Complex video game system and board game fans will love this… for a while.
Playing bad games is no fun, but what’s even worse is playing a game that’s amazing and then takes a sudden nosedive in enjoyment from which it never recovers. Even though it never falls far enough to be a bad game, Reus sure plummets from the heights of fun into the ho-hum zone. A god game with a complex series of interacting systems, Reus seems to have done most everything right until you advance in the game far enough to turn it into a tedious and anal retentive planning exercise.
The glorious beginning phases of Reus let the charm of the game sink in with a series of reasonable and necessary tutorials. You’ll learn how to control the four giants that can shape the planet and seed it with resources. You’ll learn how villages are formed and expand by completing projects. You’ll also learn how civilizations can turn on each other and start wars in which you are free to intervene. It’s a wonderful first dip into the deep rule set that you have to study, decipher, and unpack in order to succeed.
Each of your giants (Ocean, Forest, Rock, and Swamp) has unique abilities that can be upgraded as your villages grow. Forming land with their special skills is the first step, when you must decide where to create oceans to moisten the land for forests and swamps, or where to place mountains to create neighboring deserts. Then each giant can insert their own resources, be it domesticated animals or plant life, into every environment to encourage a settlement to take hold. Even at this stage, deciding what sort of resources will be present in each separate biome will have significant impacts on how each settlement forms and grows.
All advancement is measured in regards to the three resources in the game: food, technology, and wealth. Starting a forest settlement based on plant life will likely leave you in good shape with food, but might require some significant tweaks later on to provide adequate tech and wealth the village will eventually desire. All of those resources compile into the prosperity rating of the village, but they’re also needed to complete projects, which need to be completed to power up your giants. Doing this gives your giants new abilities that help you transform land and change the so-called “aspects” of natural sources like plants and minerals. This in turn leads to more projects and more powers and on and on.
Keeping everything balanced can get tricky since in addition to the resources, there are other traits to your villages like danger and awe. If a settlement gets too greedy from acquiring resources too quickly (you were just too dang generous of a god) then they will not only turn on each other, but eventually your giants. This insolence can be quelled by making some of the animals more dangerous or adding a bit of awe to the minerals in the area. These little tweaks are necessary to keep the citizens in their place and keep them from lobbing spears at your crabby ocean master. Of course, if fiddling with the danger levels of wolf packs in a town doesn’t quite keep them in line you still have some devastating Old Testament-style wrath you can unleash to straighten them out.
If this quick summary sounds pretty complicated, believe me that in practice it definitely is. If you love delving into complex rule sets or you enjoy German-style board games, this is just the sort of game you should be downloading to your PC right now. Just thinking about it all makes me want to load it back up, but I know better. All of these systems are enchanting and fun as you finish your first few thirty-minute games and the enjoyment continues a bit once you’re allowed to run a sixty-minute campaign, but somewhere around this point it all starts to fall apart. You’re eventually able to unlock a two-hour session too, but with each extension of time comes more possibilities, and more drudgery.
Like a sim game, there is no typical win-state to achieve in Reus. Your goals are to accomplish many of the achievements the game’s makers set out for you. Things such as having a village that encompasses five sea tiles fill up a huge list of “Developments” you can set out to complete with your latest run through. It’s up to you to pick out which achievements you must complete in order to consider your game a success or you can just plow into a session doing your best and see what you happen to complete by the end. Either way, this is a flimsy set of motivations to keep playing Reus once you have a good handle on what’s going on.
Once you dip into the one- and two-hour long games, you have a good concept of what needs to be done to have villages succeed and you also know that pausing the game lets you set a task for each giant without wasting time on the clock. This mode of efficiently managing your world eventually leads to a “one hour” game lasting two and three times that, and for what? To unlock a little circle picture badge thing. It’s a somewhat satisfying achievement to get those little doo-dads, but it just takes so darn long to get to the end state and see what you’ve accomplished that it’s hard to carry on.
I eventually smacked into a mountain of boredom that I could no longer make myself clamber over. At that point, I wasn’t just wanting to stop, but I was also pretty sad about what an awful turn the game had taken for me. I was thrilled to be digging into the game’s rules, studying every little pop-up window and side-bar info box. I liked to try and indirectly goad a civilization into war with another by futzing with its resources. I even liked leveling a city to make a new one just for kicks. Everything was just going so well and then it was over in a moment.
If only those first few hours could be extended to somehow last through the duration of the game. Oh, what a devoted Reus follower I would be! Those wondrous early times of figuring out the rules and putting them to work for my little planet were incredible while they lasted and I think it might be worth your time if that sounds fun to you. Just prepare for the eventual disheartening decline when you thoroughly understand the game and don’t want to play it any more.