chlomo's Populous: The Beginning (Collector) (PC) review

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"Shaman, your mana is too low"

Easily one of my favourite strategy/god games on PC, Populous is the story of a young Shaman's journey into godhood. You control the shaman and the her followers and learn to use spells and new technologies to wipe out other shamans who's usually have the advantage in a series of differing scenarios.

The gameplay revolves around organising a settlement, gaining knowledge, training your followers, building an army and scoping out the enemy before you attack or they attack you, each level starts with the enemy knowing something you don't so you either have to learn the skill to become their equal or find another way to defeat them. This is made interesting because there's so many skills and spells that counter each other perfectly, you can train your braves (basic followers that do all the building) to become preachers who can convert enemy braves to your tribe, which includes all other units except the shaman and an enemy preacher who will disrupt the brainwashing and start a fight. This unit can be devastating as you can lose large numbers of your own tribe who will then start destroying your huts and fighting your braves. But you can also use the swarm of bugs spell to send any tribe that isn't yours running away frantically which also prevents brainwashing. If an enemy builds a watchtower with a fire warrior in it that shoots fireballs to defend their settlement, strike it by lightning. Combining things too is also fun with technologies like the hot air balloon and the fire warrior that were made to go together, creating a floating strike team that fireballs the enemy from above is endless fun.

Building your settlement and defending it is another important factor too, building houses means followers multiply, sometimes out of thin air! you've also got the many training huts where you can send braves to be trained in the art of being more than braves and getting them to construct boats, hot air balloons and construct watchtowers where more settlements can be built. Using all the different brave types including the warriors, spies, preachers and fire warriors to build a ridiculous army and laying waste to the enemy town is the most fun a girl can have until the enemy shaman interferes.

The chaos that ensues of two tribes having an all out war is fun to watch but when two shamans join the battle too then it really starts to get crazy, using all the magical spells at your disposal, the later into the game you are and the more spells you know, the more awesome this is. Summoning tornadoes and earthquakes to tear up the huts and throw the enemy followers into the air, calling down a meteor shower that pummels the ground and anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in it, sending in a winged angel of death that picks up individual braves and devours them or the one spell to rule them all, the volcano. The volcano is the best spell period, once you know that it's like having an ace up your sleeve, once you cast it the ground shakes and a volcano emerges from it, spewing out lava, killing braves and burning down enemy huts and once it's done the land is spoiled so they can't build on it until it returns to normal. Every one of the spells has it's purpose be it productive like turning wildmen into braves, shaping the terrain or building a land bride to access other things to the aforementioned crazy stuff, though the spell roster is limited to only 17 spells, I never felt like I was lacking. Casting spells requires mana though and you can use your followers belief in you to charge each individual spell to it's maximum number of uses.

But defeat is something you'll have to face sometime, when your shaman is killed they can resurrect at the reincarnation site, but when all you're followers have been killed and the shaman has died, it's game over.

There's a lot of variety in it's gameplay and the spells are fun to use, I also love the soundtrack, you get a real heady mystical vibe from the heavy synths and chanting, I love the sprite work that takes me back to Bullfrog's previous game Theme Hospital and with some level's stretching on for an hour or so it's definitely long enough.

My gripes with the game are very minor, the pathfinding can be a little off and when a brave can't get to where you ask them to do, either the narrator will chime in and say they can't do that or they'll put their arms up in the air and wait to be told something else, if you don't tell them to do something else, they'll literally die. I thought this was some kind of illness to begin with but nope, it's a result of the terrain being uneven and the pathfinding struggling to adjust for it. Also don't bother with the playstation version of the game if you want a decent experience with it, after a while the poor system has a hard time keeping the framerate steady and busy battles and chaotic spells causes the framerate to tank. It also requires an entire memory card to save the game once and takes an exceedingly long time to do it.

Populous: The Beginning is one of my favourite real time strategy games, it's simplistic in the way it's presented without stats or tech trees like Age Of Empires but is more fun if you prefer getting down to the nitty gritty of worshipping some stone heads and gaining some advanced knowledge and building a giant army to cause some serious pain on your enemy.

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