Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. She cooks up storms, gives birth to tsunamis, spreads fires and - in a rather unladylike fashion - belches red-hot lava from fissures in the earth. She wipes out entire villages on a whim, without a care in the world for their half-naked dwellers. As the sole villain in From Dust, she's a powerful adversary indeed.
Thankfully, you're more powerful. As the Breath of God, fuelled by the unwavering faith of an itinerant tribe, you can quite literally move mountains to protect them from her wrath. You have the ability to influence the very geometry of the land: you can build bridges of earth, redirect rivers and part seas. And you can do all this dynamically, sculpting the landscape like a potter might a lump of clay.
The physics in From Dust, Eric Chahi's spiritual successor to Populous, are nothing short of astounding. The simple act of picking up soil from one location and depositing it in another is a small technical marvel. Watching the world react to your divine interventions is without a doubt the game's strongest asset.
As the god of a tribe of wandering, mask-wearing nomads, it's your job to ensure their journey through the world is a safe one. Each new territory shares the same objective: to create settlements around four totems dotted about the environment. In terms of its moment-to-moment gameplay, you're helping the tribe reach these totems by building a path there. With a village at each of the four idols, passage to the next area is granted.
It takes five tribesmen to activate a totem, whose prayers will cause the surrounding area to spring into life. As long as there's soil connected to the area in some way, plants and shrubbery will spread like a beautiful virus, eventually attracting wildlife to the area. Covering 100 per cent of an area in vegetation is the secondary objective for each level (and a feat worthy of an achievement).
With each totem successfully acquired you'll be awarded a new power. Amplify the Breath, for example, enables you to scoop up much larger quantities of matter. Jellify Water solidifies the seas, allowing you to guide your people through alleyways carved in the ocean, just like Moses. Arguably the best of the bunch, Infinite Earth, lets you dump as much soil as you like on an area in a set period of time; this is particularly helpful in volcanic areas where soil is thin on the ground.
From Dust is a god sim, a strategy game, but safely guiding the tribe to each totem is a puzzle, more than anything else. Often you'll need the power of a specific totem in order to reach the next one. Working out the right order is at the crux of the solution. Each village is constantly at risk of being wiped out by a natural disaster, and it's your job to ensure this doesn't happen. Special items about the game world need to be collected in order to keep the village safe. The power to resist water, for example, is vital in surviving a tsunami, forming a little imaginary bubble around the village. Should fire begin to spread through the lands, you'll want to have some Water Trees planted near your settlements, which expel large quantities of the wet stuff, stopping the flames in their tracks.
There's definitely a right way to go about doing things, and while the game holds your hand for the first few areas, you're quickly left to your own devices, forced to work things out on your own. Working out what to do can descend into trial and error, however, and once lava comes into play (which solidifies once deposited) this can permanently ruin a map, forcing a restart. For longer levels, some of which might last up to an hour, this can be quite upsetting.