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08 September, 2014

Godus Review - It's About Time

Time. Rarely is there enough of it to allow us to do and achieve all the things we wish to. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is our most precious commodity, valuing it above even health and wealth. For what good is health without the time to enjoy being healthy? And what good are riches without the time to spend big?

It’s thoughts such as these that caused me to fall out of love with Godus, the new god game by developer 22cans - headed by industry icon Peter Molyneux. It was a brief love affair, lasting only two weeks. At first I tried the “it’s not you it’s me” breakup tactic, but realised I was just lying to myself. It was the timers that eventually got the better of me.

The rest of the game is a very polished and appealing product, and initially I had planned to write a series of diary entries detailing my progress from stone age to space age. The aesthetic had me at "hello," and I was drawn to the curved topographical lines of Godus’ world, coloured with warmth and populated by lovingly stylised inhabitants in need of my guidance.

The mechanics were interesting and promised some intriguing gameplay. I was enjoying moulding the environment and terraforming it with my bare fingers. It felt personal. The sculpting mechanic isn’t perfectly responsive, but with practice it’s a workable solution and one that makes the most sense for a god game on a touchscreen.

Godus’ systems work well and tie in to each other nicely, too. Growing your settlements, breeding more followers and gradually expanding your territory unlocks cards that improve your technology and evolve your followers spiritually, with your progression indicated visually by improved housing.

There are God powers to unlock, which can be used to beautify your civilisation or terrorise the neighbouring Astari people, bringing with it a nice touch of moral complexity. My second diary entry was going to be about how guilty I had felt after toying with my new found meteor power, striking the Astari with hell from above in the middle of their festival. At times I really felt like Peter Molyneux’s new game was like having a living and separate little globe in my pocket in which I was free to play and experiment. And it’s these aspects - the depth that I could see unravelling as I progressed - that caused me to know that Godus is a worthy accomplishment.

If it weren’t for the lengthy and unfair timers.

The more I try out various free-to-play models, the more I’m convinced that timers in games are the very antithesis of good game development. I identify myself as an escapist and play games largely to take myself out of humdrum reality for a time. Like taking a virtual holiday to fantasy locations where I can achieve the unbelievable from the safety of my armchair. When I sit down to play it’s because I want to play right then and there, and so if a game tells me to come back in seventeen hours time, stopping me in my tracks, it is a small cyber-slap in the face. What option do I then have but to play something else, and what chance does that give the game of growing on me and making me want to play it? Not much.

I’m a big fan of Real Racing 3, but its biggest downfall is its timers, for all the same reasons. Surely there are better ways to monetise your game than telling players they can’t play right now and should come back later.

So two weeks into my Godus adventure I took stock of what I was doing and realised it was nothing more than checking into the game a couple of times a day to click on various things and collect my resources with a view to having enough currency - termed Belief - to knock down a mountain that was in my way. It turns out God can move mountains, but man is it expensive. Eventually I felt like I was no longer playing the game as the game was playing me.

So I stopped.

It’s a pity as there was so much I was enjoying about Godus; the little touches like each follower's random name and surprises such as uncovering buried temples in need of rebuilding. There's even a fun minigame that could easily stand alone as a separate and enjoyable experience whereby you send your followers off on a ship through a series of islands. The journey unfolds as physics puzzlers that have you paving a path from the ship to a temple past environmental obstacles and enemies in your way.

I’ll continue to check in on my civilisation every now and then - not completely forsaking it - to collect my resources and to see what’s what. I’m intrigued by how the multiplayer will work when Godus is updated to connect players’ worlds, and to see if the timers are one day balanced and made more forgiving. But for now my brief dalliance has become a casual acquaintance. If I was to score the gameplay and the timers separately, I would give them 4.5 and 0 out of 5 stars respectively, but because I can’t have one without the other, I feel - much like Molyneux - that I need to hedge my bets.

Grab the game here

Garry Balogh

   - Godus
   - Real Racing 3

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