First: 4x is my fave game genre. Period. Then racing. Then grindy MMO/ARPG stuff. 4x > everything though.
I'm going to be honest. After playing Civ BE a lot, my mind goes back to this game and how much it's actually trying to innovate. How much it actually tried to bring a few new concepts into the realm of 4x and how it executes a lot of them very well. Also how , yes it did make a few strange design choices that I'm not sure I love, but I can say the same about any Civ game past version 3 including the newest one.
- Big Picture mode UI. I'm going say this again. BIG PICTURE MODE UI
This sounds like a stupid thing to fanfare, but surprise it's not 1999 anymore and people have their PCs hooked up to 46 inch TVs in their living room. If they want to play 4x games it's mostly tiny boxes to click on and blurry 8 point fonts. Here we have something that looks like it belongs the TV. I can see it clearly and I can play 4x on my couch instead of being huddled up on a desk like I'm working on a spreadsheet.
- Graphics are just gorgeous for what they are. This game just has some kinda good charm about it's presentation that's very pleasing to my eyes. It's not super next-gen omgcrysis level of graphics but it's just perfect for this type of game.
- The UI is the best in 4x history. Yes. ALL OF 4x HISTORY
. All important up-front information is up-front. Things that can be in the background are in the background. This game just makes amazing use of the screen and all the turn-to-turn stuff is clearly visible at all times. Also do you realize how right-clicking to close menus and screens needs to be accepted by EVERY SINGLE GAME EVER?
- The leaders/teams/civs/whatever they are called are actually varied. Not with only special units by completely different approaches all together. You have mage types that cast spells, warrior types that run in with giant axes and edgy dark caped guys that are just 24/7 edgy.
- The tech tree isn't linear even though it's still focused on tiers and a loose example of "ages".
- I think expansion is actually a bit interesting albeit hard to wrap your head around at first. It makes total sense when you see it motion but it's going to feel weird to not be able to put a new city inside your borders even though there's a billion tiles of it. Also I really like the manual expansion of "quarters". I feel like I'm building the city brick by brick and not just letting fate do it's thing with MY workers. This is where the less is more thing goes into effect. You have less cities as a result but they will be much more important and detailed to you.
- Troop design that goes way past 'the more powerful guy' type research. This is where this game gets kinda RPG but it works in this context.
- I like the resource system. It's the standard "this is for war stuff" and "this is luxary" type setup, but it does what it needs to do and no more. They all have special benefits and are worth linking up.
- The exchange and play with minor factions actually feels rewarding, especially when you assimilate them and start producing their units and get unique benefits depending on their race... or you know. Just run them over and take their cities. Your choice, but it's more in line with what a 4x should offer instead of just mouse-clicky stuff because mouse-clicky stuff.
- This might not be a total con, but it's worth noting. War is a mixed bag. You don't really directly fight. You are more of a general and you guide troops in a general direction and they move how they want. This is a very weird choice considering you are making 95% of the rest of the choices in the game. I'm not sure what justifies it. The good thing about this, is that it's not you managing all these very small incrimental moves from square to square and most of the time the AI picks a good spot where to put itself. It's going to always flank. If you send melee to their doom by enemies that are just attacking in a giant cone in front of them, then it's your fault for sending them in there. So you have control, but not 100%. It's a wierd thing to get used to but it's total love/hate. It's far far better than it was when I played this in alpha where you literally just kinda watched fights.
- Since combat is kinda hard-coded like that, your armies are almost forced to be balanced. This is kind of a "duh" thing in warfare, but specialization kinda goes sideways. I mean if you heavily invest in melee unit tech and gear, but can only really put a few in your lineup I guess you got half your army stronger, but would have been better off just splitting the tech down the middle into more balance? This is kind of how I've been seeing it anyway. I could be very wrong. I just know some stuff is really dumb to fight against as melee and vice versa. This is obviously by design but I really hate the illusion of choice when it comes to research and what not in a 4x game if you really have to play a certain way to benefit from better tactics. This is a very minor gripe again, because in almost any war type game you'll be on this page, but in this game let's say I pick a mage type hero for the army who is incredibly strong, I might have the tendancy to field them with melee to keep things distracted while he blows them up. This really works more like, I just fed a lot of melee to the other guys and they rushed my mage in his face. 2 ranged, 2 melee and the hero is a lot better because I could focus fire while the melee only takes a hit or two.
- AI isn't the best, but is being tuned up. They did a reasonably good job by improving this tenfold in Endless Space so I trust they will improve it.
- Quests... Every time you start a new game it's kinda the same deal and they are actually pretty important. It gives the game a bit of guidence, but I really feel like it takes away the sandbox a bit and replaces with story rails. You don't have to do these and you only miss out on small bonuses, but you tend to feel obligated for at least the first few entries. It also helps eat the void where the opening stages of most 4x just don't have a lot going on. The last thing I ever want to do is arbitrary 0 out of 5 type quests though.. I'd just go play an RPG, but I get what they were going for.
My main point of recommendation here is that we have a developer like this at least trying to do something new and make a solid entry who isn't very well known and isn't selling a ton of games. Then we have Civ pretty much not even trying with half of their new flagship game that cost 50 bucks and it got lapped up . I'm guilty here, and honestly I still enjoy BE and will play it, but I had to mention this game in my recommendations because I got it for really cheap in a forum trade and it's worth knowing about it. If you see this for a good price and love 4x do not hesitate. It's something truly different, but also familiar to those that love Civ already. I might even almost recommend it over BE if you aren't hung up on the sci-fi thing or just really absolutely HAVE to have everything play exactly like Civ.