Sid Meier’s Civilization carries with it a lot of baggage. The name alone is like a seal of excellence being stamped on a game, but it also comes with exceedingly high expectations. For the first time since 1999’s Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Firaxis took their brand of 4x sim games to the stars. While Beyond Earth is the follow-up to the incredibly addictive Civilization V, many were hoping for it to be a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri. In a way, it is, in another way, it isn’t.
There are going to be a lot of complaints about Civ: Beyond Earth feeling more like an expansion pack for Civilization V than being a full release, but if we are brutally honest here, going back and playing Civilization V without the expansion packs isn’t exactly the most rewarding experience after playing with the expansions for so long. Beyond Earth is essentially what feels like a total conversion mod for Civ V. For some that will be the ultimate bummer, for others it will be no problem.
See, Civ: Beyond Earth will not feel that foreign at all to fans of the Civilization series. You are plopped onto a map with one unit and told to explore, thrive and to find a way to win. There are a few styles of play right now in Civ: Beyond Earth, with there being three main paths; Harmony, Supremacy and Purity. Each one has a path that you can clearly follow and level up, with your affinity level shown in the upper left hand corner of the UI throughout the game. When you hover over it even shows the perks that you receive for each level.
In this way, the end game is always in sight in Civ: Beyond Earth. In previous Civ games the end game is what you are clearly working towards, but at the same time, it’s never really spelled out this clearly and in-your-face. Some will love this, others won’t. I loved it and it was a driving force for me to work towards my Harmony victory, being into peace-loving and adapting to my new planet as opposed to being stubborn about it. Jason, on the other hand, wasn’t a fan of it being right in his face, he is one for subtleties, I guess.
The three branches of Harmony, Supremacy and Purity play out differently but all have similar endings. You are rushing to level up your affinity before getting a chance to build your final wonder. After building that wonder you’ll have to wait a certain number of turns before the wonder is triggered and you get your ending. The endings aren’t all-that-exciting, but at the same time, it’s the journey not the destination. Harmony is all about working with the surroundings, integrating alien technology into human tech and freeing your mind. Supremacy is about humans doing what it takes to be the dominating force on this new planet, which means tech augmentations galore and humans looking more like cyborgs. Purity is as it sounds; all about human purity.
Early on in the game you’ll have to deal with Miasma. Other than sounding hilarious, like someone complaining in a nasally voice about their asthma, it’s pesky and obnoxious. After you land on the planet, your units will have to deal with these tiles that contain Miasma, which is sort of a toxic haze. This toxic haze will subtract 10hp per turn from your units and make growth early on incredibly difficult. You’ll have to send units in to develop tiles that are rife with Miasma, hoping that your worker can construct a mine before dying.
The other big hurdle on the planet are the alien swarms that inhabit the planet. You’ll want to imagine them like the Barbarians of past Civ games, but the reality is that they aren’t just roving bands of baddies to kill and level up against. Instead they are almost like another faction, a faction that you can’t trade or level with if things get tough. The more that you attack aliens that are in your way, the more that they are going to come after you in hordes and make your life a living hell. Things also escalate quickly, with Siege Worms being almost impossible to kill with basic infantry and ranged units and Sea Monsters being just as deadly.
The aliens will treat you differently depending on your affinity level for each of the branches. In Harmony they are more likely to forgive an attack quickly, while Purity and Supremacy branches will find themselves killing one stray alien only to have Siege Worms and Krakens heading towards them and making their lives a living hell. It adds a new level of challenge to the Civ games and forces the player to make difficult decisions early on that will affect the game for hundreds of turns to come.
One thing that was sorely lacking in the game was diplomacy. You can now trade favors with other factions when you need something but don’t have anything that they might want, but from what I saw, those favors aren’t always honored. At times I’d have to trade two or three favors for a few resources a month. There also aren’t City-States, which is a bummer. My favorite part of Civ V after the expansions was all of the political stuff that you could do. One of my favorite victories of all-time was against Jason and Ted where I was able to amass enough support from City-States to have a majority vote in the World Congress and was able to vote myself as world leader.
There are outposts in this game that serve almost like City-States, but they don’t produce units or really expand their borders or anything. You can just trade with them, that’s it. So for right now the only roads to victory are through the three different affinities, by military domination of the map or by unlocking the ability to call down a benevolent race and to serve as their liaison. This is something that will hopefully be addressed in future expansions, especially considering how vanilla Civ V compares to now with all of the expansions.
You also have more control over your perks than in previous Civilization games. You are allowed to select your faction (think country in Civ), which comes with its own perks, then select a few other perks that can do everything from provide free units, technology and more. It allows you to tailor the game to fit your play style as opposed to everyone rushing to secure the same leaders in past Civilization games (I’m looking at you, Rome and Egypt). There are enough of these little additions, like Quest Decisions and the Tech Web that make the game feel fresh.
Civ: Beyond Earth is more Civilization V in space than it is Alpha Centauri II, but that isn’t really a bad thing, is it? The name Alpha Centauri has been mentioned in previews and leadup to the release of Civ: Beyond Earth, but it was never outright stated that this was a sequel to it. Instead, if a science fiction-based Civilization game can see the same level of success as the last few Civ games have seen, the chances of seeing a true follow-up to Alpha Centauri is more likely.
The core tenants of what makes the Civilization games so great is present in Civ: Beyond Earth, which is the important part. It’s addictive, it’s deep, it’s fun and if you opt to play it online with friends you’ll quickly find yourself going down the rabbit hole of “I gotta go, but one more turn.” Not many games can be that addictive, fun and provide as much pure enjoyment as a Civilization game. This is a game that we’ll be playing for years to come and hopefully we’ll see the same attention to detail on future expansions like we saw with the last few Civilization games.