Wednesday 17 January 2018

Godus iOS Review - free-to-play ruins games

Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

Ever since I bought my first iPad, I've been on the quest for quality gaming experiences that would keep me entertained beyond a simple distraction, which is why the prospect of Godus was so exciting.

3/5; Free; iOS

Flagged for a long time thanks to its Kickstarter campaign, Godus is the brain child of the legendary Peter Molyneux. Scan through his resume and you'll find some of my favourite games: Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Black & White and more. This man knows how to design a great game.

Godus puts the player in the role of a god, tasked with helping their followers by sculpting the land and 'inspiring' simple minds. The first major twist on the classic god game is the ability to sculpt the land using touch screen inputs. With this feature in mind, iOS was the logical review choice over the PC version.

First impressions were positive. The sculpting is pretty cool, moving layers of land which join and separate with your finger strokes, and the graphics are nice and crisp.

A few hours into the game and the controls had lost their shine. By day two, I was lost in frustration.

One of the main problems with the game is the free-to-play model. You sculpt the land using 'belief' that your users generate over time. Initially this leads to waiting around doing nothing, but at least belief is generated in about five minutes and the more you develop your settlement, the more belief you have to work with. But then you realise that the price of abilities keeps going up and new costs are soon placed on the user.

Initially houses cost only time and a free builder. Soon they cost wheat. Wheat takes an hour to generate.

You have the ability to plant trees to keep your followers happy. This starts at 100 belief but increases by 10 with each use. In my current game it costs 900 belief just to plant a tree.

The more the player progresses in the game, the more costs appear to restrict their progress. This of course is all about driving you to spending real money on gems which are then converted into resources.

I had a hunch that micro transactions would play a large part in a freemium game - how else would they make money - but it happens in such an irritating in-your-face way. Little ads popping up in the corner and wave about whenever you don't have enough resources. This is annoying, but not as invasive as the updates that appear along the right of the screen. Logic would suggest a simple swipe would remove these, but I found them hindering play until I clicked.

Quite often the pop-ups would lead to a time-limited voyage, where you sail from island to island, solving puzzles. The voyages are actually a nice touch, changing the game from god sim to puzzler, but again the free-to-play system raises its user unfriendly head. Your ship holds thirty followers and the aim of the game is to get a set amount (normally 10) to a temple somewhere on the island. This means you usually have three chances before you have to leave the voyage. Of course, you can always buy more followers. This wouldn't be as annoying if the game didn't allow you to get right to the point of starting a new puzzle, before informing you that you need more men.

The island missions bring home the inaccuracy of the controls. When the pressure is on and the clock is ticking down, sculpting can all too often go wrong and result in failure. Trying to swipe a single layer to allow your followers to climb can be all too tricky and unfortunately it's the most common move required.

There are a few more initially fun but ultimately annoying features.

Upgrades come in the form of cards, earned by reaching certain milestones. You claim these cards by placing a certain amount of appropriate stickers on them. At first you'll be flying through cards, but soon it will take numerous voyages to save enough stickers. Of course, you can always buy a sticker pack.

A happiness meter is introduced, which gives you a necessary measurement of your performance and pits you against a rival tribe. At certain intervals, the other tribe will have a party. If your happiness is below theirs, you'll lose followers. This is nice at the start, but soon nothing seems to keep your followers happy, perhaps a hint to spend gems on fountains and other expensive objects.

All these gripes may be countered by "but games are meant to get more difficult," but the challenge here is not about skill or strategy, it's about spending money or waiting.

One aspect that definitely has nothing to do with gameplay is the need to connect to a server. I waited for my various resources to fill and went back looking forward to a productive spurt. I couldn't connect to the server. Instead of allowing me to potter along on my island until a reconnection, the game locked me out. Not ideal for players expecting to play on flights or in the wilderness.

I've given Godus 3/5, despite by negative grumblings. The puzzle voyages are clever and enjoyable and there's something addictive about sculpting the landscape. Godus promises an interconnected world with interlinking lands. I've yet to explore to the point where I've met other players, so perhaps this element will revolutionise the game, though I'm skeptical. 

I was curious about the PC version and found a Metacritic score of 1.9. It seems many players had the expectation of a god game along the lines of Molyneux's greats, but instead found something that has far too much in common with Farmville. The Kickstarter campaign and Peter Molyneux's involvement created huge expectations and unfortunately Godus just doesn't quite deliver. 

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