By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Co-Written by Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
The spiritual successor to “Alpha Centauri” is here! Civilization: Beyond Earth takes place six hundred years after the current era previous renditions of the franchise typically end at. The “Great Mistake” ruins the Earth, and in a very heart-wrenching starting cinematic, you watch as people leave the Earth behind in rockets. Your goal is to head to a new planet with the other new factions, and in traditional Civ fashion, you are to conquer the world somehow as a last ditch effort to provide a new home for humanity. Instead of “Nations” we now have “Sponsors,” groups of nations that bond together for a common cause, such as Polystralia, The PAC (Pan-Asian Cooperative), the ARC (American Reclamation Corporation), and Franco-Iberia.
In many ways this game is a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Civ series. It does use the Civilization 5 engine, so there are frustrating elements such as the lack of unit stacking (I miss that, and I don’t care who says it was bad!). Regardless, this is a step in the right direction to do something different, and welcome in the Civilization franchise. I had feared that this title would just feel like a stale DLC title instead of something that stands on its own. From alien cultures, ancient mysterious civilizations, and orbital satellites, the god-gamer in you will ultimately be happy with this installment in Sid Meier’s franchise.
Rise of Cyberdine
Technology is both interesting and infuriating in Civilization. The “Tech Web” is a series of branching technological choices, with each having anchor techs that expand on the base technology. As a player, you must pursue a victory condition, often related to an affinity, which limits you from mastering the full Tech Web in one playthrough as not focusing often leads you to defeat due to running out of time. You must, as a Sponsor, pick the right portions of the Tech Web that you need, and think ahead a great deal in order to maximize your efforts. On a few occasions, I have found myself lacking what I need to beat the game, such as one of the Contact victory conditions where I did not have enough levels in Supremacy to seal the deal. This means planning ahead is more important than ever before in the Civ series, as just winging it can be truly punishing. My favorite victory condition so far is easily Transcendence, where you try to attune yourself to the consciousness of the planet, which is essentially an Ancient Old One of Cthulhu lore. Fair warning, trying this will piss off every Sponsor near you and they will attack you if they disagree with your choice of abandoning your own humanity.
Speaking of technology, players can no longer trade tech. This is to prevent players who want all of the technology, as was possible in earlier games. There are also fewer wonders than ever and they do not seem to affect the game as much as they did in previous renditions. In Civilization 5, by the end of the game I tend to control at least 20 Wonders. In two or three playthroughs of Civilization: Beyond Earth I was lucky to get three or four (one of which made Wonders faster to build by 25%). Though their impact was mostly unnoticeable unless I was specifically looking for their bonuses. They also lack impressive construction cutscenes that added some sense of pride in Civilizations past. However be aware that some of the wonders are required for victory conditions. Buildings are interesting now as well. Each time you build a structure in a city you randomly eventually get a “quest.” You are given a pair of options, each with a different minor choice to make that impact the output of the building or other minor tweaks about your civilization. You can see this as a positive or negative depending on how inclined you are to like random elements in a tactical strategy game like Civ.
Another issue with technology in this game, and granted this is a minor gripe, but all quotes used for discovering techs or gaining affinity points are brand new made up quotes. Thus there is a lot of pressure on these quotes to help build immersion into this world. After all part of the lure of Civilization is feeling like you’re impacting the history of humanity. While its subjective, a lot of the quotes here fail to live up to the epicness of typical Civilization quotes, and the voice acting tends to be too high pitched to capture the gravity intended by some of them. This is one of the easier issues with the game fixed by mods so not a huge deal to me, but some players are bound to complain.
When you start the game, you pick a Sponsor instead of a Nation (as explained earlier). Each, in tried and true Civ fashion, has its own benefits to be aware of. There are a few bonuses to pick from as you start the game. Colonists each provide their own minor benefit to your people. Ship Upgrades affect how you deal with the world, such as the Tectonic Scanner, which allows you to see certain resources without having to do research. Next is your cargo, another early-game benefit, and includes Weapons (Soldier unit), Machinery (Worker unit), or Laboratory (Pioneering technology). These are all ultimately pretty minor, but they shape how you want to play the game straight away, while offering more depth than you might expect from the 8 Sponsors available at launch.
Affinity, Affinity Everywhere
There are tons of new systems in this game that shift it away from Civilization and games like Galactic Civilizations, and instead push it closer to Alpha Centauri. The first of these are Virtues, which are this game’s social policy system. Might, Prosperity, Knowledge, and Industry are their names. Though the names are kind of generic, each tree has their own drawbacks and uses, and you are not confined to just one. But the farther you go down in a tree, the more you’ll gain synergy bonuses that you will certainly want. Thankfully, for people who do not want to follow one virtue or another, there are special bonuses for building across multiple affinities in each tier as well. Quests are new and interesting as well. Quests will guide your path and give bonuses to your affinity, some which lead you to some of the victory conditions. Quests respond to what you do in the game, and certain actions will make quests fail or succeed.
So what are affinities? Affinities are a throwback to the Civ 5 expansion, Brave New World (ideologies) and come in three flavors. These represent the outlook of human progression: Harmony, Purity, and Supremacy. The definition of each is pretty self-explanatory, and as you travel deeper into one of the three, you will unlock affinity unique units as well as gain upgrades to existing unit types.
Harmony: Harmony represents the ideal of man to become one with the nature on the planet. Alien hybridization is a trait of this and ultimately their goal is to bioengineer ones genetics to merge with the planet’s biome. Adaptation is the key.
