Review: Civilization: Beyond Earth Soars Familiarly Among The Stars
It's 3:00 AM in the morning, I'm into my 387th turn in my third playthrough of Civilization: Beyond Earth and I had planned to get an early night - after just one more turn. Inevitably, my night did not pan out this way: one more turn became one more building, one more building became one more technology and one more technology became "until my enemies' blood runs through the alien hives in this hell-hole". Beyond Earth may not be Civilization in the same historically referential way that fans will be used to - but it's addictive, rewarding and compelling and hits all the same high notes that Civilization V did.
- Worth The Time?Yes
- Things LovedThe Technology Web is a great step up. Other civilisations' AI is impeccable, both in diplomacy and in war, and uses actively evolving strategy against the player. Aliens are actively involved in the game and are actively disruptive to player actions. Victories are varied and cater well to the three Affinities, as well as to different paths on the Technology Web. Runs on practically anything.
- Things HatedCan feel like a reskinned version of Civilization V at times. Diplomacy is often too binary. Aliens play a big part in the game, but feel far closer to pests than active inhabitants of a planet. Endgame is too hasty for big maps on Standard speeds. Getting a sense of direction in the Technology Web will take at least a playthrough.
- RecommendationBuy it and let people know they won't see you for a while. Civilization: Beyond Earth is a well-actualised turn-based strategy which becomes more rewarding the longer you play it. There's plenty of variety on show, and although it sometimes feels a bit too close to its predecessor, there's enough new content for Beyond Earth to be a really worthwhile purchase.
- Name: Civilization: Beyond Earth
- Genre: Turn-based strategy
- Players: 1-8
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Firaxis Games
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Price: R540 / $50
- Reviewed On: A potato
Civilization: Beyond Earth is the latest in the Civilization series – a series which has been around since before Windows was a thing. For the first time, however, the Civilization series is drifting away from its historical progressive roots, and towards the stars – towards space, in the aftermath of an event called “The Great Mistake” to a new dawn for humanity.
Clichéd locational explanation aside, Earth isn’t the only thing the title leaves in past Civilization games. The first change players will notice is in The Seeding – the opening sequence of choices where the player selects their faction of choice – called sponsors.
No longer do you play historical figures from great civilisations of the past – Beyond Earth puts you in control of a prominent figure from a sponsor representing one of many broad regions from Earth – such as the Pan-Asian Cooperative or American Reclamation Corporation (ARC). Each sponsor has their own play bonuses – ARC has a bonus to Covert Operations, while the Slavic Federation has a bonus to the longevity of their orbital constructions – which is reminiscent of national bonuses from Civilization V. After that you’ll choose what type of colony yours will be, which upgrades your ship will have and what cargo it will be carrying – all of which directly affect the early to middle game, depending on your choices and Virtue choices. There are further changes that can be made in the Advanced Setup menu, which have a number of effects, from making the aliens more aggressive to setting which Victories can be used.
The early game is where new players will have the most problems, but it’s also the area which feels the most balanced. No early progression will hopelessly skew a game in a player’s favour in anything longer than the short to medium term, and unless you lose your capital very early on or level badly, you’ll still be involved come mid- to late-game.
To help with new player teething issues, there’s a really in-depth tutorial system in Civilization: Beyond Earth which scales to a players settings. There are settings for many variations of experience, from the newest of Civilization players to experienced players who just need an introduction to Beyond Earth’s new systems. There is also a handy in-game help library that contains everything – unit stats, building resource gains and maintenance costs and victory details. I found this particularly helpful when deciding which building to add to my construction queue, or which improvement to construct on a tile to maximise my resource generation, as the help entries were quite detailed.
The first and most predictable new feature, given that you’re not on Earth, is the inclusion of aliens. Aliens inhabit quite sizeable areas of the in-game estate, specifically near nests. Aliens occupy both sea and land areas, and are generally not hostile unless
you get too close to them or one of their nests for too long or attack them. In the early game, particularly before the Ultrasonic Fence upgrade is unlocked, these Aliens can present a genuine issue to your cities, as larger units such as the Dune-esque Siege Worms can crush your tile improvements by simply being on a tile, and, as the name suggests, are effective units against Cities and Outposts (Cities still being formed). In addition to this, the smaller units are quite a bit stronger than your starting combat units and, in all likelihood, will hopelessly batter you if you try and push their hives.
In the later game, Aliens provide more of a threat to your trade routes, which have been overhauled from Civilization V, and infrastructure between cities (roads early on, Magrails later in the game) and obtrusive to the development of new settlements. Because of ethical concerns, they also become a very political subject – killing Aliens may see you ostracised by certain civilisations and praised by others, regardless of previous wars and trade agreements. Despite the emphasis placed on them in the game, I still feel as if they don’t differ from barbarians very much; they’re far more common and far more threatening, but as the game progresses, they become pests rather than an actively and constructively involved aspect of the title. Though they differ from Barbarians, you can still see the legacy of Civilization V’s early game pests, even in another galaxy.
Along with Aliens come Miasma, a toxic gas which damages units who end their turn in it and which presents itself as a real pestilence in early-game stages.
The Technology Web is the next new feature in Civilization: Beyond Earth, and by far the biggest game changer as it affects every aspect of your society – from diplomacy to how your units look. Beyond Earth no longer uses a linear progression tree like its predecessor – instead it uses a sprawled web with expanded nodes. Developing along a path works very much the same as Civilization V’s tech tree, but with more branching options.
