time goes on and you gain more belief from your followers, you also gain greater god powers, culminating, so far at least, in the ability to call down meteors, presumably on your foes, but hey, you're god, you can smite who you like.
As you play there are a few additional challenges, although they behave more like hints appearing at the top of the screen telling you what your followers want, such as living on the mainland (you start on a small island), or getting more resources which you can only acquire through the online battles. The online battles also provide some variety, as your challenges change from battle to battle. In one you just need get more followers on the battle map than your opponent within the given time, while later on you have to mine more gems than your opponent or create a more powerful civilization to conquer your opponent in a final battle. These all occur on separate maps from your main civilization and don't effect your main civilization except for giving you some valuable cards to advance your realm after you win.
As your number of followers increase and you repair shrines your area of influence increases, giving you more land to explore and settle; this land also provides additional challenges as you will have mountains and swamps to deal with. Again, there's a lot of clicking and dragging to terraform your realm for settlement, and not much encouragement to create interesting settlements or preserve natural resources for later use. As you pass certain thresholds you gain the ability to create settlements and towns, which effectively aggregate your followers and belief so that instead of clicking on individual houses to send followers out to work or collect belief, you can click on a central statue. This is helpful, but after a short while you move from using belief to create settlements to using gems. While you start with some gems, the only other way, so far, to acquire more is find rare patches of jewels to have your followers mine, and this doesn't provide enough to link all your disparate settlements together.
The gem thing, battles, and seemingly random division of labor between cards, belief and gems point to a problem many people, including this reviewer, have with the game so far. Too much of it is unclear or seems like things were created without a clear reason why. Why do you switch from using belief to build settlements to gems? Speculation is that there was going to be in-game micro-payments, and you could buy gems that way. After strong objections from early testers, this idea has apparently been officially dropped, but again this leads to difficulty in playing the game when you can't get enough gems to do things you want/need to do. Another one: why does destroying trees and rocks create belief but raising/lowering land use belief? The only reason seems to be that some things have to create belief and some have to use it, but it doesn't seem to make any sense.
It can also be difficult to tell which cards you have and which you need to advance to the next stage, and how to get what you need. You have a nice book, or bible perhaps, of your civilization, which shows which ages you've been through, where you're at, and sort of shows what you need to advance, but it's difficult to navigate and not easy to find out how many of which cards you need to advance. As you find treasure chests you'll collect many of some resource cards without any apparent way to use them; they just sit there in your book presumably waiting for you to get somewhere or to some level where you can use them, but I just don't know.
While I found the game engaging, and one where I could easily spend hours at a time clicking and dragging around, collecting cards and trying to build a beautiful civilization, at this point it's difficult to see where it's all going. While online play against real opponents will certainly provide more variety, it's tough to tell at this point whether the main gameplay will be online against others or in building your own civilization. Presumably you will eventually run into other civilizations on your map, but not yet. So for now you're just building an ever-expanding civilization, playing online matches to get cards you need, digging up treasure chests and advancing your civilization and realm through population expansion and card collection. It's fun but can get repetitive without more variety.
I understand it's a beta and they claim it's only 41% feature complete, but it's been out since the fall, and even with the updates and changes since then it's still stuck on 41%. This makes it hard to know what they have in mind for the rest of the game. On the plus side the Steam forums on the game are quite active (though most of the feedback is not positive) and with supposedly 59% still to deliver there's potential for a game here, but I'd have to agree with many who say it's not there yet.