Purity: This appeals to the xenophobic ideals of Earth’s history. They neither adapt into alien or robotic lifeforms, staying true to the human ideal of purity. The strength of the human race is ideal here, upgrading technology but not changing the core of humanity. Don’t count them out though as even an Earthling can do some damage once unleashing the military might of Gundam themed units.
Supremacy: Cybertechnology; we as a species can ascend, but only with the help of robotics and science. Forgoing our humanity for robotics is what you can expect with Supremacy. Saving mankind through technology is what they aim for. Though the logic of whether or not they are saving so much as incorporating humanity into their robotic logarithm is up for debate.
Of course all of these factors become meaningless if a ginormous super faction rises unchecked by game features. Firaxis understands the dangers of wide vs tall empires more than most any 4x strategy game on the market, and implemented a new limiter feature this time around called Health. The new health system helps put the kibosh on fast paced rushing across a continent by drop by limiting science, culture, and eventually production as well as giving you a hefty hit to your espionage defense. Though from testing thus far, it feels the numbers don’t justify the gains from rapid expansion, and many are flat out ignoring this feature rather than trying to manage it. A simple numbers game really, but definitely an area where serious balance changes are needed to be patched.
Intergalactic Trading Posts for Sale
Building cities is a little different in Civilization: Beyond Earth. When sending a settler out to find a new place to set up shop, the unit creates a small station or outpost. It takes six turns on standard speed for this building to evolve and form into a city. This could be to prevent empires from overwhelming a continent in one move. These would-be cities need to be watched though, because they can be destroyed before construction can finish. Players can speed this process up though by sending trade caravans to the growing city, as one of the many potentially unbalanced strengths that trade routes offer in Beyond Earth. Speaking of which, City-States also make a comeback in the form of Stations. These stations only occupy a small space and do not increase in size, but you can set up trade routes with them and acquire favors that can be used in dealings later on in the game.
Overall trading caravans have been beefed to unimaginable heights, while Stations have been placed into a state of almost raw annoyance compared to their civilized Brave New World counterparts.
Aliens are a thing too. What would a Civ game be without barbarians? In Civ 5, as the game progresses, they became unimportant, a minor threat to push away from your forces. However, Aliens thrive the longer the game goes on. They become stronger and more numerous as the game progresses, until you’re finally forced to confront them just to move between cities. Then they get angry and aggressively fight back until you wipe the filth from the surface, all while ticking off your more politically correct neighbors. This leads to my last favorite thing about Civ: Beyond Earth – MIASMA. Good. Lord. It’s like a pissed off fog of war. As your borders grow, this infuriating green mist spreads through your civ. Though you can use biotechnology to give your faction alien properties to thrive in it, or satellites to push the miasma away, early in the game it can kill your units incredibly fast. On top of it, obtaining the worker ability to clear the green gunk is quite a debilitating detour. Even worse, aliens also regenerate within the miasma. Something thankfully barbarians never did. What I did to stop units from dying so often was to keep them fortified to regenerate health every round. But nonetheless, my workers died. A lot. As there isn’t even an alert to warn you that their lives are nearing an end. They literally work themselves to death. It was so frustrating.
Supreme Victory: 4/5 Great
Civ’s detractors have cried over and over that the game is just DLC for Civilization 5. Those people have not played the game yet. There are tons of new and interesting things about Civilization: Beyond Earth that make it its own game. It builds on the innovation of Civ 5’s one unit per tile military scheme, and advances it with the tertiary satellite layer, and experiments boldly with military advancement through ideology mixed with technology. The RPG elements with quests are a nice touch. In many ways, it feels like a successor or sequel to Alpha Centauri, a title by Firaxis that has not been touched in many years. It is an all-around solid title, and while I was a little disappointed by the military units, the rest of the game filled me with delight. It takes a very long time to get truly exceptional military figures.
There are several systems that were taken from Civilization 5, but that is to be expected since it uses the same engine. All that truly holds it back currently is missing features presented by Civ 5’s expansions, as well as some balancing issues that will have you scratching your head at just how much Q&A time the devs had to work with. But thankfully past performance shows just how dedicated Civilization is to post-launch content updates, and I’m sure much will be done to address these issues in the coming months. If you can’t wait that long though, just get acquainted with the modding community as they’ll rarely let you down.
The graphics are gorgeous in Civilization, but my major complaint is that so far, every planet I have been on kind of felt the same. I was expecting more variation in the ecology. But what was represented was well done, and I look forward to see what the people on the Steam workshop create.
The controls offer nothing new and exciting except for perhaps the satellite view of the world when you launch them. The controls are average, nothing complex or too easy. For such a complex and expansive game, they thankfully do not make the controls reflect this.
While there are not a ton of “game modes” for Civilization: Beyond Earth, there are new and fun victory conditions, new factions, as well as the customization options for the starting of the game. And of course there is the Steam workshop and upcoming DLC (there is always DLC for Civilization). Mods and new factions created by players will give this game infinite amounts of variety, generally thanks to the free mods and additions to the title. My only main gripe here is the poor AI of Civilization 5 carries on in Beyond Earth, and that’s a tough issue to solve.
I was not as inspired by the music in Beyond Earth as I was in previous titles. It tends to become monotonous and droning very quickly. I honestly found myself turning the music down very low a couple of hundred turns into a game and leaving it that way. The sounds are nice, though. The alien chirping and exploding of giant worms out of the ground, bullets firing rapidly, and other little things are nice. Soundtrack could use a little work though.