From Dust Review
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On 09/04/2011 at 11:56 PM by Stanton Daries
"Every time another review comes out, I let out a deep breath."
For anyone who wants to be a semi-phenomenal nearly cosmic being. Or engineers.
Usually when someone makes a game where you play a deity or similar spiritual being you are truly the ruler of that world. You can rain down miracles or bring the plagues, and shape reality to your whim. Often the only true obstacle is protecting your worshippers from beings of similar power or trying to properly multitask a growing population of the faithful.
From Dust does things a little differently. You are a being known simply as The Breath, a spirit of the land called forth by a small tribe seeking to follow the path of their ancestors and at the same time repopulate the land by building villages near ancient totems. You were called to help the men achieve this goal and protect the tribesmen from the unchecked forces of nature.
Your ability to help comes in the form of being able to move three different types of elements from one place on the world to another, which is done by just finding a spot that holds the element you want, sucking it up into a large orb, and then dropping it where you would like it to go. The three elements you can interact with in this way are earth, water, and lava.
Each element type interacts with the land, and each other, in their own unique way: Earth can cover rock and allow trees and vegetation to grow but is easily eroded by water. Water is needed to bring life to arid areas and put out fires but can easily erode earth or flood a village. Lava will harden into a rocky barrier wherever it is dropped but can instantly cause fires in vegetation or turn water into steam.
In addition to the interaction with the three elements are trees that can be found that contain their own unique abilities such as releasing water, or paradoxically, releasing fire. While somewhat annoying they can prove very useful when part of a greater strategy. Also as your people settle villages you gain access to limited-use global powers such as preventing a tsunami or putting out all fires on the map. These tribal abilities can actually lead to some of the most beautiful scenes in the game as you watch a tsunami split around a protected village or tunnel through solidified water.
While the concept of the game is interesting and simple enough that anyone could pick it up, there is a very large problem: it's incredibly tedious. You will essentially spend each mission doing nothing more than shuttling small quantities of your element of choice to locations in a constant fight against nature, cursing as you never quite get as much as you need to. To compound the problem, the imprecise nature of the controls means you will waste valuable seconds picking up the wrong element.
What makes matters more frustrating is the horrible AI pathing the tribesmen sometimes exhibit when you try to send them on a path out of danger, often ignoring a perfectly good bridge you made them and instead trying to climb a mountain that leads to nowhere.
In fact the tribesmen in the game you will begin to find truly annoying in multiple ways. The game never gives you a chance to form any connection with them or let you invest any emotion besides annoyance at their constant pleas for help. When a flood washes out their village you are not saddened by their loss, you are instead angry that you have to restart the level. More than once I have dropped lava from the sky in a godly tantrum at their bad pathing costing me a game.
Even though the game is tedious and has AI flaws, it is still something that is incredibly well put together. The physics engine is top notch and the way everything interacts and grows is very detailed -- maybe too detailed as things like displacement can easily become your enemy quite quickly if you are not careful.
From Dust is truly not suited for the casual gamer; it is something for those with OCD tendencies or engineers, and fails in enough areas to make it only an adequately entertaining game with an amazing physics engine.
Maybe Valve should give them a call.