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Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

By drcoolio34528-10-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

The Defence

Firaxis Games
2K Games
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i5 1.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD Radeon HD 5870
4 GB
8 GB

The Case

Space may be the final frontier, but Civilization V fans will feel oddly at home despite the aliens romping about around their cities. Once you look past Beyond Earth's miasma, aliens and space-lingo, it becomes extremely clear that Beyond Earth is Civ V in space. Everything from the resources, to the hexes, to the diplomacy from Civ V returns to make an appearance in Beyond Earth, the only difference being that everything looks more squishy and green now.

The Trial

In your quest to colonize a planet you'll come across many squishy green things, most notably the aliens who have taken on the role of roaming barbarians. While barbarians in Civilization games often wandered into your territories, messed with Van Halen mix-tapes, and refused to leave until you introduce them to death, aliens are at least polite. They only mess with you if you look at them funny first, turning the most infuriating element of any past Civilization's early game and turning it into something completely avoidable. If you do choose to start something with them though you better be prepared, because the alien wildlife is stronger, more aggressive, and comes in bigger numbers than any barbarian tribe.

Even more fearsome than the aliens though, is the “miasma,” a gaseous substance that’s fresh air to the aliens, but deadly poison to us colonists. Miasma can damage units, stop tiles from being improved, and completely block trade routes if you don’t get rid of it. Even worse, aliens are healed by it and place their hives inside fields of the stuff, making the aliens hard to kill and trying to colonize that area a complete nightmare early on in the game. You can get satellites or improved workers to remove the miasma, but it takes time and resources away from other developements. The aliens and miasma really help the setting, making you feel like you're not on earth anymore, but the final frontier where everything is still trying to kill you.

Colonization I

Colonization I

To keep the aliens and your enemies at bay, you have to depend on your advanced space-age technologies that you research through the tech-web. The tech-web lets you research everything from physics to nanomachines, each finished technology providing you with new buildings, wonders, and units to build. Beyond Earth relies less on previous technologies that you've researched and allows you to quickly spread to late game technologies after just four or five researched if you really want to. This creates a freedom that wasn't present in previous Civ titles, but it also can create confusion.

Even as a player with over 300 hours invested in the Civilization series, I was often confused as to how to progress throughout the web. Civilization V's tech tree was comparatively simple, the upper technologies in the tech tree are for artsy-smartsy civilizations while the lower technologies are for production and war, but 30 hours into Beyond Earth and I’ve yet to find any pattern in Beyond Earth’s tech-web. This might be an intentional design choice, but it’s still confusing.

The more understandable way to get benefits is through Beyond Earth's new affinities system, which allows players to evolve their own ideology and construct special units based on what they research. There are three affinities available; harmony, purity, and supremacy. Each give their own benefit, the closer you become aligned with them. Harmony is loosely based on food and growth, purity is money and resources, while supremacy is war and production. It's up to you which you invest in. Affinities are the key to every victory in Beyond Earth with the exception of the domination victory, and you get more points in your affinity by building certain wonders, researching specific sciences, and making decisions in quests.

Welcome to the web.

Welcome to the web.

Beyond the tech web and affinities, there are three other gameplay elements in place to help you through life in this foreign world. First is who you're playing as throughout the game, whether you're the sneaky ARC who rely on spies and covert operations to succeed, or Brasilia who is naturally stronger in direct combat. There are eight leaders to choose from right now, a sad comparison to V's current 43. But then again, Civilization V had years to grow that roster up to what it is now while Beyond Earth just came out. Then there's culture, which gives you "virtues" that let you choose from a large tree of benefits, replacing policies from Civ V. Lastly there are quests, some being harder than others, that grant small "either-or" changes to your colony. You could for instance choose for your xenonursaries to produce more food or more culture, choices like that.

All these choices are important and meaningful too. As you invest in your affinities, your colonies units change in appearance and your cities will become more distinct. While affinities are the most obvious example since they change how your colony will look, other choices change your income, your production, your culture, and other, less readily noticeable but still important factors. These choices are usually small boosts that happen continually throughout the game, but they end up making huge differences over time.

There are all these choices, tweaks, and small innovations that Beyond Earth introduces into the franchise’s mix, but it drops a lot too. Beyond Earth has eight “Sponsors” to choose from at the beginning of the game while Civilization V had 43 Civs. City states have been replaced by small trade hubs that don’t produce units, can’t become allies, and have no territory of their own. And the wonders have been scaled back in their use and power. Luxuries and city states have just been completely removed, replaced by more strategic resources and “minor powers.” Worst of all is the fact that the sponsors, wonders, and cities aren’t recognizable. Bismarck, Montezuma, Washington and Elizabeth are all big names that we recognize, but “The American Reclamation Corporation” lacks that charm.

...Russians in space...

...Russians in space...

Call it Civilization nostalgia if you want, but for every step forward Beyond Earth takes, it takes two back from the previous titles. It clearly wants to be just as loved and successful as Civilization V was, and it might be with time, but for every new feature like the aliens, tech-web, and miasma, there’s another element that Civ V had that Beyond Earth doesn’t. Beyond Earth is an amazing game in its own right, but it’s very much in the shadow of previous entries in the Civilization series.

The Verdict

Civilization: Beyond Earth is an amazing game and a worthy successor to Alpha Centauri and sequel to Civilization V. It's by no means a perfect game, and will likely remain in Civilization V's shadow because of its nearly identical gameplay, with only minor changes. No Civilization game is complete without its accompanying DLC, but at least for now, Beyond Earth plays more like a Civilization V knockoff with a space theme more than its own actual game. Pick it up if you love science fiction and space, but otherwise Civilization V has the better overall experience.

Case Review

  • Strategic: The Civilization series offers some of the best turn based strategy in the genre, Beyond Earth is no exception.
  • Replayability: You could dump hundreds of hours into this game and play it differently every time.
  • Aliens & Miasma: Aliens are much more fun and dynamic than Barbarians ever were, and miasma completely changes how you move around the map.
  • Choices: Choices are constant because of the quests, and there's no "boring era" once you get to the later game.
  • Similar: Beyond Earth plays more like a re-skin of Civilization V than its own unique game.
  • Tech-Web: The new tech-web offers lots of freedom, but can be overbearing and confusing.
  • Limited Cast: There are only eight playable sponsor-races for now and they're not recognizable figures like the Civs in the Civilizations series.
  • No City States: City states have been completely removed and replaced with trade hubs without land, units, or diplomatic options.
Score: 4/5
It's not Civilization IV or V, but it's still a quality Civilization game.
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