Are you there, God? It’s me, Mul Nephum of the Odoar kingdom. I really hope you’re listening. It’s been wild down here. If the eternal war between dwarves and elves wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got zombies down south and tornadoes to the east. I’m pretty sure the humans were all done in years ago by that superheated laser from the sky. Maybe it was the killer snowmen. Tuesdays, am I right? All I know is I’m glad I was out of town when the bowling ball meteors came.
WorldBox is a hell of a god game, and probably because my plague-ridden, eternally lava-flooded world is worse than any hell these poor dwarves and elves can imagine. It’s a heavily customizable sandbox meant for mucking around and watching what happens, in the lineage of ancient god games like Populous. Though you can witness countless kingdoms and villages break ground, and even more kings rise to power and subsequently bite the dust, WorldBox doesn’t reach the storytelling heights of more focused games like Crusader Kings 3. That said, Crusader Kings never let you give birth to a genocidal swarm of nanobots. I think.
WorldBox starts you off with a randomly generated yet re-customizable map. Most basic flora are plentiful, and perhaps a few bugs roam around. But every single man, animal, ore deposit, and river is dropped by you. It’s very much a garden of Eden, plus or minus a volcano.
My tenure as god began with a modest realm. Dwarves to the northeast, littered among the craggy mountains, while elves took the western regions. Humans made do with a smaller stretch of land to the south.
WorldBox’s landscaping tools are a treat. I can give the dwarves a mountainous seawall, protecting them from anything directly south of their peninsula. The map generator also gives the humans a massive land bridge stretching from one region to another, a rare lifeline between nations separated largely by water. A small band of orcs have also made the southwest islands their home, though they appear dramatically outnumbered by the neighboring elven kingdom.
As a patient god, I’m content to sit back, crank up WorldBox’s timelapse speed, and watch small camps grow into larger cities over a hundred years or so. Then I step away for a bite to eat and find that the humans have been eradicated in the chaos between dwarves and elves, with the fairer race subsuming humanity’s land into its own.
Bad elves. Time to thin the herd. Selecting the zombie-spawning rain from my list of destruction options, I shower the southern elven villages in doom. At 5X normal speed, the elves valiantly defend their realm with arrow attacks, but eventually the horde overwhelms them and begins slowly crawling its way north. If things ever do get out of hand (and they will), WorldBox gives you a “life eraser” tool shaped literally like a grade school rubber eraser, and lets you determine how exact you’d like your judgement to be.
We wouldn’t want things to be too fair, though. So I rev up my giant Gears of War-style heat-ray laser and cook the land bridge into a rocky mush. It doesn’t completely stop my subjects from making their way south, but it’s definitely left a schism between the regions. Accessing WorldBox’s world rules page lets me toggle on warfare between kingdoms of the same race, just to keep things interesting.
As the dwarves and elves reach a stalemate, not caring for further expansion, my world’s shape begins to bore me. These pretty pixel archipelagos and peninsulas need a mixup. So I summon Crabzilla, an absolute unit of a kaiju monster, to stomp its way through the elven kingdom, occasionally shooting laser beams from its claws. The lucky elves get booted a mile away into the ocean.
It’s not quite 1:1, but WorldBox reminds me of Noita, the spellcasting roguelite where “every pixel is simulated,” resulting in some fascinating interactions. As Crabzilla continues his marathon across the elven realm, it’s endlessly funny to watch houses, castles and mountains alike be squished to rubble. Objects and elements that are super hot can end up turning ground and magma into hard stone, leaving a very natural trail of destruction, but simultaneously making way for new life.
A swarm of nanobots eats its way across the continent later, slowly chewing away at every single living thing in its path, easily pulling off a Thanos-style culling. Oh, did I mention there’s literally a Thanos finger snap button that wipes out half of the world’s population? Being God is great.
While WorldBox often feels full of endless possibilities, it’s just as often only an inch deep. I can pick a favorite creature to follow and watch their rise and fall (there are an awful lot of children being conscripted into armies), but it’s the kind of storytelling where you need to read a little between the lines to ascribe any personality. It’s fun seeing which realms advance a little faster, turning from wooden structures to stone, but culture seems to stop at coliseums and nondescript statues. Other humanoids can also play a role in the world’s history, like winged demons, Game of Thrones’ wights, and laughably overpowered mages, but their existence seems confined to picking fights.
It’s funny how much WorldBox shares with big strategy games, despite not presenting an ultimate goal to the player, and almost always ending with a boredom-killing nuclear bomb. Watching the borders of a kingdom stretch, retract, and suddenly disappear tickles a part of my brain that really likes to be tickled. Considering WorldBox is about to become an Early Access game on Steam, I’m eager to see what other maniacal tools get added to the toybox.