The Sid Meier’s franchise contains a few of the most successful turn-based strategy games of all time, and while the series itself has seen its share of ups and downs, the latest installment was designed as a progressive take on the classic game. In an attempt to breathe new-life into the franchise, and to supply an equally new playing field for all of the new enhancements that the game brings along, players are leaving Earth behind to conquer a new planet far, far away. You can think of the entire premise of the game as the closing chapter, and new beginning, of Civilization 5. After Earth’s population has finally decimated the planet’s natural resources, nations begin a colonization of a new planet to expand their empires.
The idea of taking to space and conquering something new I felt was a fresh-take on the traditional game-play, and I enjoyed the new faction set-up and many of the game’s little nuances and tweaks that it brought to combat and research. One of the first decisions that you have to make is choosing to live peacefully with the planet, and its alien inhabitants, or if you simply want to take everything by force. This affinity choice comes in three faction and will be the major philophy of your civilization moving forward. You will get different perks or suffer consequences by choosing either affinity, it’s your first real strategic decision in the game.
The new title is also pushed ahead in time, meaning that learning to sail is a thing of the past, and working through diplomatic or covert means happens much more quickly than it would in a traditional Civ game. A new quest system takes the place of the ‘favors’ asked by city-states in Civ V, and offers more to do in a much more organized (though very complicated at first) quest log. The quest log is a wonderful idea that was horrendously executed, with just walls of text thrown at you when you enter the game. It’s better than Civ V, but since it’s a new system to players, more could have been done to explain and manage it. Not only is the questing system extremely important to your Civilization’s success, it’s terribly explained. This goes for a lot of the new functions and features of the game. The tutorial and logs found in the game’s main menus and hidden ‘help’ sections will help you better explain the game’s mechanics, but unless someone warned you to check-them, you most likely would have relied on the game-play to walk you though it, and it doesn’t.
Bolstering your army and managing units was one of the better upgrades that this installment initiated. You no longer have to constantly upgrade each unit, it works on your Affinity progress and units upgrade themselves as you learn new tech. Since there are no city states in this game, you will trade with smaller space-stations. You will still get to manage trade-routes and work in specific skill-trees to enhance your economy, but you no longer have to swear protection to a specific station. Many of the before mention quests in the game, stem from the trading and managing of your space-station relations.
One downside to the new factions that I did not see coming was the lack of innovation and back-story that each would be missing. In traditional Civ games the leaders came from real-life nations, that either had a distinct history that you knew, or a stereotype that you projected onto them. Gandhi for example, is a historical figure that you most likely knew, understood at least at an introductory level, and came with a back-story and historical record that you could be invested in. Even if you set the game’s personalities to random, or weren’t anything like the real Gandhi while you terrorized other nations in war, there was either a similarity or a contrast to the actual real-life back-story that made those choices interesting. The new game offers none of this, and while that could have meant a clean-slate to create some of the most interesting and creative leaders of all time, instead, you are left with blank-characters that basically have little to no engaging personality whatsoever.
The upside to the new installment comes with all of the tweaks in managing your Civilization, from military operations, to scientific research, to funding your subjects and conquering others. Almost everything about the game was designed to allow players to complete what they wanted done, done with less frustration and clicks. You are less tethered to counting down turns to the next scientific discovery or upgrade, and more in tune with carrying out your overall plans. It’s a terrific upgrade to the system, but the system sits on a less than impressive core dynamic of weak characters and a poorly managed theatrical landscape. By ‘theatrical’ I mean the voice-overs and general interactions with the NPC’s that assist you or play against you. It’s such a small part of the game-play I know, but it seemed that Fireaxis failed at any attempt to bring characters to life in this game, and that’s a problem when you play in single-player.
The difficulty in recommending the game or dismissing it comes from the departure of the original series. The game is a terrifically designed turn-based strategy game, with immense skill-trees and almost unbelievably expansive tech trees, but the poorly designed tutorials and new bland factions make it a hard-sell for me as a long-time Civ fan.
I think Beyond Earth is the most intricate turn-based game I have ever played, offering terrific options in both micromanagement and macro-management of cities and armies. It’s easily the most beautiful option in my opinion, but that doesn’t make it the most fun, or engaging. I think any turn-based fan would find hours and hours of enjoyment in this new installment, but I’m not sure if everyone will be on board to leave Earth at launch.