03 April, 2016

Reus review

Originally posted on 17 May, 2013.
Author: Urist McDorf

Reus is a bloody amazing tapestry of interwoven elements. The best way I've ever heard it described is "a positioning-based puzzle that disguises itself as a god game". Remember games like Populous and Black & White, where you'd get to indirectly control your followers as a deity of some kind? See how Reus kind of looks like one of those? Forget it, they're nothing alike.

What this game really is about is making the best of extremely limited resources. You are given a set amount of time (from half an hour to two hours at the highest), a small planet divided into tiles (it's pretty much one-dimensional) and four giants that can either change the terrain type of a bunch of tiles, place a source in a tile (the resulting source is based on the type being placed and what terrain it's being placed in, so an "exotic animal" means different things in swamps and in forests) or use an activated ability like healing all other giants. All those actions have a cooldown. Sources give points of three different types (food, science and wealth), and human cities appear to make use of those points. Your goal is to get as many total points as you can by the time your time runs out. Simple so far, right?

Except the resources by themselves are only half the battle, what actually makes you scratch your head are their symbiosis bonuses. Blueberries triple their food output if near certain other plants. Agates give extra wealth when next to animal nests. Frogs increase their tile coverage and give more wealth per tile when next to elderberries. That's what makes positioning so important in Reus - you have to figure out how to place sources next to eachother to maximise their output.

Now you think you've got the hang of it and can plan ahead far enough; you might even have a few favourite three- or four-tile source combos you've developed while playing the game. Then come the ambassadors. You see, the human cities I mentioned start projects that require a certain number of specific points (like 15 food) to complete. When they are, not only they give an extra boost to the point output in that village (again, depending on other sources in vicinity or in the world), but the village also produces an ambassador that can be put on any of the giants. Depending on the giant and the type of ambassador the giant gets a new ability or upgrades an old one. The abilities you get at first usually allow the giant to place an enhancement on a source. The enhancements provide a small boost to the source's point output and - that's the most important part - sources with enhancements can be upgraded into other types of sources with completely different symbiosis prerequisites. So now you have to completely rework your combo so that it supports the updated resource, because, well, with the right setups the upgraded resources ARE better.

Don't even get me started on the fact that if you give too many points to the humans too fast they'll start being greedy and attack you or other cities (and that's under a time limit, remember). Or the fact that each type of source (mineral, plant or animal) has a specific mechanic that further sets it apart from others. Or the fact that you will never have enough ambassadors to fully upgrade your giants so you'll have to pick which enhancements and sources for each giant you prefer. Or the fact that you unlock new upgrades for sources by completing specific tasks like "have 500 food in use by the end of the era".

Beneath a simple facade, beautiful artstyle and soothing instrumental music lies a game that manages to be relaxing and brutal at the same time. Each and every element in Reus serves a purpose and they all come together to create one of the best games I've ever played. If you like puzzles, things that make you think, you cannot miss this one.

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