Reus

Rounding out the week in which I play and review random video games mostly from the Humble Bundle, let’s talk about something I dug out of the Humble Trove: Reus. Reus is a game in which you are some kind of disembodied Gaian planet consciousness. To begin with, the entire surface of the planet is covered in lifeless wasteland. Your goal is to turn that lifeless wasteland into a thriving human civilization. On the one hand, this is kind of anthropocentric, but on the other, human civilizations are more delicate and more volatile than any natural process (there are natural processes that are more delicate, and natural processes that are more volatile, but not only are these both very rare, none of them are simultaneously as delicate and as volatile as humanity – simultaneously challenging to maintain and a source of chaos and instability). Nothing’s stopping you from generating biomes and just watching them until the clock runs out, but it’s as easy as watching paint dry and about as exciting. The game revolves around tending to human civilizations mostly just ’cause nothing else would be particularly difficult.

Your means of interacting with the world are your four friendly giants: Ocean, Forest, Mountain, and Swamp. You can use these giants to create a total of five biomes: Ocean, forest, mountain, swamp, and also desert, which forms in the shadow of mountains. Human settlers come along to create villages in either forests, swamps, or deserts, but oceans are necessary to get the whole thing started and you need mountains to make deserts. Plus, different biomes can hold different resources, so even though mountains are too tiny to contain entire villages, you can still slap down copper on them, and if that mountain falls within the border of a village, they’ll start mining that copper.

In order to create different resource types past the most basic, you need the help of human ambassadors. Ambassadors from each of the forest, swamp, and desert villages unlock different powers on different giants, so whenever you have one available, you need to consider which giant to give it to. You get these ambassadors from helping villagers complete projects, like creating a marketplace, a harbor, an alchemy lab, or whatever, and in order to do that, you need to make sure the village has enough resources to provide sufficient food, wealth, and/or tech within their border to complete the project before the timer hits zero. You struggle against limited space within the borders of the village – each tile of the planet can only host one resource and they often have symbioses that can be hard to juggle, like a plant that provides more bonuses  when next to a mineral, or sometimes even when next to a specific other type of plant.

So you provide resources to give villagers the points they need to complete projects so they provide ambassadors that allow you to provide better resources. But also, if you develop a village too quickly, they become “greedy” and will send out raiding parties to destroy nearby villages. The greed wears off eventually, but only if you stop developing the village for a while. Your giants can attack the armies to protect the targeted villages, but every second they’re doing that, they’re not helping villages with their projects, plus, they do have finite health, and even though they can stomp all over a single army, at some point you will need to take some time out to heal them or they will be whittled down over time.

The game provides a couple of possible goals in the form of “developments” (read: achievements), the most straightforward of which is to increase global prosperity as much as possible before the game timer hits zero and your giants all fall asleep, prosperity being the total of all wealth, tech, and food. Other goals, nearly as obvious, are to increase a specific village’s prosperity as high as possible, to get a village with a certain amount of prosperity using no animals, no plants, or no minerals within their borders, to get a village to a certain amount of prosperity using only animals, plants, or minerals within their borders, to have a certain amount of food, wealth, or tech in use (which mostly means “within village borders,” although there’s also some mechanics for resource use I haven’t gotten into that aren’t really important to the overview) worldwide, or sometimes things like creating a “fishing village” that’s got a certain amount of prosperity and contains a certain number of ocean tiles within its border (because you can have ocean tiles within a village’s borders even though humans won’t build the village itself on top of it).

These weird setups can encourage you to do things that would normally be sub-optimal, like make a really big ocean. Ordinarily, that’s basically just a waste of tiles, but if you need a fishing village with at least five ocean tiles in their border, your options are to either leave the opposite shore desolate so that nobody ever settles there and ends up splitting the ocean in half, with neither village having five tiles, or else make a really big ocean such that even split in half both villages will have like seven tiles. Villages don’t actually grow that big most of the time, so this mostly just ends up with a weird empty abyss in the very middle, well outside the borders of both villages, but one of them did hit five tiles, so hey, mission accomplished.

The resource-placing puzzle is fun and highly varied, since you never know exactly what projects your human villages will go for. You might want a desert village to be pure wealth because deserts are good for that, and desert villages do trend strongly towards wealth-based projects, but they might land on building a shrine, which requires wealth and also food, and now suddenly you have to figure out how to get lots of food in a desert. The timer is also convenient for using Reus as a wind-down game between blocks of work, because you can say “now I’ll play Reus for half an hour” and there will be a very obvious breakpoint after half an hour of playing Reus, because a round of Reus is measured by an actual countdown, the goal being to get as much done before it runs out. Unfortunately, meta-progress through multiple rounds is measured by getting enough achievements to unlock longer round times, and my Reus playing may well come to an end now that I’ve hit the point where the obvious way to continue advancing is to start playing the new two-hour games that I’ve unlocked. Half-hour rounds were the perfect length for winding down between working for two-hour blocks, and hour-long rounds were probably a bit irresponsible but no worse than when I played two missions of Ace Combat Zero a day and sometimes very long missions came up. But at two hours, I would spend as much time on between-work cooldowns as actually working.

And that is the reason why, despite having clocked probably 10+ hours on the game in the last week and having plenty of achievements left to aim for, I’m probably not going to be playing a whole lot of Reus anymore. I will probably play one or two 120-minute rounds just to grab the low-hanging fruit available from having twice as much time in a round, but it’s something I’ll have to make a proper gaming session out of sometime when I have lots of spare time. I realize this is a weird use-case and probably won’t impact most people’s opinion on the game, but I’m really disappointed to have lost a game that’s perfect for thirty-to-forty minute chunks. I’m sure there’s another one out there that I haven’t completely mined out, I’ll just have to find it.

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