One lesson that I took from playing From Dust is that the geology is an awesome thing to study. I remember taking geology in college and learning all about rocks and the formations of land masses and their evolution over time. Reading about it was one thing, but actually going out in the field and examining igneous rock formations and how they shaped our surroundings made texts more easy to understand. While From Dust isn’t meant to be educational, you could say that it will teach you to appreciate geology because it excels in representing the dynamics of the earth’s elements. Being a god-like entity capable of controlling the earth and shaping the land also beats reading a textbook.
From Dust puts you in the role of an omnipotent wisp of energy known as the Breath that is capable of absorbing and moving around elements such as water, land, and lava. Using the left shoulder button to absorb an element and the right shoulder button to release it, you will have to assist a tribe of humans to build villages and power up totems that will open up the way to other maps. It sounds easy, but remember that the earth is both your supplier of resources and your adversary. Each of the game’s story mode levels offers a new challenge for you to deal with such as incoming typhoons, floods, and forest fires. As the game progresses, these challenges become more difficult and more tricky to complete.
You will also be able to utilize unique powers that will amplify your abilities and allow you to affect your surroundings more effectively for a limited time. For example, these let you absorb a higher quantity of an element, jellify water, and create an infinite supply of land. They range depending on what map you are playing on and can only be used if a particular village is up and running.
Your villagers, bless their hearts, aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, it seems, and will give you trouble when leading them to different locations. From Dust only lets you direct your villagers to specific totems on the map, so you can’t actually control their movement. This means that while sometimes you will want your villager to reach a totem via a convenient route you just cleared for them, they, however, will go a different way and get stuck.
Like I mentioned earlier, my favorite parts of the game involve the game’s physics engine and the smooth representation of the elements in motion. The earth is alive, and you will see how everything exists side by side with each other. Water will erode the land, lava will harden and form cliffs for you to build upon, and volcanoes will succumb to the inevitable inundation of the ocean. One map I really enjoyed playing, despite taking me about an hour to finish, gave me the challenge of handling a series of typhoons and lava flows. After causing a small lake to flow into the neck of the volcano thus eliminating its destructive force, I was filled with a great sense of accomplishment that I had just outwitted nature and replicated something that our very own planet has done before.
The game may take you a few hours depending on how quickly you solve each map. You don’t have a time limit, but some maps do have timed catastrophic events that will cause you to hurry up. There is also a challenge mode that gives you various scenarios to clear under certain restrictions, but these can be solved rather quickly. My only other concern aside from the game’s brevity is that the game has a rather long initial loading time and doesn’t let you skip cutscenes. It also froze on me several times, and parts of the audio randomly went missing during the last few maps.
This game may not be as scientifically correct as a geology textbook, but it sure makes it look like fun. I had a great time molding the earth during my time with From Dust and only wish it lasted a bit longer and ran without hiccups. I also wish the game offered more than just the challenge of activating each totem and allowed for us to interact more with our villagers. However, this is why I believe the developers spent so much time on the game’s physics. They want you to feel the power of wielding the earth in your hands.
A review code for From Dust was provided to me by Ubisoft. I played the game to completion, playing through several of the game’s challenge mode scenarios as well.
A copy of From Dust for Xbox 360 was provided to us from Ubisoft for this review.