Monday, 1 December 2014

Review: Sid Meier's Civilization - Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is the latest spinoff from the very successful Sid Meier's Civilization series. In the spirit of the great game Alpha Centauri (1999), it's Civilization you love and know, but now set upon an alien world with new-age colonists. Developer Firaxis seems to be listening to the fans wanting an Alpha Centauri successor title and now they offer up Beyond Earth.

Earth has reached a turning point, my guess being over population, and has decided to send a select amount of colonists to another world in hopes of a better future. Before the game begins, players may customize the game map and difficulty and then proceed to further customize their colonists and starting bonuses. Bonuses include sponsors, colonist types and advanced technology. There is a noticeable split between colonists who thrive by science, harmony, war and/or commerce.

Players may choose their own path throughout the game, but the three main victory paths are through harmony, purity and supremacy affinities. Harmony play seeks to understand and evolve with the new planet and its inhabitants, while purity and supremacy take on combative and dominating roles. The paths each have special military units and upgrading these units leads to major gains over opponents.

Actually, now that I think about it, the AI seemed pretty aloof. None of the other colonists accepted an alliance or mutual pact, the majority of them asked for excess resources in exchange for favors, I never actually cashed the favors in. The poor AI diplomacy never effected me in a bad way and maybe it was keeping the more militant factions happy, but I was warned many times against haphazardly blasting the native fauna away.

It's a very pretty game
City building hasn't really changed much since the original Civilization games. Buildings are built using production points and science is gained through science points; certain buildings need to be maintained by an additional energy cost resource. Health is also a factor regarding cities as low health cities do not grow or prosper. A balance between resources, health, energy cost and security should see cities thrive and enable players to build national wonders, which give large bonuses across your whole civilization.

Science is now a circular tree with main branches and leaves. Science tends to favor one of the three major affinities throughout the game and unlocks special units, upgraded buildings and new wonders. Some colonists tend to favor a strong science path, weak in the beginning, but strong at the end of the game, others favor constant military advancement and aggression.

New additions to the series include a virtue tree, a multi-tiered quests and a world satellite system. The virtue tree unlocks even more bonuses for your colonists, virtues are gained through a variety of means, but are often gained through advancing your culture level. Quests are more engaging and definitely longer to complete, offering genuine reward and consequences for your decisions. The world satellite system covers a grid over the entire planet, hostile and friendly satellites grant bonuses to production or even sub-orbital bombardment.

Workers building the economy
As always victory can be achieve in a host of different ways, each affinity has a favored victory path, either military dominating rivals or outsmarting them. The AI doesn't seem very dangerous even on medium difficulty, so I suggest players start on the harder difficulties for a decent challenge. Multiplayer is also available, so a human opponent or a few friends can make the game a bit more interesting.

I had a great time playing this game, slowly learning and expanding my new civilization. Coming into contact with other colonists and fleecing them of energy, science and technology using spies. My only complaint is that the AI didn't really start to band together to beat me down once I started to pull ahead of them. Hopefully the AI will improve with future updates and I'm looking forward to what other addons Firaxis will release in the future.

Beyond Earth is probably one of the best games I've played recently. It has lived up to expectations of a worthy Alpha Centauri successor, while also adding new features improving the core gameplay experience. Amazingly I also didn't encounter a single bug during my playthrough, a rare feat for a modern game to have so much polish.

Gamers familiar with the Civilization series should feel right at home and newcomers shouldn't have any trouble considering it has an (optional) intrusively hand-holding advisor and tutorial system.


-Get your ass to mars!

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