In Populous you control your primary character, the Shaman. This powerful female demigod can harness mana to cast offensive and strategic spells, and commands all of the followers of her tribe.
Each level plays out on a unique three dimensional world where you must battle one or more opposing tribes for dominance by rapidly building & expanding a base, charging your Shaman’s spells, and maneuvering your resources strategically based on the terrain of the current world.
The beauty of Populous lies in the complexity of carefully balancing all of the many strategic elements at play — in knowing which spells to charge, which buildings to build, which types of followers to train, and in the skilled offensive and defensive application of all of these things (buildings, spells and followers) in the right ways and at the right times. High level gameplay is very mouse-intensive and requires constant micro and situational awareness.
There are four tribes in Populous, each represented by a different color and led by a Shaman with a unique mask and voice. The color of the tribe is reflected on all of the buildings and followers. Aside from appearance, all tribes function identically and have access to the same spells, units and buildings.
In the single player campaign the player controls the blue tribe, which is never referred to by an official name. In online play, the blue tribe always represents the host of the match. Multiplayer games support up to four players at a time — one for each tribe.
Your followers are the members of your tribe that do your bidding. You must carefully micromanage their behaviors to build your base quickly, so you can both effectively defend against invasions and launch successful offensives against your opponent(s).
Buildings & Structures
There are a number of different kinds of huts and other buildings that can be constructed by your followers, each providing a unique function and, in some cases, allowing you to train specialized followers. Not all kinds of buildings will be needed for every level or situation — it’s up to you to make intelligent descisions about how to allocate your resources to your greatest advantage.
Currently, the most active online Populous community is Populous: Reincarnated, aka PopRe for short.
As with any other video game, when playing online, you’ll meet many weak and unskilled players. Populous especially suffers from a restrictive community-enforced playing style that severely dumbs down the strategic elements of the game. Many players will use peer pressure to try and influence you to not use certain strategies, units or spells — don’t listen to any of them. If someone loses when you use a certain strategy, they’ll try to convince you that it’s “cheap”.
As with any other video game, when playing online, you’ll meet many weak and unskilled players. Don’t listen to any of them – if they lose when you use a certain strategy, they’ll try to convince you that it’s a cheat. Attacking early (“rushing”), using doors (using land bridge to make a path), doubling and any other strategy or tactic is perfectly accepted by skilled players and not a cheat. If anyone tells you otherwise, feel free to assume they are an unskilled player who should ignore – if you listen to them, you’re never going to improve. Even if they’re better than you are, that doesn’t mean that they’re good (although it may seem to you, as a new player, that they are) or that they’re right.
For the most part, Populous is a very mouse-heavy game, with hotkeys playing only a minimal secondary role.
Due to the three dimensional nature of the levels, navigation is a unique experience involving panning, rotating and zooming that can take some getting used to. There are two views:
- Standard (zoomed in): A close-up view of the terrain that allows you to micro manage your units and resources.
- World view (zoomed out): A top-down view from space of the entire world, allowing for a quick analysis of the placement of units & buildings and enemy movements.
At this time, the most popular settings to play Populous are these:
Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical or Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0. In Windows control panel: speed 6 out of 11, “Enhance pointer precision” disabled (having it enabled actually makes your accuracy worse). Currently, about half the 10 best players use this mouse and this speed. Read the mouse optimization guide, also written by me.
800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 (Populous supports very high resolutions – they’re just usually not advantageous gameplay-wise).
On. (NEVER have this off!)
Rotation with CTRL:
On if using bird’s eye view.
Show enemies in minimap:
 You can buy a Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical off eBay for very cheap (10 dollars).
 If on, horizontal scrolling can be done with the left/right arrow keys, and rotation can be done holding ctrl while pressing the left/right arrow keys, or using the Delete/Page Down keys. If off, horizontal scrolling can be done holding ctrl while pressing the left/right arrow keys. More info.
 Can be toggled with Shift+L while playing.
 Press minus key to enable. Some players use that view. Its advantages pretty much counter the disadvantages, although it has some tiny disadvantages.