No other PC game to date has so effectively combined so many seemingly incompatible elements into one highly polished game.
After three years in the making, Lionhead Studios' first game manages to live up to the extremely high expectations after all. It's a massive game about lofty concepts--gods and miracles--and yet the game is genuinely funny. The scope of Black & White is so far in excess of a typical game design that it seems surprising that the finished product turned out so polished and so playable. Still, its many different elements require a lot of explanation--the game has lots of mainstream appeal, but its sophisticated mechanics may quickly confound more casual players. Black & White is clearly a labor of love by designer Peter Molyneux and his staff. While some aspects of it take getting used to, and can even be frustrating, there's just so much to see and experience in Black & White that its shortcomings should not turn you away from this incredible game.
Because so much about Black & White seems so unusual, it's only natural to be curious about exactly how the game plays. It's definitely true that some aspects of the game simply defy categorization--however, it's also the case that, at its core, Black & White is a strategy game that's reminiscent of several of Peter Molyneux's previous games from when he was at Bullfrog Productions. You play as a god, depicted throughout the game merely as a disembodied hand, and your object is to gain the worship of villages throughout the world. You have complete control over the 3D perspective of the game and complete control over more or less everything else in the world. You can personally see to making villagers work more efficiently. As you gain more followers, your sphere of influence grows over the land, eventually encompassing other outlying villages, which you'll have to convert to your faith. Their belief in you is quantified within the game, and the more faithful villagers you have, the greater the territory you control, and the more potential you have for creating miracles--which are essentially magic spells.
You inspire belief in villagers by doing anything godlike. This is one of the more interesting parts of the game, because it's so open-ended and really rewards your creativity. If you want to convert a village, one perfectly viable approach is to help out the villagers for a while. You can drop food and wood into the villagers' stockpile; you can shower rain onto their crops; you can impress them with miraculous spectacles, such as flocks of doves; you can protect them with magical barriers; and you can even send in friendly missionaries from one of your converted towns. If you repeat one of these types of actions continuously, it'll have less and less of an effect on the village. This forces you to try lots of different things, but of course, you don't have to play nice. A much quicker approach can involve unleashing divine cataclysms such as fireballs and lightning storms upon the town--they'll believe in you in a hurry once their precious village is ablaze. You can kidnap townspeople and bring them over to your village or fling the heathen villagers across the sky, to the terror of their former neighbors. You can even send massive boulders smashing through their buildings. An evil approach may be quicker--but then again you'll inherit a shambles of a town once it submits to you. This makes the good approach rather more suitable for when territorial gain is important, and it usually is.
Other gods in the game usually have the same goals as you do, and during those times when more than one god is vying for control of a single village, the game can actually turn into a rather frustrating stalemate, since converting a village takes awhile. And even though territorial expansion is important in Black & White, you must simultaneously consider many other factors. For one thing, while your villages are autonomous, they're not quite as self-reliant as you'd wish they were. Their supplies of wood and food--the two main resources in the game--tend to run dangerously low, as the availability of either food or wood in the environment tends to be limited. As such, you'll constantly need to be there to make the supplies appear out of thin air by casting the appropriate miracles repeatedly. Besides this, constructing new buildings in town can be a difficult process. It requires that you first build scaffolding in a workshop by assigning a few villagers to the task. Depending on the building you want to make, you'll need to combine up to seven pieces of scaffolding, and once that's ready, the building itself requires still more resources and personnel. It's a very involved process that's more cumbersome than it ought to be, especially since your townspeople won't usually build anything on their own. They'll just complain about needing more houses until you lay the foundations yourself.