Charming strategy game where you use powers to battle natural disasters

User Rating: 8 | From Dust PC
From Dust is a strategy game where you control the forces of nature to battle nature. You are a deity and need to escort a tribe of lowly humans across a landscape so they can capture totems. To do this you have the power of breath, letting you absorb basic elements and redistribute them elsewhere. As you protect your brainless tribe you unlock new powers and gain access to objects that make From Dust more complicated than it appears. Most of your actions involve the breath power.

As a powerful being you view the world from above and can absorb material from below. Water can be sucked up and redistributed to put out fires or quell lava flows. Earth is vacuumed into a ball and placed near rivers to redirect flow or used to bridge gaps between landmasses. Lava is absorbed to make solid rock mountains or steer the magma from a volcano. These absorbed abilities are enhanced by nifty side powers that are gained from capturing totems.

You can amplify your absorption, increasing the amount you can swallow before you need to empty it. Water and be turned into Jelly and can be manipulated creating a temporary path within a wall of water. Totems can be imbued with captured objects to protect them from lava and water. These repel the forces of nature like two similar poles on a magnet. There are even fire trees and plants that release water when heated. You'll need these powers when you are fighting the insane forces of nature.

Tsunamis, volcano eruptions, torrential rains, rising waters and moving earth are problems you face. Because many are cyclical you may have some time to manage the world while things are quiet. Many of these events occur in conjunction so your time is split between different locations. Later missions push the boundaries of this management and keep you constantly occupied. Once your tribe captures each totem they can move through the tunnel to the next mission.

You lead your tribe to totems and they will try to take the optimum route. You need to babysit them by protecting them from water, lava and helping them cross small obstacles when they complain. Sometimes they will head in a direction that puts them near a lava pool about to overflow. Other times they will complain about the slightest bit of water on their precious earth. Worse still is when they can't overcome a slight incline. Then there are times when they walk in a loop or can't move for an unknown reason.

The tribe can survive the water but swim badly and tend to move in the opposite direction. You can't direct them to stand in a specific location while you carefully move nature. The AI makes for some frustrating sections because they take your focus away from battling nature. With all the powers at your fingertips you are still at the mercy of the human condition. Thankfully the quality of the game overcomes most of the AI issues.

From Dust is as much a technical achievement as it is a good game. Water and lava flows naturally down valleys and creates large deltas. Plants slowly spread across the earth and can catch fire which can destroy your captured totems. Water even comes to rest to produce lakes or bounces against the land masses after a tsunami. Much like an artist with a canvas you paint the surface with almost as much freedom. There is elegance when crafting the world to save your tribe.

From Dust is a good strategy game, and the difficulty is a good balance between freedom and micro management. There are additional and more direct challenges you can undertake outside the campaign. These may have you racing against an incoming Tsunami using limited power. If the AI was better, or at least allowed some direct control, there wouldn't be much to dislike. The 'always online' DRM is apparently being removed in an upcoming patch but it caused no problems. From Dust is a stylish strategy game that captures the beauty and power of nature.