Gamescom is slowly fading into memory, but we have one last bit of reporting for you – the promised hands-on preview for Civilization: Beyond Earth. I savored every second with the game, and it’s even better that you can imagine.
My first turn saw me starting out with a brand new city, an explorer and a soldier. The world actually featured the all new Fungal Biome. It looks pretty grotesque, and certain points actually emit noxious fumes that can harm your units. Depending on future affinity choices, I was told that this could change and your units might actually helped or use these gasses to their advantage.
For the demo, the developers had selected a starting cargo that actually revealed the shape of the continents on the new planet. This was really helpful for me – I knew to send my explorer to the south rather than the north as there was more to explore that way. However, upon moving I stumbled upon an alien nest. In fact, the aliens are really rather strong – they easily killed off my explorer before I could get my soldier in place as reinforcements. When my soldier arrived, I was able to clear out the nest, but in order to collect the cool resource pod I’d discovered, I needed to build another explorer. Unlike previous Civ games, not all units can collect items on the map.
I also had to make decisions about the first things I wanted to build in my new city. I decided to play the culture game, opting to build a culture building before the clinic. Either one of these options actually unlocks a quest when it is completed. These quests help players align themselves with an affinity as well as give context and story to the experience. The quests are quite nuanced as well – I was asked to choose between letting my Earth plants run wild, changing the environment of the new planet, or if I should control them and find a way of working with the new world. Tough choice so early on in the game.
Unlike previous Civ games, the other factions aren’t present on the world at the start of the game. Instead, after a couple turns, a ship arrived from Earth, carrying another faction. I was able to instantly see where they settled on the planet, as well as get the usual introduction to the new Civ. These civilizations are compensated for their later start by receiving larger starting bonuses.
One of the most striking things was the new tech web. Each bit of research moves your Civ in a new direction. They also contain sub-research tiers that are linked with the affinity. For example, genetics research is a neutral topic, but once you go into more depth you might choose a direction that leans towards adapting your society, or dominating the alien life forces. In this way, your affinity ties into every aspect of gameplay and choice that you make. I wouldn’t be surprised if over time, I tend towards certain affinities more than others throughout gameplay – certain choices just felt natural to me as a player, which showed my own innate affinities.
Thanks to playing the culture game, I rapidly acquired the necessary levels to upgrade my Virtues – a mechanism similar to social policies in Civilization V. Just like in previous Civ games, Virtues can reward you with improved productivity, a free worker or other advancements. I found myself tending towards the Prosperity and Knowledge trees, although I was happy to see the horizontal bonuses as well as the vertical ones. If I’d been giving the time and opportunity, I could have seen results from adding Virtues across Prosperity, Knowledge and Industry, even before maxing them out.
While I only got to play six turns of the game before time was up, I can tell you that the game is ridiculously addictive. I was supposed to actually just play for 15 minutes, with the other 15 minutes devoted to interview. It was painful for me to stop playing, I was completely absorbed within moments, desperate for just one more turn to see what would happen next. The combat is much harder than what we’ve seen in previous Civ games – aliens are tough and you will encounter them early on in the game; you simply can’t compare them to the barbarians of previous Civ games.
By adding meaningful choices earlier on in the game, as well as quests to help frame those decisions, Civilization: Beyond Earth feels like a completely new experience that will make old fans and new players happy. I can already tell that the replay value of the game is astronomical – with so many decisions to make, affinities and factions to play with, each play through of the game really could be completely different.
Last Updated: August 28, 2014