Reviewed: August 1, 2011
Released: July 27, 2011
If it's inaccurate to call From Dust one of the most beautiful, creative, well-designed games of the summer, that's only because it's hard to directly classify it as a game at all. While it's coming up against stiff competition in the form of the other indie superstars in the Summer of Arcade, From Dust presents a beautiful experience, visually and aurally, and gameplay that you can't find anywhere else.|
From Dust puts the player in the role of the Breath, a manifestation of a tribe's magic, and the de facto protector and guide of your tribe. At first, your abilities are limited to picking up loose substances and moving them to other places, forming land bridges out of sand, draining or creating lakes by moving water, or generating new stone by pouring lava across the land. Similarly, your tribe begins only able to populate villages and migrate across the land. However, as you play, each begins to learn new, and more impressive, abilities, which aid in the tribe's movement across the map, and in defending them from threats.
To name a pair of early game examples, the Breath is able to jellify the map's water, making it semi-solid, not enough to walk on, but enough to clear a path through a raging river for your tribe to cross. Meanwhile, the tribe is able to ward off water, protecting itself from floods and tidal waves which would wash away their settlements. It's a thing of amazing beauty when a torrent of high floodwaters are held away by your tribe's magic, creating a wall of water surrounding your village.
All these powers, though, are used to support the two major goals of the game. The major push of the game is populating each land you come to, sending tribesmen to build villages around each totem before sending a group through the tunnel to the next land. It starts simply enough, but as the lands become more hostile, filled with strange flora and fauna, like giant super-predators and plants that burst into water and lava, the act of protecting villages and guiding colonists between totems becomes more complex. Each map has its own particulars, whether it's the need to build a great wall out of hardened lava to protect against tidal waves, or a vast desert where no plants will grow, but with numerous sources of water hidden underneath.
Secondarily, spreading plants across the land unlocks new challenge maps and new information about the tribe and aspects of the world. While the game's codex, called the memory of the tribe, is a little superfluous, it does a great job of showing the mindset of the people you're watching over, building up the tribe's mythology and the mystical nature of the world. While spreading trees can be a little slow, From Dust is hardly a thrill-a-minute game. It's more of an interactive work of art, inviting the player to take their time, experiencing the variety the game has in store, playing with their ability to reshape the world and exploring the peculiarities of each map.
When put against some of the other excellent Summer of Arcade games, From Dust isn't for everyone. It's a fully unique experience, with a pace and style that might turn some people off. But for people willing to play a more meditative game, a god game without much building or even very terrific amounts of power, and people who're interested in games as art, From Dust is a beautiful experience and one of the best ways to spend $15 in Microsoft Spacebucks.