Dear sir or madam,
I am writing to you concerning the legal pad you found somewhere in the vicinity of Pasadena, California, on or about the date of September 12th, 2020. The pad contains several pages of notes in cramped and somewhat messy writing. Surely you can appreciate the time that was spent writing them. Surely you can tell that the pencil was kept sharp. Surely you noticed that entire sections were erased and rewritten for better formatting. Surely it’s obvious there is some esoteric and deeply detailed subject at hand.
You might have inferred from what is written that these are the notes for a sermon, or perhaps someone’s theology homework. But then you get to the references to nudism, cat worship, lust priests, and virgin sacrifice. Perhaps you wondered if this might be some strange cult manifesto. Maybe you have stumbled across the plans for a doomsday. Maybe you should turn it over to the police.
I want to reassure you there is nothing nefarious afoot. These are notes for a game called Godhood, created by Abbey Games, the folks who made Reus and Renowned Explorers, not to be confused with Curious Expeditions. I know, I do it all the time, too. Godhood is supposed to be a game about building a religion. But really, it’s a soccer management game, minus the soccer. You tweak a bunch of numbers in a spreadsheet, then a fake non-interactive soccer game happens, then you win or lose, at which point you tweak more values and do it all over again, until you finally reach the Super Bowl of soccer and see what your score is. In soccer, it’s probably like three. In Godhood, it’s going to be several thousand if you know what you’re doing.
The “know what you’re doing” part is a big ask, though. Hence the legal pad full of notes that I took and then lost in Pasadena. The challenge Abbey Games has set for those of us who attempted to play Godhood — and for themselves — is that they’ve designed an intricate system around terms and concepts for which most people have no frame of reference. And to play Godhood, you have to learn it. You have to figure out the terms and concepts. It might involve taking notes.
There was a similar challenge in Renowned Explorers, which on the surface might have looked like a typical series of tactical battles. But playing Renowned Explorers meant learning its quirky vocabulary, including its extensive dialect for non-violent interaction. If you went in expecting to just punch the monkeys, natives, and gangsters, you were in for a rude surprise. You had to learn about attitudes, moods, and emotions.
This is also the case in Godhood, which is a series of battles that also includes non-violent interaction. But the framework is religion. And the level of detail is extensive, daunting, and not at all intuitive. It’s also very different from Renowned Explorers for how the interactivity stops as soon as the action starts. A lot of Godhood is spent looking, because the battles are all automated. You won’t get any of the hands-on learning you were afforded in Renowned Explorers, which might mean you won’t get a clear picture of cause-and-effect, and therefore you might not learn its quirky vocabulary as readily. If you’re not peering into Godhood to learn how it works, you’re not playing it. Which you’re arguably not doing anyway because the encounters are all fully automated and non-interactive.
And for some people who run a few battles and wonder why they can’t determine who attacks whom with which ability, that’s exactly what they’re going to do: not play it.
Here’s an example. Off the top of your head, what is the difference between faith and devotion? What about devotion and fervor? To the average person, faith, devotion, and fervor are synonyms. But in the language of Godhood, they’re very different gameplay concepts for ambiguous if not arbitrary reasons. Faith is the measure of a character’s happiness, devotion is the stat that defends against morale-based attacks, and fervor is the resistance to fatigue for successive battles. It feels like a clumsy attempt to apply theming to familiar concepts of morale and fatigue. Here’s another one. What is the difference between rituals, traditions, and sacraments? In Godhood, they are, respectively and broadly, leveling up, techs in the tech tree, and battles. I understand the theme Godhood is attempting. But hoo boy, does it feel forced.
I suspect some of this comes from the design process. Godhood went through a long early access period, and it underwent some dramatic changes along the way. You can see dangling bits left over from some of those changes, which indicate a confused and uncertain evolution instead of a confident design. Why are there elements of a city builder in here? Why does something called a miracle not actually do anything? Why do some of the difficulty level choices actually undermine entire gameplay systems? Why are there two ways to retire an elderly cult member? Why do so many decisions slathered in forced theming come down to how many materials you earn after a battle? Godhood wants me to feel like I’m creating a religion. Instead, it makes me feel like I’m doing taxes, but with all the financial terminology swapped out for arbitrary religious concepts.
The ingame documentation is terrible, and for some reason, the endgame goals are obscured, even when you’ve already unlocked them. Godhood implies a metaprogression where you discover combinations of tenets and traditions (think of these as branches on a hidden technology tree). As you play, you learn how to line up the tenets and traditions to make the religion you want. This thrill of discovery is all good and well during early playthroughs, but once it’s time to get down to business and actually construct a religion, once it’s time to play in earnest, once it’s time to participate in Godhood’s score chase, why is the game so coy with information I’ve already unlocked? I already figured out how to unlock Cat Worship and Virgin Sacrifice. Why is it hidden again?
The crux of Godhood is taking advantage of the advanced powers you earn as your tenets unlock traditions. These advanced powers give you very specific advantages in specific situations. They have intricate synergies with specific character builds, so I need to keep this in mind as I’m developing my characters. If this central element of Godhood weren’t so muddled, Godhood would be a much better game. But if I don’t know the tech tree, I’ll end up with special abilities that are useless if I didn’t happen to develop characters a certain way. Abbey Games could easily get around this with better ingame documentation, or a way to reference things I’ve previously unlocked. Until then, I have to find the place in my notes where I wrote all this stuff. The notes you are now holding because you found them, so I’m kind of at loggerheads here.
As you can tell from those notes, there’s a lot going on in Godhood, and if you do what I did and parse Abbey Game’s quirky vocabulary, you’ll discover some fascinating little systems. But even if you persevere, even if you keep notes where Abbey Games left you in the dark, the deeper you dig, the more you discover, the more notes you take, the more you’ll be disappointed to discover a spreadsheet that doesn’t do justice to concepts like nudism, cat worship, lust priests, or virgin sacrifice. Instead, your soccer management game all comes down to a handful of systems about incrementing the same numbers. The nudism, cat worship, lust priest, and virgin sacrifice aren’t going to play terribly different from clothed worshippers, dog lovers, celibate priests, or letting virgins live out their lives. And without a better way to play Godhood’s own metaprogression to chase a high score, it’s simply not worth it.
Anyway, you might be concerned about getting the notes back to me. You needn’t be. I don’t plan on playing any further. I’ve given up on trying to work my way through the poorly organized tangle, and I’ve furthermore given up on any further updates. Which is a shame, because what could have been a worthy and equally quirky follow-up to Reus and Renowned Explorers is instead a confused combination of soccer management, tax forms, and bad documentation lightly dusted with a flurry of religious words.