If there’s one thing absolutely no one who knows me is surprised to find out I like, it’s sci-fi. Really, once you’ve interacted with me, you’ve probably figured out that I love sci-fi. A lot of my favorite movies, books and TV shows are sci-fi…hell some of my favorite albums are sci-fi based (Ziggy Stardust man, Ziggy Stardust). But I remain somewhat disconcerted by how many people are surprised I love the Civilization series. It’s a pretty long running love; I’ve been with the series since 2, and I played 4 and 5 enough that they probably count as a reasonably serious addiction. So when I heard that my favorite genre was being added to one of my favorite game series, I was pretty stoked.
Note: The nature of the Civilization games means that this review is obviously not going to be all encompassing. The Civ games aren’t narrative focused, so you can’t just barrel through to story end and have that be it. They’re long runners, with each playthrough being completely different, and are usually intended to be played multiple times. I can do this literally dozens of times (my most recent playthrough of Civ 5 ended that day before this game came out). So, for the sake of clarity, this review is based on an aborted early attempt, that ended when aliens began to hand my ass to me, and a successful second playthrough when I power-leveled a Civ to one of the victory conditions. I’m sure I’ll play many, many, many, MANY more playthroughs, but this review is based on that. So, back to the review.
Note 2: I don’t play the multiplayer in Civ games. Or any games really, the only multiplayer I ever played with any regularity was The Last of Us, for a bit. I’m not much of a multiplayer guy, so this review will focus on the single player. Sorry if it turns out the PAC is really unbalanced in the multiplayer, I wouldn’t know.
The plot? Do you really care? It’s the future, we f**ked Earth beyond repair, and decided “Welp, we better leg it.” The background is intentionally vague, as to allow people to come up with their own interpretation. The characters are basically non-existent (being mostly just representative of their various factions) and their personalities and even appearance are subject to change based on what the player and their AI choose.
Upon first booting up Beyond Earth, you could almost be forgiven for just assuming it was Civ 5, with the DLC cut out and some of the edges sanded off, if only to reveal all new edges. Scouts are now Explorers, Gold is now Energy, Policies are now Virtues, City-States are now Stations and Workers are now…well Workers, but they’re driving what looks like a combination of a Bulldozer and a Power Loader around.
The number of potential nations has been cut down (even if we discount the frankly absurd number of options allowed by the time Brave New World hit, but that gets made up for by the fact that you have other before game customization options, like whether you start with an extra Soldier unit or a Worker, or want a Science boost more than Energy.
The whole game is like that, at least to me. It seems like it’s going to be simple, but winds up being deceptively deep. The inclusion of a Quest System, which occasionally asks you to make ‘Quest Decisions’ about recently created buildings, allows you to customize basically every single non-Wonder structure you build, and can, over time, make your cities completely different from another playthrough. It also allows you to improvise on the fly and try to get your buildings going in the direction you want (which led to a rather prolonged couple dozen turns where I tried to stabilize the Health in my empire, which I think is like Happiness in previous games). I’ve only done 1.5 (or 1.1 really) playthroughs of the game, but I can imagine that it’ll make a big difference when it comes to making each playthrough feel unique.
Another major difference from Civ 5, and indeed all the other games in the franchise, is the Aliens. You might, on first glance, assume they’re roughly analogous to the Barbarians in previous games, and while that’s sort of true, approaching them like Barbarians is a bad idea. Unlike the Barbarians, which mindlessly attack every Civilization without question, the Aliens can actually be neutral and indeed are until they’re antagonized. Additionally, at least in early game, they can f**k your s**t up so fast that your head will spin.
In my first (failed) playthrough I had a Siege Worm wandering around one of my cities until it wandered into my territory, wrecked a Generator and killed a Worker. I, being rather peeved about this, decided to send a few of my Soldier units to sort it out. This led to a prolonged (and rather humiliating) set of events that led to me losing 4/5ths of my military and having the entire Eastern side of my empire under constant Alien attack, hence why I had to restart. Later game encounters with them indicate to me that eventually the balance is restored and your units can handle theirs, but in the early game: Do not. Piss off. The Aliens.
But I’ve danced around my favorite change, which is the Affinities. While these can be roughly considered to be analogous to the Ideology system in earlier games (Harmony, Purity and Supremacy standing in for Order, Freedom and Autocracy) the way they’re built up and used is radically different. Instead of picking an Affinity once you’ve advanced far enough in Tech, various Quests and Techs give you experience in each, and give you different bonuses based on how far you’ve gotten. You also get to apply upgrades to your units based on which Affinity is dominant, and you can even have more than one Affinity going at the same time (although your non-Dominant one will take more time to get higher). They’re each closely tied to a different victory type, so spreading yourself too thin might not be advisable, but it’s still a more in depth and interesting take on the concept than simply choosing one when you hit the Industrial era.
If there is one change I’m iffy about, it’s the change to the victories. As stated, I’ve only got one victory type (I chose Transcendence, because its description and Achievement name made me assume it was a 2001 reference) but it just seemed a little too…well easy. It basically amounted to; Research 3 (admittedly advanced) techs, advance to level 13 in Harmony, build a big freaking flower (which took about 40 or so turns to complete, so there’s that) and then sit on your hands for 20 or so turns waiting for the flower to be ready. I suppose the victories had to be a little easier, without the option of sitting and waiting for year 2050, but it seems a little simple compared to the Science or Culture victories from Civ 5. Maybe the other ones are harder? I’ll report back after I’ve gotten the Contact victory (are the Vulcans gonna show up? I bet the Vulcans are gonna show up).
Still, that minor quibble aside, there’s not really anything wrong with Civilization: Beyond Earth, and quite a lot right with it. It’s mix of easy to grasp mechanics, but surprising amount of depth might make it get as close to the ‘Easy to learn, hard to master’ chestnut as I’ve seen a Civ game get. It’s easily a worthy successor to both the Civilization series, and Alpha Centuri, it’s more direct Sid Meier ancestor. If you’re at all into the Civilization games, or have never tried but feel like giving them a shot, then I highly recommend Civilization: Beyond Earth
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and it just isn’t a Civilization game is Gandhi isn’t threatening to nuke me.
– strong, engaging gameplay
– surprising amount of depth and options for each playthrough
– you can summon a giant kaiju eventually (no really, it’s called the Biotitan and it’s awesome. The Giant Death Robot can suck it)
– victories are a tiny bit too easy
– number of options can get overwhelming sometimes
– African leader won’t stop telling me that “No village was ever ruined by trade.”