From Dust – E3 Preview

Imagine having the power to shape the land, to move mountains and part the sea. It would be pretty cool wouldn’t it? Well, Ubisoft’s From Dust offers you just that, but as we know all too well, with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s your responsibility to care for a group of villagers as they fight for their own survival.  Our story starts with a totem in the centre of an island and a small tribe of mask wearing villagers near the south shore.  The first task is easy enough and you need to guide the villagers to the totem at the island’s centre, which is easily achieved by simply clicking on it.

The villagers make their way to the totem and start to construct a small village made up of huts built from nearby trees. It’s shortly after this founding of the village that the shaman forsees a huge wave that will wipe out the small settlement on the tiny island. Somebody from the village steps up and embarks on a quest to obtain the power of water from a glowing blue stone up in the mountains to the north; I don’t know if he has name but I shall refer to him as ‘Hero’.

As Hero sets off on his journey, the task ahead of him seems impossible.  Making his way through the village, down the hill through the trees to the northern shore, he reaches the sea which needs to be crossed to the mainland… before a long walk across a desert, finding a way through a raging river and, eventually, climbing a mountain to the stone. Then he needs to make his way back to the village before the monstrous wave hits.  Sounds like quite the adventure doesn’t it? Well, this is his adventure and you won’t be playing it out; your job as his deity is to help him on his path. You have no direct control over our hero other than simply clicking on the blue stone to inform him of where he needs to go; after that he’ll set off and find his own way. He’s not going to be able to make it off that island on his own though, so your first task is to create a way across for him. You could (like I first did) try and part the sea, but you can only hold so much water and there is far too much to cope with.  So I headed for the desert to gather up as much sand as I could carry and went back to build Hero a bridge of sorts by laying the sand down in a straight line. He got about half way across it before the power of the sea broke it down and washed it away, so I tried a new tactic and sprinkled multiple balls of sand over a wider area, bringing the sea bed up until it became a nice flat piece of land for the hero to cross.

As our selfless hero made his way across the, now, pot-holed desert (thanks to my recent land building venture) I couldn’t help but notice the level of detail in the game as I played around with the camera. The standard viewpoint is the same as most RTS games, allowing you to view all things relevant, but still gives a real sense of scale as you pull mountain ranges apart. I only found myself clicking on the viewpoint of about twice that distance once in a while, however, just so I could check on the hero’s progress while I was nosing around further away. Then, the most impressive of the three viewpoints: the close up.  I was amazed that a game that can show me this huge, expansive area from one viewpoint also lets me zoom right in up close to a point where I can see cracks in the clay, our hero’s mask and even his loin cloth flapping about in the wind.

Eventually, the saviour of the village reaches the raging river at the foot of the mountains, “this one’s easy,” I thought to myself, as I proceeded to gather up another large ball of sand and deposit it smack on top of the river… which then redirected itself around the huge mound of sand before eventually continuing down towards the sea. I paused for a moment, trying to work out how exactly to stop the raging torrent; I couldn’t risk redirecting again with the same method as I had nearly swept the hero of the village away in my last attempt. Then something clicked and I headed upstream to cut the river off at the source. When I arrived I was greeted by a beautiful looking waterfall that, unfortunately, needed to be stopped, so I took a huge chunk out of the surrounding land and dammed it up at the top, just like I did when I originally tried to build a bridge.

With the river now stopped I headed back to our brave soul who had now made his way across the river bed and started up the mountain. A rock climber he is not though, so I decided to build a ramp of sand for him to climb up.  I might have gone a bit over the top with the amount of sand needed, and maybe a little over the top with the dumping of it on the mountainside. What I’d just created was a huge avalanche of sand that washed the young hero away. I was feeling pretty bad at this point; Hero was just lying there at the bottom of the mountain, not moving.  I thought he was dead. I gave him a poke… nothing. The village was miles away and I realised there wasn’t time to get anybody else there before the wave hit, as I started to travel back towards the, now, doomed village.

