It's been quite a few years since Éric Chahi, the man behind the cult hit Another World, made his last game. Now he's back with From Dust, and fans of his previous efforts have been excited to see if it would be something special as well. Fortunately, it is indeed something special.
From Dust is an unabashed God game. It thrives on its mythology and the way it draws the player into the mysteries of its world, all while the player tries to tame elemental forces and bring his tribe safely forward in their search for the promised land of their forefathers.
This makes it all the more surprising that the game is actually fairly light on story. The story exists, but you have to get much of the information from collectables that are either placed in the map or are rewarded to you for completing secondary objectives.
This information also acts as your guide to various obstacles in the world, which is actually a bit of a shame. You basically get the mythological background for some creature, followed by a short list of what it does and doesn't do, which can put a dent in the immersion from time to time. Still, getting to know the world is definitely recommended if you like a good story.
Although the world is a mythical one, it's clearly inspired by the sort of small islands you'd find in the Pacific Ocean, and the tribespeople are clearly inspired by tribes from Africa and South America. The game uses these inspirations very well, and the visual aesthetic makes the game feel very authentic, while still looking fantastical. The game looks very nice, and the technology is able to keep up very well, so thankfully you don't have to worry about slowdown or glitches.
The soundscape is also very well accomplished. You'll only hear occasional voice acting, and because the language is a mix of Indonesian and Malay it helps maintain the illusion of an exotic world. The soundtrack is also quite nice, though you'll often be playing without any background music. Sometimes it would have been nice to have had more music, but it works well enough without.
The entire presentation does very well at getting you into the gameplay, and it's also where the joy is really at. The game is simply fun to play; it puts you in a sandbox, and all of a sudden you're six years old and the sandbox has an actual volcano in it! And a sea! And huge waves! Best sandbox ever, yay!
You're playing as a 'Breath', a being your tribe uses to communicate with the elements, and you have the ability to pick up soil, water and lava and deposit it around the map. You also get various abilities down the road, like the ability to temporarily turn water into jelly, so you can more easily move it.
Your goal is to activate several totems around the map to open up the passage to the next map, which in itself is simple enough. But when you have to protect your tribe from volcanos, tsunamis, floods, fires and what have you, each map becomes a small playground where you battle the forces of nature.
It's all very smooth, with nice controls, though a tad simple in the long run. The game does fairly well at shaking things up with the maps, so you get different challenges. In addition, there are the challenge maps. Here you have to beat specific challenges against the clock, and it's a good showcase for the various mechanics in the game. There's a leaderboard where you can compare scores with your friends too, though competing about getting the fastest completion time feels odd, when the game isn't designed around precision gameplay. Most of the challenge maps are still fairly easy though.
In fact, the game as a whole isn't terribly difficult. Or rather, the difficulty will rarely frustrate you. What might frustrate you is the way the tribespeople move. You can't control how the individual members of the tribe move, so when you try to get someone from the tribe to a specific position, the game chooses who to send and how they'll get there. Normally that would be fine, but they aren't always very good at finding their way, and the game isn't always good at pointing out where they need help in order to keep moving.
And that's really about it. It's a great, polished, slightly flawed experience that will last you between five hours (if you just blast through the singleplayer) and ten hours (if you take your time in the campaign and go through the challenge maps as well). If you do take your time with it, you're also likely to complete all secondary objectives, and when you've done that there isn't much reason to come back to the game, unless you feel like wrestling a volcano at some point. And let's be honest, how can you not?