Update: As of the first major patch, the game is certainly playable. I still wouldn't recommend it based on the poor creative direction. The game just needs a lot of extra seasoning. I can't lie, I've been playing it a lot lately, and it's just damned solid mechanically, and despite the similarities to Civ 5, it actually plays a lot differently on the meta strategy level. None of this couldn't be done by very creative modders, however, and the real meat of a AAA game is in the art budget, of which BE clearly had very little.
I've been looking forward to this game for months. So this review hurts to write.
As a HUGE fan of science-fiction, Civilization, and the Civ 5 engine, I feel obligated to write this review. It is very, very hard for me to not give this game a general recommendation.
Let me preface it by saying it's not going to be bubbly fan-squealing, or one-dimensional vitriol. I have legitimate issues with Beyond Earth - serious ones!
Does that mean I'm not playing it? No, it doesn't. I'm enough of a nerd to love the game despite its failings.
Here's the rundown:
The game takes to the Civ 5 engine like a duck to water. Yes, a lot of the various aspects of it are transparently reskinned (energy is gold, happiness is health, etc.) A lot of the mechanics, such as diplomacy and trade, are just flat out identical to how they are in Civ 5 and its various expansions. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so, because Civ 5 did a lot of things right.
Let's just condense this. It's a great base game. It's a game that I can play and enjoy and then think "wow, I can't wait until this gets expansions and becomes truly amazing." In that sense, it reminds me of Civ 5 at release, way back when. I liked Civ 5 at release. But it didn't grip me. That all changed when Gods and Kings came out. The vast majority of my Civ 5 playtime is post G&K. I suspect it'll be the same for Beyond Earth.
Unfortunately this is just how Firaxis seems to do things now. They release a really solid, if bare and vanilla, base game for the flat fee. Then they release thirty dollar expansions that are AMAZING additions. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work.
Here are some things I just can't excuse, though, and I think really detract from the value of a full-price purchase:
- Very little automation. I have no problem with micro-management. But when that micromanagement becomes clicking my poor old fingers into early arthritis just to refresh trade routes, I get irritated. It was annoying in BNW, it's annoying here. And where are city governors? This game should have improved upon Civ 5's shortcomings, not just reskinned the whole thing, annoyances and all.
-Graphical glitches. Units getting stuck in the upgrade windows and plastering over each other. Visual artifacts. Etc. Will be ironed out. Not game-breaking in the least, just annoying.
-Sound glitches. Sometimes when achieving a new affinity level, and a new technology, the quotes stutter or lay over each other, or jostle for priority. It's distracting and annoying.
- Boring leaders. I like Kavitha a lot. But I play as her, so I don't get to see her much. I have to be subjected to all the boring, rigid, starched sads that run the other factions (except for the PAC leader, she really gets into it sometimes). Alpha Centauri had strong, charismatic, intriguing characters for the individual factions. The leaders in this game seem sedate compared to them, and especially compared to the colorful, bombastic characters littered through Civ 5.
- Boring factions in general. Half the fun of Civ 5 was having your own special war and peace themes as a civ. Identifying with the strong personality and values of your chosen civ, etc. There is very little to attach to in Beyond Earth, because all of the leaders are relatively sedated and dull. They don't even get unique backgrounds or music.
- Limited visual representation of technology progression. It's there, sure. Clothes on your fellow leaders change. You can see some cybernetics later. I haven't seen what they look like at the maximum affinity level (18), maybe it's extreme. It would be cool to be able to look at your own leader and see how they change visually as you progress, but you can't.
- Boring-as-♥♥♥♥-wonders. Each wonder in Civ 5 had a dramatic quote, a beautiful piece of art, and its own brief symphonic score to herald its completion. In Beyond Earth we get some dull, lifeless blueprint picture, no real musical cue, and a simple quote. I also can't see them on the landscape like I could in Civ - no wait, I can see some of them. They're just hard to catch sometimes.
All in all, the game just lacks polish and TLC. And that's what separates a AAA title for $50-60 from everything else. You expect a certain level of polish and refinement, and a lot of that comes from attention to detail in the art and writing departments. You progress through astounding leaps and bounds of technology, yet the sense of impact from those accomplishments is minimal thanks to the slashed art, music, and writing budgets.
So, in terms of just artistic polish, the game is a huge disappointment compared to every other Civ title and Alpha Centauri. It lacks the personality and charm Firaxis usually brings to the table. What gives?
I don't know. We can only really speculate. But it's sad, and ultimately, kind of kills the experience for me.
I only recommend this game to hardcore Civ fans who just love a good strategy romp. It's still fun to play. It just isn't very satisfying in the end. To everyone else, I say just avoid it until the first expansion comes out and the price drops, unless you truly don't care about art, or character, or music, and only want the numbers and the game itself.
Hopefully in the future we'll see more victory conditions, religion mechanics, psionics, another affinity, new factions, new leaders, better art, better music, better expensive non-gamey stuff that publishers hate to fund.