The game presents a living, breathing world, where you're just as at the mercy of the elements as the villagers are. There's no denying it's a huge technical achievement, but the dynamic nature of the experience is to the detriment of the game itself. It feels sacrilegious to say so, but often the game simply isn't enjoyable. It can be incredibly frustrating trying to get your villagers where they need to be. At times they'll get stuck on seemingly flat pieces of land, or faff about for no particular reason - waiting for that volcano to erupt, or for a tsunami to wipe out their village. Time plays a huge role in the game, and getting things done before the disaster strikes is imperative.
The game has the ability to make you feel distressingly powerless. Whilst From Dust is about manipulating your environment, it would have been nice to have a slightly more extensive range of commands to dish out to your villagers. Getting the little chaps from A to B is a constant struggle. I'm well aware this is what the game is all about, but it's challenging for the wrong reasons. Questionable AI and a single command of 'go here' - which randomly assigns five villagers to the task, who often aren't the best people for the job - is at the root of the frustrations. Being able to choose who you sent, or at the very least which of the other villages they left from, would have made things much easier.
The experience takes on more of a sandbox form at the end, and it's here that things start to become a lot more fun. With the creative freedom to do whatever you want with the land (and create the totems themselves), the notion of your godlike nature is reinforced.
As you progress through the story challenges are unlocked in a separate mode off the main menu. Here, you're presented with bite-size problems in which you'll need to use the powers of the Breath to overcome. One such puzzle has you helping the tribe cross a series of waterfalls, demanding that you absorb the water before it carries the poor villagers downstream.
Another challenge presents a countdown to a tsunami, with a village sitting nervously on the beach in front of it. The idea is to get a villager, who has the repel water power, back to the village in time. He's standing on a mountain miles away from the village, however, and will never get there in time - not unless you can find a rather unorthodox way of speeding his descent. There are 30 of these challenges in total, extending the life of the 8-10 hour story considerably.
From Dust is a glorious reminder of how fascinating a good god-sim can be. Both from a technical and visual perspective it's hard to fault, but the 'game' gets lost somewhere amongst all the incredible things you can do with the terrain. There's a poor sense of progression to it, ultimately; once you've set up all four villages, you're off and onto the next area. It never feels like your efforts are leading to anything.
It's easy to appreciate From Dust, but harder to enjoy it. Regardless of this fact, it's an important game - bold, innovative and different - and well worth checking out during the summer drought.