Unfinished Business is NME’s new column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access Games. This week, Rick Lane chills out by blowing up Civilisation in WorldBox – God Simulator.
Worldbox: God Simulator is precisely the game I needed after a particularly stressful January, and not only because it let me drop a meteor on a village while pretending it was the headquarters of the HMRC. Straddling the line between game and creative toolset, WorldBox is a lighter take on god games, sort-of ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Black & White.’
The premise is the same as any other god game; you are an omnipotent deity with the power to shape the world as you see fit. Unlike most games in its genre, however, there are no barriers set between you and that power. All your godly abilities are available from the get-go, and you don’t need to accrue some arbitrary currency like Faith or Belief to deploy them.
From your celestial perch, you look down upon a vast, pixelly continent shaped like a lizard, or possibly a lemur, I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, it’s up to you whether it stays shaped like that, or whether you craft your own landscape using WorldBox‘s delightful suite of editing tools. Building your world is done primarily with three different brush types. The first group of brushes is for placing raw terrain, like soil or sand. The next group are ‘biome seeds’, which let you turn barren earth into lush jungle, verdant grassland or giant mushroom forests. The last category revolves around trees, bushes, rocks, and other landscape features that could be used as resources by any civilisations which happen along.
WorldBox‘s landscaping tools are all brilliantly tactile. I love the sound the biome seeds make as your sprinkle them across the landscape, or ice and snow crunches as you lower the temperature of a region, transforming it into an arctic wonderland. There are also some lovely details baked into the creation systems, such as how the trees you place are different based upon the climate of that region.
Once you’ve shaped the world to your liking, you can begin to populate it with a wide range of animals, alongside a handful of fairy creatures like demons and animate snowmen. But the most important lifeforms you can create are humanoids. Elves, dwarves, humans and orcs can all be spawned onto the map at the click of a button. Once spawned, these overambitious apes will begin to form their own civilisations, establishing their own rulers, their own cultures and their own borders.
At this point, WorldBox shifts into a more simulationist mode. Over time, each civilisation will grow more advanced, constructing more elaborate buildings and developing new technologies like sailing vessels. They’ll also start to fight each other, with small border skirmishes turning into raids and outright wars that may see one side wiped off the map entirely.
It’s up to you whether you get involved in the affairs of the mortals you create. You could simply sit back and watch your world’s history unfold, although frankly WorldBox lacks the depth of games like Dwarf Fortress or RimWorld to make sitting back especially interesting. That said, there are countless ways you can get involved. You could force a diplomatic resolution to a fight, or press another kingdom to get in on the action. You could also resort to more apocalyptic measures, dropping meteors or even atom bombs onto factions that incur your displeasure for whatever reason.
Or you could play like me, and just fuck around with your civs like some nightmare trickster god. Oh no! A volcano has erupted on a land-bridge between two factions, and demons are pouring of the crater! Whoops! A group of good and evil wizards are locked in explosive battle right next to this poor orc village. Oh crumbs! Zombies have appeared in the elf kingdom of Secoore just after the elf king was struck by lightning. What rotten luck, how did that possibly happen?
Goofing around with WorldBox‘s godly powers is undeniably fun, and the torment you wreak is complemented by some impressive sprite work on the more destructive abilities. But beyond wars and natural disasters, the game’s potential for emergent storytelling is limited. While each character in the world has their own personality traits, these traits don’t impact the game systems in any meaningful way, and even factions have little in the way of distinguishing features. Civilisations rise, spread, fight, and fall without ever doing much to stick in the memory. Repeat until you become bored and decide to nuke the whole planet.
Yet while WorldBox plays at the shallower end of the pantheon’s pool, it is perfect for quickfire sessions over lunch or while on hold to the taxman. And the game is only at the beginning of a two-year stint in Early Access, with planned features including a religion system, more godly abilities, and “improvements” to how wars and diplomacy function. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but if WorldBox can bring a bit more nuance to its dynamic storytelling without overly complicating its systems, then I’ll be first in line to kneel at the altar of its capricious, almighty deity.