Populous: The Beginning (1998)

by Ji-yeong
5 minutes read


Populous: The Beginning (1998): A God Game with a Shaman’s Touch

In the realm of god games, where players wield divine powers to shape worlds and guide civilizations, Populous: The Beginning stands as a unique and innovative entry. Released in 1998 by Bullfrog Productions, this third installment in the Populous series took a bold departure from its predecessors, casting players not as all-powerful deities but as shamans who directly lead their tribes to dominance.

A New Perspective on Divine Intervention

Unlike earlier Populous games, where players commanded loyal followers from above, The Beginning placed them on the ground, in the thick of the action. As a shaman, players had direct control over their tribe members, guiding them in battle, constructing settlements, and harnessing the forces of nature. This shift in perspective added a new level of intimacy and immediacy to the god game experience.

A Vast and Vibrant Solar System

The game’s campaign spanned twenty-five missions across a vast and diverse solar system. Each mission presented unique challenges, from conquering enemy tribes to mastering new sources of magic. Players traveled from lush, verdant worlds to barren, volcanic landscapes, encountering a variety of obstacles and opportunities.

Shaping the Land and the People

Populous: The Beginning introduced several innovative gameplay mechanics that set it apart from its contemporaries. Players could use their shamanic powers to deform the terrain, creating mountains, valleys, and rivers to gain strategic advantages. They could also directly control their tribe members, assigning them to specific tasks such as gathering resources, building structures, or engaging in combat.

The Path to Godhood

The ultimate goal of Populous: The Beginning was for the player’s shaman to attain godhood herself. By conquering enemy tribes, establishing settlements, and mastering the forces of nature, players gradually increased their shaman’s power and influence. As they progressed, they gained access to new abilities and spells, allowing them to reshape the world and dominate their opponents.

Pushing the Boundaries of Graphics

Populous: The Beginning was the first entry in the series to use true 3D computer graphics. Bullfrog Productions waited four years after Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods to release The Beginning, ensuring that the graphics technology had caught up to their ambitious vision for the game. The result was a visually stunning world that brought the landscapes, characters, and magical effects to life.

Mixed Reviews and a Legacy of Innovation

Populous: The Beginning received mixed reviews upon release. Some critics praised its innovative gameplay and stunning graphics, while others criticized its artificial intelligence and the indecisiveness in game design between being a real-time strategy title and a god game.

Despite the mixed reviews, Populous: The Beginning has left a lasting legacy in the god game genre. Its innovative gameplay mechanics, such as terrain deformation and direct control over units, have influenced subsequent titles in the genre. The game also demonstrated the potential of 3D graphics in god games, paving the way for future advancements in the field.


Populous: The Beginning remains a unique and memorable entry in the god game genre. Its radical departure from the series’ traditional gameplay formula, combined with its innovative use of 3D graphics, created a distinct and immersive experience. While it may not have achieved the same level of critical acclaim as its predecessors, Populous: The Beginning stands as a testament to the creativity and ambition of Bullfrog Productions.

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