(Too long to read? This review is also available in video format below for your convenience.)
It's been fifteen long years since Sid Meier has given us the opportunity to conquer the cosmos with Alpha Centauri.
Set 600 years into the future where the earth is on the brink of destruction. The nations of the world send some of their best and brightest into space as a last ditch effort to colonize another planet. With an uncharacteristically utopian view on things, many nations have combined and cooperate with one another. For instance, Australia and Polynesia merge to become Polystralia, America, Canada, and Mexico become the American Reclamation Corporation and the entire continent of Africa becomes the African Union to name a few examples. These alliances take to the stars to begin anew on the wild frontier of alien planets.
Utilizing the core of Civ V, Beyond Earth is a turn-based strategy featuring hexagonal tiles on a grid without unit stacking. The terrain offers benefits in the same way its predecessor does. Mountains are impassible, hills provide extra defense, and rivers are difficult to cross. You start the game by picking a plot of land to build your first city, while each of the tiles offer different bonuses, such as food, production and energy.
After founding your first city, you’re able to explore the alien landscape, searching for resource pods and artifacts for your explorers to excavate. It's here that one of the games’ first alterations comes to light: quests. Players will be given quests to complete and choices to make that help dictate the evolution of your civilization as well as providing additional buffs and bonuses.
Diplomacy is alive and well among these new colonies allowing you to trade with other civilizations, and you have access to all the diplomacy options seen in Civilization V, as well as the inclusion of favors which can be cashed in on later trades.
The Alien life-forms are the game’s equivalent to barbarians albeit a lot stronger. They are however not as aggressive and will generally leave your units alone unless they happen to path towards a tile you’re occupying. This changes throughout the game though based on the Affinities you choose. Also if you go out of your way to attack an Alien or approach a nest, they will become hostile for a few turns. Certain bonuses and abilities make it worthwhile to actively exterminate these pests but later in the game that can become a diplomatic blunder with civilizations that are more sympathetic to alien life.
The Affinities are by far the most unique feature to Beyond Earth. They allow you to specialize your Civilization with a specific ideology. Players who follow the Harmony path will have players synthesizing with their new planet and the alien life that inhabits it. Supremacy takes a page from the cyberpunk playbook with a focus on augmentation and improvement through technology. Finally there is the path of Purity, which focuses on retaining humanity and destroying anything that threatens that. Not only do these Affinities grant you special units and buildings, but they also change the way that other civilizations react with you. Think of it as being on-par with Religion or Political Doctrines from other Civilization games.
The technology tree is also non-linear in this, allowing for you to choose any number of paths which allows for a lot of variety between different civilizations. It did seem like there were a few very specialized paths that were far superior to the others though, as you generally want to amass whatever Affinity you’re going with quickly, as it will immediately upgrade your troops without the need to do things manually like the past Civ games.
This is where the differences in Beyond Earth end though, as everything else is simply re-skinned from Civilization V. Happiness has been replaced with Health, Gold has been replaced with Energy, while food and production remain the same. There are also a lot of things that don’t really make sense, such as having the technology to colonize another planet without having anyway to unveil the map. You’ll uncover the mystery planet much the same way as your primitive warriors will back in 4000BC like past Civ games. The tech-tree also has some inconsistencies such as having to research Physics, Chemistry and Computers despite the game taking place in the year 2600.
All of the units function the same way as well, with the majority of units being melee along with a few ranged, naval, and air units. The fact that naval technology is used at all is a bit strange with hovercrafts only being unlocked late-game. One would think the majority of units would be flying in a time like this while the few air units in the game function exactly the same way as jets from previous Civilization games.
The world in general feels exactly like past civ games, with no option to move on to other planets and what’s worse is that the game seems to have lost any charm or personality that was apparent in other Civ games. Leaders like Genghis Khan, Gandhi, and Montezuma are all replaced with overly polite, boring politicians. None of the civilizations displays any semblance of personality or is anyway memorable. Having a few alien civilizations would have been a great way to add some personality to the proceedings.
Espionage has also been completely buffed and is now nearly game breaking, as spies are now able to stage coup-d’états and take over other civilization’s capitals without any resistance. Should you take a capital, the AI civilizations barely seem to react and will still not declare war on you.
If you were expecting this installment to not have bugs, you would be sadly mistaken as the multiplayer is still barely playable. You’ll constantly be faced with disconnects and crashes where you’ll have to re-host the game. You could of course continue the game and have your friends rejoin you, but that will be at the cost of the AI temporarily taking over their civilization and rerouting all production, scientific research and virtues. Even when playing single player, I faced the odd random crash to my desktop which had me frequently reloading auto-saves.
The game also feels a lot more tedious when compared to past Civilization games as you'll have to babysit trade convoys and orbital units every few turns.
Ultimately, Civilization: Beyond Earth feels like a mod or scenario for Civilization V. It doesn’t stray away or do anything innovative enough to warrant being a standalone title. While the non-linear tech tree, quests and affinity system are welcomed, they allow for some unbalanced combinations. Beyond Earth is also missing many features from past Civ games such as Corporations, Religion, and Great People. Having more meaningful interactions with aliens would have been welcomed as well but the game feels like it was inspired by Sid Meier watching the movie Starship Troopers.
Beyond Earth isn’t a bad game; it just fails to meet the standard set by past Civilization titles and can feel a lot more tedious in the process. We suspect that like its predecessor, Beyond Earth will improve immensely with the addition of expansions but as of now, any cravings you have for space exploration might be better satiated by taking a trip to the theater to see Interstellar.
This review is also available in video format:http://youtu.be/ZDLDyqckq7o
+ Affinity system welcomed
+ Has that one more turn syndrome
+ Great Soundtrack
+/- Could improve with DLC
- Multiplayer is buggy and almost unplayable
- Lacks originality, feels like re-skinned Civ V
- Doesn't have much personality or charm
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