I crossed over a small oasis of water in the desert on the way and thought to myself “nahhhhh no game’s that clever, that only works in cartoons,” but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway, and gathered up the small amount of water into a ball and headed back up towards the fallen hero. I gently dropped it on him, not realising the strength of my own power, and ended up washing him further down the mountain range, but he got up! Oh thank g… me.  He continued on his journey, making his way up the mountain, this time via a different path, to reach the stone and obtain its power. The hero raised a blue kite to indicate he had it and swiftly made his way back to the village, sliding down the side of the mountain, over the dry riverbed of souls and across the, now newly named, Crater Desert.

He paused at the shore; my sandbank from earlier had eroded in the tide while we were gone and I could see the monstrous wave on the horizon thundering ever closer to the village.  Quickly, I pulled another chunk of land from Crater Desert and built him away across to the island. He ran across it, up and up the hill towards the village through the palm trees, just making it to the totem in the centre and attaching the kite. Then, not a second after, the sea to the south started to draw back prior to the huge wave breaking on the south of the island; this wave was higher than the mountain range to the north and I was convinced the village was done for. The wave was so large it started to block out the sunlight and a huge shadow was cast over the village.  Suddenly, however, the wave started to part as if an invisible shield now surrounded the village, and the people were saved.

From Dust is one of those sort of games that you could easily loose yourself to for hours, and you will.  While my story above sounds like it could have been played out over the course of a few hours, back in the real world it was the first 10 minutes of just one level. From Dust is beautiful, immersive and, at times, heartwarming. Although it doesn’t really have a story as such you’ll find yourself making them up in your head, much like I did with the village hero. I am curious to find out if my experience with the fallen hero and water is a mechanic that is built into the game or was just a glitch where he got stuck on an invisible nothing; I hope it’s the former but, truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. On the face of it, you could argue that From Dust is more of a puzzle game than anything else, but it has an endearing charm about it that few games possess; it really does make you feel like a god.

From Dust is currently due for release during the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade which kicks off on July 20th 2011.

Last five articles by Lee



  1. Samuel Samuel says:

    This looks awesome. Actually, it looks like someone took Populous: The Beginning, scrapped the ropey combat, and gave it a beautiful graphic overhaul. Again, a game I’d not heard of, but which I’m positively salivating over as the result of a Lee preview. I may just start calling them Leeviews now.

    Definitely keeping an eye on this. I’ve wanted a game like this for a very long time now, Populous never quite delivered on its potential and then the franchise vanished altogether. This looks like it goes even further with the God Player side of things.

  2. Furie says:

    When I first heard of this game I was sure that the tech would end up being a gimmick in the world, like so many games have had. However, each showing is getting me more and more excited for it, showing off how immersive the gameplay is and how in depth the system can be. Looks like Xbox Live is going to be the source of some of this year’s better games in my house.

  3. Stu Stu says:

    Echoing Samuel, this definitely reminds me of the Populous games. I’m very intrigued by this and hopefully, if a success, a true Populous 2 (the best of the bunch) remake may be on the cards!

  4. Richie richie says:

    Wow, this could be excellent. It certainly looks different. Hopefully it won’t be a Black and White clusterfuck.

    Good write up, Leroy. I’m officially interested in this now.

  5. Joeydale13 says:

    I want to make love to this game…now.

  6. Mark mark_s says:

    I saw this a year or so back and thought about games like black and white. God sims. This looks like a different take on them and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    Nicely done Lee.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    I hadn’t heard of this until I read your preview and now I’m wondering why the fuck not. It sounds incredible, like a far better version of Populous, with some stunning visuals. Shame I missed seeing this one in the flesh at E3, but will now certainly be keeeping an eye on any news.

  8. Ste Ste says:

    Looks great. Reminds me of black and White but good. Nice preview

  9. UselessJack says:

    That really sounds awesome, I’ll keep an eye on that. The graphics and art style are really stunning. Oh, and good job with the article Lee :)

  10. Edward Edward says:

    After reading about this, I’m gobsmacked as to why Ubisoft didn’t talk about this in their conference. It sounds utterly fantastic, and I’m going to be keeping my eye on it. It’s this and Bastion that are making me look forward to the XBLA again :D

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