For fans of the Civilization franchise, and particularly old school fans of Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Beyond Earth is one of the most anticipated strategy games of the year. It’s a must play for any fan of Civilization games, but I’m hoping that Firaxis fixes a bunch of things before the game ships next month.
Loading up Civilization: Beyond Earth, I was filled with expectation. There were so many choices to make. Deciding upon your nationality is just like other Civ games – it determines your combat bonus or perhaps a bonus to building things. Additionally, you can choose which citizens you bring along for additional customization, as well as deciding upon a choice of cargo and starting bonuses. Starting the game is quite a tricky matter, filled with choices that will dictate how your game progresses.
I really like all the options and it makes the game feel much more customized. Of course, it also means that you’ve already decided certain key elements about your gameplay before you even see the lay of the land. You might push towards science only to find that your starting area would be better served by focusing on military strength thanks to some particularly aggressive aliens. However, it helps add replayability to the game as you tinker with your starting set up to find the best possible combination for your preferred play style.
Speaking of customization for individual gameplay styles, the Tech Web is large and varied enough for any approach to the game. There are a ton of techs to research, although players might find that they tend towards the same pattern in starting technology. While I like the fact that players can choose to ultra specialize, it does get irritating when I’d rush to build a certain tech for a quest only to find that I couldn’t actually build the quest building because it required a resource that would only be revealed after researching a different technology. Sure, the variety and individuality of research is fantastic, but a bit more guidance or flow might optimize the experience.
Quests add context to the game. They pop up throughout game play as you encounter different things on the new world. Some quests might force you to make a decision after constructing a specific building – for example you can choose if your fencing is upgraded to keep aliens further away from your city, or used as a mobile shield for your trade units. While the quests help add decision making that lean you towards different alignments, they aren’t always in line with how you want to play the game. For example, there is a quest to guide you towards researching Computing so that you will build a spy network. However, the quest will also specify which culture you should spy on for a certain mission – this means that even if you’re building friendships and cooperation with other civilizations, you’ll need to undermine this in order to complete a quest.
Other issues of gameplay flow are also noticeable. When playing multiplayer (or single player) you can’t trade technology with other civilizations, nor can you undertake a research project together. Considering the huge importance of tech in the game, it would be a huge help to work together… until you stab each other in the back. Health is also out of alignment in the game with cities becoming unhealthy almost faster than you can build improvements to counteract the apparent ill health. This also forces players to research health oriented technology, pushing them towards specific gameplay that they might not be looking to pursue.
The virtues are a fantastic addition to the game. Working similarly to social policies in Civilization V, they offer bonuses for horizontal and vertical progression. This makes a big difference in gameplay – if could focus on virtues for science, culture and health for some play-throughs or do a build focused solely on military and production. Even if you spread your virtues across all the different paths, you will still receive bonuses for doing so; by rewarding you regardless of play style, it allows players to pursue their preferred strategy without feeling forced.
The most glaring problem at the moment, though, are the aliens themselves. Sure, I understand that aliens on a new planet might be stronger than humanity, but they are beyond overpowered. When you land on the new planet, your soldiers can barely take out the weakest life form without dying themselves. But it’s not just the weak enemies that come after you at the start of the game. Siege Worms roam the countryside and generally require about 8-10 hits with your city’s bombardments to be put down – this means that your city improvements and even workers or explorers will probably fall victim to the Siege Worm before you can destroy it. With no way to build units that will take it out faster, it makes the early game more of a battle against alien life forms that anything else. Later in the game the aliens are still over powered, even if you choose an affinity that you imagine will help in your battle with the alien faction.
While the game is still ridiculously addictive and you will find yourself pushing for one more turn, all the balancing issues and difficulty in knowing which research will get you what you want the fastest, it just isn’t quite the experience that I’m hoping for in its current form.
That said, there is still a lot of time before the game ships and the preview only allowed for the first 200 turns. Perhaps things turn around in the mid-to-late gameplay. The way it is now, Civilization: Beyond Earth is a fun yet flawed experience. However, with a few tweaks, I’m sure Firaxis can rebalance it and make it a truly stellar game.
Last Updated: September 26, 2014