Civilization: Beyond Earth Review – Reaching for the stars

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Civilization: Beyond Earth is a turn-based strategy game developed by Firaxis and published by 2K Games. The game sets itself apart from previous Civilization titles via a futuristic setting, breaking the chains of history to evolve into something spectacular.

Firaxis reaches for the stars and achieves greatness by delivering a game of grand-strategy so immensely satisfying and addictive that it might just be alien in nature.

The Story – The universe is your oyster

In the twilight of planet Earth’s great civilizations, mankind has used up almost all of the planet’s resources. In an attempt to save the human race, brave souls are chosen to embark on a journey to colonize another planet. The opening cinematic show that people are chosen based on a certain skill set, their strength or even just pure luck. Apart from the opening cinematic, which ends as a spaceship reaches the alien shores, there is no other mention of a story, as the game lets the player create their own.  

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At the very start of a game, the player is given the opportunity to choose a plethora of different options which will affect gameplay. First off is the size of the map, the terrain, number of players, speed of the game and difficulty. The map size, terrain and number of players can be randomized, giving each new game a sense of wonder and exploration.

Secondly, the player gets to choose their sponsor, colonist type, spaceship and ship cargo, creating the back-story of their civilization in the process. Wanting to try something new from the sponsor I played during the preview, I chose Brazilia sponsor, which gives +10% strength to units in melee combat and scientists as the colonist type. The type of spaceship was a tough decision, yet I settled on the “continental surveyor” which shows the coastlines of the alien world right from the start. Lastly, for ship cargo, I yet again chose the free worker on arrival, as it is still the best option in my opinion.  

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The pre-game choices greatly affect how players will experience the game and move forward to victory. Before the gameplay actually starts the player is faced with a hoard of options that might look alien to newcomers and veterans of the Civilization series alike.

The starting options are important. However, the choice of affinity is the most intriguing. Affinity dictates how a civilization will develop throughout a game, for example choosing “Harmony” means that colonists will choose to embrace the alien nature of the planet, learn from it and thereby evolve into a new form of humankind. All these options at the start of the game encompass what Civilization: Beyond Earth is all about, a game of grand strategy that has no equal.

Gameplay – Grand Strategy at its finest

As the spaceship lands on alien shores, the game starts in earnest. From the very first moment the player is met with a choice of where to start their colony and embarks on a whirlwind ride of grand strategy.

Right at the start of the game, two options are available pertaining to how the game’s advisor system will work. The first option sets the advisor to give advice only, while the second will give the player full guidance. Newcomers to the Civilization franchise definitely choose full guidance, while even veterans might want to use the advisor system in some form during their first few games, as the game is exceptionally deep and complex.  

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During the early game, a capital city is used to produce units and structures within its walls. The worker unit is of utmost importance during early game, as it can be ordered to build a wealth of crucial buildings on plots outside the capital city, for example farms and power reactors.

Additionally, the Explorer unit should be used right from the start of the game. Explorers perform a wide variety of functions, from simple scouting to finding and excavating alien resources. Throughout the game, I found consistent use for the Explorer, scouting the environment for resource pods to bolster my colony’s wealth. Resource Pods, according to the game’s lore, were sent ahead of the colony expedition in order to help sustain life on the alien planet.

Throughout the game, players need to make tough decisions in order to grow and expand their colony. The first choice comes in the form of research, which provides players with a literal web of options on how to improve their civilization. The research web branches out from the simple to understand upgraded weapons to intriguing options such as alien biology and physics as examples. Furthermore, as a player progresses through research and expansion, affinity points become available. These points can be put into four branching tech trees, namely Military Might, Prosperity, Knowledge and Industry.  

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All the gameplay options and choices give the player an immense amount of choice on how to progress throughout the game. For the bloodthirsty, choosing Military Might and researching physics will give them an edge in military power, while players that want to focus on production will go down the Industry tree and research options that increase production output as well as worker speed.

Resource management comes into play from the early stages of the game and continues to be a prominent part of the experience throughout. Energy powers units and buildings, can be traded with other factions or even used as bribes. Additionally, it can be used to expand the colony’s territory. Having a surplus of energy is never a bad thing, so I would recommend building additional power plants as soon as you can.

A new resource in the game comes in the form of Health. Health limits your ability to grow rapidly and annex new cities effectively by introducing a penalty to overgrowth. In order to combat it, you must outfit your cities with facilities that provide health bonus, and ignoring it will quickly result in penalties to productivity, trade and other factors that could gravely affect your ability to go to war, or to research quickly enough to keep up.

Quests arise whenever you build a new building type, or when you stumble upon a special tile on the map. Building-related quests merely ask you to make a permanent choice about what kind of bonus that structure will provide, and map quests usually involve explorers developing a tile or a sending a unit to check something out. These quests provide an interesting addition to gameplay, flowing in perfectly with general feeling of exploration and progression.    

