Back in the day, it was believed–nay, known–that the world we live on was flat. It (arguably) wasn’t until one Ferdinand Magellan’s 1519 expedition that circumnavigated the Earth that humans had proof that our planet is in fact round. In one of the few god games to see release in recent years, Reus opens with a blank canvas of a planet that is both flat and round–a two-dimensional circle with habitable areas only around the circumference.
You play as that planet, directly controlling four “giants” that each have power over a specific aspect of nature–the Rock giant, the Water giant, the Forest giant, and the Swamp giant. Each of these four giants have their own distinct part to play in the forming of your planet. For example, every game of Reus starts by either using the Rock giant to raise a mountain and create deserts to either side, or the Water giant to create an ocean and form wet wasteland to either side, on which you might then use the Forest giant to create a forest or the Swamp giant to create–you guessed it–a swamp.
After creating your base terrain, there then has to be some sort of resource present to seduce a nomad into founding a settlement on your planet. Predicting exactly where the nomad is going to settle is always tricky. As village border limits play a massive part in Reus (we’ll get to that later), it’d be nice to be able to do more than just indirectly nudge a nomad in a specific direction. Each of the three terrains are very different–as a general rule, forests support food-focussed settlements, swamps support a focus on technology, and desert supports wealth.
Not long after settling in on your freshly prepared surface, a village will begin a “challenge”. In Reus, challenges involve you providing a village with a specific amount of each resource within a certain amount of time, as well as a Desert/Swamp/Forest “ambassador” who sits on the shoulders of your giants, upgrading them. Additionally, Reus features a somewhat unique method of progressing through the game and unlocking new plants, animals and minerals–again, we’ll get to that in just a tic. Each game (“era”) goes for 30, 60, or 120 minutes, after which your progress is recorded and that planet is finished. You can choose, if you like, to continue on in free-play, but this has no bearing whatsoever on completing Developments. While an interesting idea, I found that the finality of the gameplay structured this way ultimately resulted in my not being too concerned or invested in any one playthrough.
Developments, though–that’s where the crux of Reus really sits. Developments can be thought of as an in-game achievement system because, well, that’s exactly what they are. At the end of each Era you play, developments are handed out as rewards for specific tasks that you and your giants accomplished during that period, for example, finishing with a village that has both 200 prosperity (simply the sum of all the food, technology, and wealth currently being worked by that village) and 3 warmarks (awarded for emerging victorious from a war) will earn you the development “Fiscal-Military State”.
It may sound like I just explained how achievements work to you, but in Reus this idea is taken one step further. Before we get to that, however (I’m just trying to keep you hooked), we have to take one more step back. Villages have access to three resources as above, which are provided to them by placing plants, animals, and minerals. These natural sources can then be upgraded by imbuing them with “aspects” which both boost their resource production slightly and have the potential to unlock further progression through the pseudo tech-tree–for example, one of the basic natural sources, the Blueberry, can “transmute” into a Strawberry with a lesser Leaf Aspect or an Apple Tree with a lesser Fruit Aspect. Extra Aspects and the ability to create Great and Superior natural sources are unlocked by upgrading your giants with different ambassadors.
So now to get to that part that I said I’d talk about (I’m a serious journalist, promise!) To be honest, it’s really not all that confusing, I just wanted to give you a bit of background. In Reus, unlocked Developments allow you to transmute your natural sources into newly available, upgraded natural sources in the next Era you play. For example, in the very first game you play after completing the (very good, to be fair) tutorials, you’ll likely complete the Genesis Era development, which is awarded for having a total of 250 prosperity at the end of an Era. Achieving this development unlocks the Dragonfruit natural source, which transmutes from Kumquat or Ginger and is only available on the Mountain biome. As Developments are only achieved once each, the idea of having you unlock once resource with each Development forces the player to strive for a different playstyle with each Era they choose to play.
Another feature of Reus worth mentioning is the mechanism of “symbioses”. Each natural resource you have laid doesn’t only provide resources based on what it directly provides, but can also give bonuses based on what natural sources are around it. Apple Trees, for example, provide 6 food and 4 natura just for being there, which isn’t that much. However, for each animal directly adjacent to it, the Apple Tree also provides an extra 8 food and 2 natura–each individual Apple Tree, without extra Aspects imbued, can thus provide a maximum of 24 food and 8 natura, which is extremely high for the early stage in the game at which it is generally unlocked. Transmuting an Apple Tree will give you a Pear Tree, which have a Symbiosis with adjacent plants rather than animals. Thus, if your Apple Tree is adjacent to two animals and you transmute it into a Pear Tree, it will lose a significant amount of food and natura, however if you then plant more plant trees where those animals were, a chain of Pear Trees will provide a huge amount of resources.
As you can imagine, this heavy focus on adjacent natural sources means that playing Reus entails a huge amount of micromanagement. Every little thing can make a difference, and being given an unfortunate Challenge by your villages often results in ripping up your entire set of Symbioses and replacing them with a whole new network of natural resources specifically tailored to meet the often ridiculous requirements set by the Challenges. Additionally, your sources are generally set up to take advantage of early-game Symbioses, and by the time you unlock mid-game sources such as the aforementioned Pear Tree, they can’t really take the place of what they’re subbing in for without changing their surroundings as well. It’s an interesting mechanism, resulting in even the tiniest change in environment have a possibly huge impact on the resource output of both it and its surroundings. This will often cause newer players to shy away from making their way through the tech tree at all, drastically bottlenecking their progression through the game.
My other criticism of this idea is that very few of the transmutations and Symbioses make any logical sense. They can be extremely hard to predict, particularly as the Symbioses of a second-level source aren’t shown to the player until they’ve actually upgraded to that source. Marble is a Mineral resource that provides Technology and is found in the Swamp. It has a symbiosis if next to another Mineral. Marble transmutes to Copper, which has a symbiosis with any Animal. There’s no way of a player knowing that without going to an internet resource. There really should be some sort of in-game Civilopedia-esque reference point available.
In the end, Reus is full of micromanagement and constantly being forced to start from square one, which is a feature that generally stays far away from god games for good reason. While it definitely has its fair share of interesting, original concepts, the overall fleetingness of each game makes it difficult for the player to feel significantly invested. I won’t deny that Reus had my attention for a few hours, but I quickly became a bit tired of playing game after game only to unlock new plants, animals, and minerals. If heavy micromanagement interests you, the occasional unfortunate random Challenge, slightly rough around the edges UI design and all the other stuff I’ve described above doesn’t put you off, and if you’re one of the people who’s been craving a new deceptively deep god game since Black & White, then Reus might very well be for you. It’s just not really for me.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Reus by Abbey Games. Also, we’re sorry that this review is so long.