Colonize Beyond Earth, Grow and Evolve
Hands down, one of the most anticipated games in 2014, at least for the strategists among you, was Civilization: Beyond Earth. Was it due to the immense hype, was it due to the inevitable comparisons with its glorious predecessor, or was it due to Firaxis Games‘ gamble to set a Civ game in space, when the game was finally released the overall feeling was one of disappointment.
The fact of the matter is that Civ: BE is much more in the spirit of Alpha Centauri than the Civilization series. No wonder that a significant part of the development team worked also on the Alpha Centauri. Granted, there were a few innovations and good ideas in the gameplay but as a whole Civilization: Beyond Earth left a strong feeling of unrealized potential and very whelming experience.
Let’s start with the few positive things this 4X strategy game brought to the genre. Probably the most prominent difference to previous Civ games is the technology tree: it has become a technology web. One is free to choose the technological development of one’s faction without following a predefined path. Many high-end features can be rushed (relatively speaking) if one so desires, completely foregoing more traditional technologies.
Another difference with previous titles of the franchise are the great many similarities between the colonies. Unlike the races in Civilization V, the colonies in Civ: BE are roughly the same. This is tackled with the affinities, which allow the races to specialize in different philosophical ideologies. They could choose to eradicate the endemic life forms or to live with them, and even to become one with them. This, or to rely heavily on human technology and to enhance themselves artificially, becoming mighty cyborgs.
Together with the miasma, these are the two most outstanding new features in the latest Civilization game, even though the latter is not so far removed from the political ideologies seen in its predecessor. No doubt, they are pretty good features but just not enough to deliver the great game expected by pretty much everyone.
Even the tech web does not provide the promised freedom because there are certain technologies, which simply must be researched for the colony to survive. Only that now they are scattered around. The affinities do bring along some variation, but they are not enough to compensate for the fact that there are no major differences between the colonies. Their leaders also are pretty similar, which takes away a lot from the political discourse of the world.
When mentioning the innovations of Civilization: Beyond Earth I missed the quest system on purpose. Even though it is rather new in the series the quests are so similar across the board that they have become rather dull. Don’t get me wrong, introducing quests is a great idea – check out Endless Legend for example – but in the majority of cases the choice they offer is so predetermined that they become pointless. It’s always health.
As a big Dune fan I was excited to see the giant worms roaming around but generally the aliens are quite strong early on and can really crush your base inadvertently. It is only a matter of luck whether you will establish colony close enough or right on their path to get wiped out. They do not scale at all though, which is a serious balance issue: too strong in the beginning, very weak later on.
Now, Civilization: Beyond Earth is underwhelming compared to its predecessor and didn’t quite match expectations, but it is not that terrible. As some fans pointed out, were it not a Civ game it would have been hailed as a moderate success. The upcoming expansion probably will improve the situation quite a bit as well. Hopefully, it will make the factions and their leaders a bit more colorful and will boost the AI, which at times is surprisingly dumb even on higher difficulties.
If you are eager to explore the stars go for it, but if you could wait a couple of months more you might enjoy your adventure among them even more.
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