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During the first 20 or so turns, additional Artificial Intelligence (AI) players join the fray or real players if you play a multiplayer game.  The AI introduce themselves right as they land on the planet and offers a friendly “hello neighbor” greeting.

The player has the option to declare war on the newly arrived colonists or become allies, sharing resources and building an empire through cooperation. Additionally, trade routes can be established, thereby benefiting both parties. In my second game one of the colonists, “Daoming Sochua of the Pan-Asian Cooperate” became extremely ticked off that I was clearing out some alien life forms. Daoming Sochua went so far as to publically condemn my colony for the slaughter of the native aliens, to which I replied by promptly declaring war.

Fighting an enemy does not simply mean attacking their structures and units until everything is a pile of ashes. The game offers various options in which to dismantle a foe. Covert operations spring to mind as an excellent example. A player can research and then train covert operatives who can be sent to enemy cities for scouting missions, stealing resources or even planting “dirty bombs” in order to weaken the enemy before they strike.        

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Civilization: Beyond Earth gives the player an exceptional amount of choices both during and after combat. Setting up long ranged attacks with a unit’s ability or fortifying your units, giving them added defenses against hard hitting enemy abilities is a must. Furthermore, units can be upgraded, which change their appearance and stats. While in combat, units also gain veterans levels which give the player a choice of upgrading health, healing the unit or increasing its permanent strength.

After the battle for a city is over, the spoils of war are glorious. The game offers a choice of what to do with the city, for example sacking the city for additional resources or taking it over. Not only AI controlled colonists have main bases as aliens also have Hives. These Hives produce alien life forms, which if attacked, will start a fight. The aliens continuously swarm out of the hives until finally; the player can get a military unit right on top of the Hive, which will close it permanently.  

Turn based virtual crack - Just one…more…turn

If I had to describe Civilization: Beyond Earth in two words, it would have to be “Virtual Crack”. When I first sat down to play the game, it was 11am. Without warning, as I looked outside my window for the first time in many hours, it became dark. The second instance I stood up to get a glass of water, I realized I should make a cup of coffee, as it was 5am the next day, yet I still wanted to play just one more turn…

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The resource management, quests, combat, politics, research and exploration all come together in perfect harmony to create a game of grand strategy that is simply beyond anything I have experienced in the past. This is most likely why the game is so extremely addictive.  

The game is fun, addictive and extremely deep, so much so that a player can get lost in it for days on end. Firaxis has created a game that is so amazing; they should put a warning on the game that says it is addictive.

Graphics and sound – A colorful, living alien world

Civilization: Beyond Earth uses the same engine as Civilization V. Therefore, the graphical improvements over the game’s predecessor are not all that big. Even so, it is evident that Firaxis is pushing the engine to its limits in terms of graphical fidelity and fine-tuning it to run as well as it possibly can, creating beautiful alien worlds in the process.  

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The worlds players embark on are exceptionally beautiful and colorful. Alien artifacts and resources glow through lush green environments and hardened brown terrain, while the coastlines has a dark blue glow to them.

Every animation is wonderfully executed. Players can see how a building progresses through stages of development while worker units tirelessly work to create a new environment. Green alien slime and fog engulf certain areas of the game, while aliens move and look either extremely aggressive or frightened.

Even though the game’s graphics looks superb, the game still runs smoothly on lower end systems. My system is an i5 2500k clocked at 3.4ghz with 4gb of ram, running an old AMD HD6850 GPU, yet I did not experience any drops lag or long loading / turn processing times during gameplay.  

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In terms of audio quality, the game has an incredible soundtrack that lends itself to the idea of exploring a new, dangerous plant. Furthermore, the sound effects create a sense of urgency perfectly, as workers do their thing while aliens genuinely sound beastly, otherworldly in nature.

Lastly, the voice acting is amazingly well done. Most of the game’s advisor system is voiced, so players do not have to read the large portions of text. This means that immersion during gameplay is not broken by the need to read a wall of text, given Civilization: Beyond Earth remarkably fluid gameplay even as a newcomer.            

Closing Thoughts

Civilization: Beyond Earth is an exceptional game of grand strategy that delivers everything a player could possibly want from a turn-based strategy game. The amount of depth is astounding and everything aspect of the game works together wonderfully well.

After around 50 hours of gameplay, I still consider myself a lowly amateur in this amazing game. Civilization: Beyond Earth can be played for hundreds, if not thousands of hours. Therefore, the asking price of $49,99 is a complete steal.

The game was released on 24 October 2014 and can be purchased via Steam right now or one can get to know the Civilization franchise by purchasing the Sid Meyer’s Beyond Earth Classic Bundle which includes Civilization III Complete, Civilization IV, Civilization V and Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth for $69,99.

For anyone who enjoyed turn-based strategy games, Civilization: Beyond Earth is a must buy and in my opinion, the best game of grand strategy I have ever experienced.

Score: 9.5/10

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