However, the Technology Web is far more than that, the Technology Web is what makes Beyond Earth tick. Developing certain nodes on the web will add points to specific Affinities – another new concept in Civilization: Beyond Earth which I’ll get back to – which in turn will affect your progression through the game. Most Victories have specific buildable conditions which can only be unlocked through the Technology Web and any successful military is going to have to be heavily upgraded through technology, regardless of the path you choose to take through it.
It’s all very daunting at first, and it’ll take some time to get used to, even with the guidance turned on. I personally didn’t have much success with technological development until my second campaign playthrough, and even then I felt slightly aimless. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s a great system which allows you to develop your civilisation into exactly what you want it to be – whether it be a sovereign state focused on cultural development, or a widespread empire linked intrinsically with the environment.
There are three Affinities player and AI civilisations can subscribe to in Beyond Earth, namely Harmony, Supremacy and Purity. Affinities shape the culture and attitude of your civilisation to the planet they inhabit. In Beyond Earth, these are split as follows:
Statement: There is a Siege Worm on my lawn.
Purity response: We never had worms that ate your home on Earth, this planet is insufferable.
Supremacy response: I have technology and wish to blow up this siege worm.
Harmony response: I wonder if I can grow that maw through gene splicing.
Unit upgrades no longer take place because of the Technology Web, your Affinity level will unlock upgrades for units, which differ greatly based on what your dominant Affinity is. Because of how the Technology Web is structured, players will probably end up with a mixture of different Affinities, although their dominant one will usually be a predetermined affair, both by the Victory one chooses to pursue and the technologies they wish to exist within their civilisation. The affinities also grant certain bonuses, based on level, so upgrading multiple paths isn’t an entirely bad idea if you do it for the bonuses.
Most bonuses can be enhanced with the use of Virtues. Virtues are the re-purposed result of culture – and work very much the same as Social Policies in Civilization V: you generate a certain amount of culture, you can unlock a bonus in a level tree. It’s quite a crude system, but it’s not a victory condition for any of the title’s Victories, so it plays more like a system of persistent bonuses, which is perfect in its largely peripheral role amongst the greater scheme of Beyond Earth.
The progression through the game is surprisingly smooth – and levelling your way through a branch of the Technology Web is a far quicker process than completing Civilization V’s Technology Tree. This means, at Standard speed, the games are far quicker – I’ve played three complete games in my 42 hours with Beyond Earth as opposed to still being busy with my second playthrough of Civilization V at 50 hours in.
This is great, as it allows for faster trial and error matches, but it can become an issue on larger maps, where movement and expansion restrictions imposed by aliens, natural obstacles and Miasma can debilitate a player’s push for victory. The late-game still requires some balancing, as it is heavily skewed towards those who were randomly placed in resource-rich areas at the beginning of the game, and actively opposes those thrown into arid, alien-infested or naturally difficult-to-access areas, which is a tough pill to swallow if you’ve spent 12-15 hours building a civilisation, only to be beaten by another faction that spawned a few tiles away from numerous late-game resources.
Diplomacy returns to Beyond Earth, with a few added twists – specifically involving Aliens and new orbital units.
Orbital units, which range from teleportation devices (a godsend for late-game combat) to giant death lasers and more mundane satellites which improve certain tiles’ productivity, are new units which allow players to assert control over certain tiles on an orbital view. To where orbital units can be launched to depends on your city’s position and orbital range modifiers gained through the Technology Web, buildings in your city and tile improvements. Launching units near enemy territory is a move which is generally quite frowned upon, much like building a house in someone’s backyard would be.
As previously mentioned, Aliens form an important part of the diplomacy, as killing them will engender you to some societies, while making you persona non grata in others. It’s a fairly simple system, and that can be said for most of the diplomacy in Civilization: Beyond Earth, which hasn’t progressed much since Civilization V. This means it’s still very binary (people either love you or hate you, and a neutral rating is the marker of a perception of you swaying either way), and doesn’t have much depth to it. Even a large part of the dialogue between the player character and other leaders is the same as the title’s predecessor.
Civilization V and Civilization: Beyond Earth are remarkably similar, and Beyond Earth deserves criticism for the lack of progress it’s made in certain areas. However, despite the inherent similarity between the two titles, Beyond Earth has certainly implemented a few systems to distance itself from the historically progressing strategy title, much like the colonists it presents the player with have distanced themselves from Earth. That said, the game does tend to drift a little to close to its predecessor at times, specifically in areas like diplomacy, where the parallels are clear and, unfortunately, for the worst.
Thankfully, the good parts of Civilization V have also been retained, such as the enemy AI. The AI is strategic and challenging to play against at various levels of difficulty – of which Civilization has seven very different levels – and actively adapts to the movements of your troops until they are either outmanoeuvred or victorious. The AI is a real triumph for Firaxis, as it makes Civilization almost as good a singeplayer game as it is a multiplayer experience.
There’s not really much else to say about Beyond Earth. It blends the best part of the series’ legacy with a trip to a new world with a variety of new systems, most of which are a joy to work with. The game is very well optimised, and will work on anything from a lowly i3 laptop upward, though it may not be so pretty on its lowest settings. Civilization: Beyond Earth is at the top of its trade in the turn-based strategy genre – it somehow manages to be accessible to new players, and have enough depth to satisfy those who have been at it a while, and despite balancing issues, that’s still a remarkable feat.