What a coincidence. Who knew that a game like WorldBox – Good Simulator would come at exactly the same time that I decided to revisit The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings? Extended editions, of course. I’ve just cleared out the Fellowship of the Ring, so I’ll cringe through them. Poor old Boromir – gets me every time.
It is fair to say that I have orcs and elves and dwarves on my mind, so you can imagine my surprise when WorldBox let me make, almost literally, my own Middle-earth. I even got a ‘well done, you made Middle-earth’ performance when I filled the world with the relevant races.
I am, as the title of the game suggests, the god of this world. I can make it look the way I want, and then I fill it in and see what happens – see how my breeds breed and build and spread across my map. All the time they do this, a story is generated. The crown rulers who age and die. They create kingdoms that thrive and shatter. And inevitably they fight. And the game tracks it all and tells the story of your world.
In my world, the elves ran wild. They multiplied like a horde of horny Legolas. And they did not spread peacefully: they were vicious expansionists who wiped out everything within their reach. I did not even notice that they had steamrolled the humans, but when they got too close to the dwarves, I panicked. I mingled. But what else ought to a god do?
Interfering is the other half of the game. It’s almost as if you’re establishing civilizations precisely so you can intervene and ensure that your test environment is robust enough before you throw in challenges. You try a few packs of wolves, bears, rhinos, but since when has an intriguing fantasy hung in on worldly encounters like these? It’s better you reach out for the demons that burn the earth in their wake, or the White Walker-like enemies that freeze it. Or the necromancers summoning skeletons, or the evil wizards being chased around the world by white wizards. Do you have any stories in mind?
But they are only a fraction of what is offered. There are zombies with their infamous infectiousness, there are UFOs that are dragons. There are natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. There are blessings and healings and afflictions and infections. There are even, if you feel particularly destructive, an alarming array of world-killing bombs. And on the other side of it all: many creative forces and the ability to grow and transform whatever you see. But not, it must be said, the power to control the creatures. You are always strictly without hands.
So the game goes on: you create (the game also creates spontaneously if you allow it), you monitor (speed up the time if you want), and you pill. You thin out the elves with a tactical demon invasion, or naughtily help the dwarves with bonus resources if they fall behind. And as you do this, ages or eras in your world naturally begin to emerge. The times of peaceful expansion or great wars. The times when one race thrived while others fell off. The times when evil washed over the land. It all plays before your eyes like ants whizzing back and forth across a garden.
But where WorldBox is really smart is how it draws you closer by generating detailed statistics for each character. It encourages you to inspect them to see character sheets with randomly generated and evolving statistics – match stats, personality stats, social stats. These are living, changing characters in your world.
It’s not just the goodies. Check in on a raucous demon half an hour later and it will have collected dozens of kills, gone up a few levels, have more hit points and cool new features like veteran status or just one eye. Check in on one of the rulers of the world empire and you will see them adorned with rare and legendary equipment forged by their people X number of years ago. Think of the weapons of history from Tolkien’s work, like Orcrist or Glamdring or Anduril – it’s that kind.
It is this personal touch that really warms and colors the wider lines of the simulation, giving it a feeling that you are writing your own Silmarillion, where great masters and great enemies appear and fight for the fate of the world. It’s really hard to pull your eyes away from it.
How complex the simulation is in the end, and how long its results may surprise you, I do not know – it’s hard to say from a few hours of play. But there is already a lot to play with, as a title with early access with an estimated two-year development journey, there is plenty of time to add more.