Review: From Dust

Note: does not depict actual game events.
From Dust Box Art

From screen shots and trailers, From Dust appears to be a unique strategy game where the player commands a tribal god who reshapes the very face of the Earth in order to preform life saving miracles for his ungrateful little servants. What those previews do not show the world is that Ubisoft’s ideas of being an all-powerful god are dreadfully boring, and that their main sources of inspiration likely come from playing a game of Lemmings while sitting in a hole on the beach during high tide. Another great part of playing a god is just how many restrictions the powers that be, Ubisoft, place on the player, calling it DRM, and justifying the Hell it gives players by claiming it wards off pirates. The fact that any company would expect someone to even want this game, legally or otherwise, is amazing. Yet surprisingly, From Dust has two things going in its favor: The game does look rather good, with nice fluid physics, and the post-game challenge mode does have some fun moments. But, neither of the two warrant the price tag or time wasted on completing the game.

If Lemmings removed every part of the gameplay except for bridge building, the resulting game would be From Dust. The player’s only goal in the game is to move a tribe of men from point A to point B, over and over again. The only enemy or hazard in the game is water. If one were to reenact the previously mentioned hole-in-the-beach scenario, their first course of action upon having their hole filled with water would be to build a dam out of sand, and when that fails, they would likely just move away from the tide’s reach. Not the lovable little From Dust Men; they actually move further towards the water, until the final levels are almost nothing but water.

Once all of the bridges have been built out of piles of sand, the player can tell their eager little tribesmen to move out to a new potential village location, this exciting key mechanic of the game, second only to playing a god, involves mousing over the predetermined village location, hitting a key, and then waiting. Of the five villagers it takes to build a new village, it is almost guaranteed that one of them will take the longest possible path through lava and water to reach the village, but assuming the moronic fifth villager does in fact follow the rest of the group to safety, the player is treated to even more waiting as the villagers slowly approach the village and slowly begin their village creation ritual, which is signaled by screams that sound exactly like the screams of a burning tribesman.

Perhaps he really wants to play Blitzball?
Man, water, and ground, the stars of From Dust.

While the Men are forced to survive in the increasingly wet new world without the ability to swim, the player must battle with another force, similar to the god he controls. The DRM randomly crashes the game, much like playing Russian Roulette. With an unstable internet connection, a player could be kicked from the game, losing progress, at any minute, while other gamers fond of minimizing out of games to multitask, or hosting long Skype calls could face similar disconnection issues, albeit less frequently. Many fervent gamers can usually rely on their internet connection in this day and age, but that does not remove the other technical difficulties. The game is prone to crashing at launch for no reason, players may even boot the game up to find the interface did not load at all, and during game play the Men can get stuck permanently during levels.

Surprisingly, From Dust does have a few good points about it, but none of them actually affect the gameplay. Any gamer unlucky enough to preorder the game was presented with a special From Dust themed mask for use in Team Fortress 2, which, admittedly, is not a very good looking hat, but at the very least can be used to help craft other hats and weapons. For a cheap casual game, the graphics are very pretty, and it appears that a lot of effort was put into making the Men similar to real-world African tribes. The water, lava, and sand move and flow like one would expect them to in the real world. The miracles players can perform are all very cool the first few times, but after parting water like Moses for the tenth time, it starts to lose its novelty.

Demoman is probably only wearing it because he is drunk.
From Dust's promotional TF2 hat

As the player progresses through the game, various challenge maps are unlocked. Despite being called “challenges,” the maps still are not very difficult, but require more clever usage of the matter moving mechanics. The challenge maps still involve the basic moving man from point A to point B followed by the waiting, but is a huge step above, say, staring idly at a blank computer screen.

At the time of this article’s posting, Ubisoft is planning to release a patch to fix the DRM issues, and Steam is offering refunds for those not wishing to wait for such a patch. But even considering this, fifteen dollars is far too expensive for the messy second-hand console scraps Ubisoft has given gamers in the PC port of From Dust. Anyone with massive interests in moving sand and water from place to place should definitely pick up a copy of From Dust, but for anyone else, it is hard to even call From Dust a game.


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