In this game the player adopts the role of a deity and assumes the responsibility of shepherding people by direction, manipulation, and divine intervention. The player has the ability to shape the landscape and grow their civilization – and their divine power – with the overall aim of having their followers conquer an enemy force, which is led by an opposing deity.
The main action window in Populous is viewed from an isometric perspective, and it is set in a “tabletop” on which are set the command icons, the world map (depicted as an open book) and a slider bar that measures the level of the player’s divine power or “mana”. The game consists of 500 levels, and each level represents an area of land on which live the player’s followers and the enemy followers.
In order to progress to the next level the player must increase the number of their followers such that they can wipe out the enemy followers. This is done by using a series of divine powers. There are a number of different landscapes the world (depicted on the page in the book) can be, such as desert, rock and lava, snow and ice, etc. and the type of landscape is not merely aesthetic: it affects the development of the player’s and enemy’s followers.