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Friday, October 31, 2014

Civilization, Beyond Earth Review: Science Victory.

It took me years to get into Civilization. Years and years and years. I saw the perfect reviews for IV and just had to get a hit of it. But I couldn't make heads or tails of the thing. I stumbled through settler mode time and time again, always selecting recommended buildings. It didn't matter if I was doing well or not, I'd always fast forward in the last 150 turns anyway. I was too young to understand the thing and it wasn't until almost 2 years ago that I finally figured it out.

Civ V took me, and it took me hard. I was having a rough time getting a job out of college and Civ helped me suck it up and fill out just... one... more... application. I understood how to make it to the endgame. The crushing defeats and the soaring victories where unlike anything I'd experienced in a game before. Loosing at most games can make you feel frustrated, but only in Civ have I ever honestly felt "defeated." It's not a bad thing, I learned I could get back up on that horse and try again. Tweak a certain strategy and not get taken in so easily. But I'm not here just to gush about Civ V. In fact, we're leaving earth entirely.

You will believe a stone can float.

I, like many, was worried this was just a re-skinned sci-fi Civ V. All the in depth "let's play" videos seemed to look like that was the case. Plus, it's easy to understand what certain buildings do on earth. Granarys mean food, banks mean money. But a civil creche? And what the hell's a Xenoswarm? I spent the vast majority of my first game lost in translation, stumbling through the tech web for anything that could get me more health. My colony was starving. I still won by a hair, and that's only because I chose the harmony victory. That ended up being the most simple of all. But I'll get to that later. The takeaway here is that the first time through the game seems too similar and too different in all the wrong ways. But after going through it again and again, I got a sense for it's nuance, and began to appreciate the ways it jettisoned the things I hated the most about Civ V. For one?

Why did it take 2600 years of human civilization to be able to start a game with a worker instead of a soldier? I've ALWAYS wanted to do that. And that bought a lot of good will for me, but what's more, for the first time your chosen leader matters far less than your chosen loadout. You choose your city buff (all cites start with extra health, or money, or science, or whatever) starting unit, and special tec. Do you want to see the hidden natural resources ahead of time? Or would you rather start with a coastal map of the world? For once, you can radically change the first 100 turns of any game with these choices, and that's awesome.

But that comes at a price, and that price is the game's thoroughly shocking lack of leadership. 9 leaders?! Vanilla Civilization V had almost 3 times that. It quickly becomes boring seeing the same leaders game after game. It also caps the size of the biggest maps, because this game doesn't have enough leaders to fill them. They also say the same things over and over and OVER. Though Polystralia's sliver fox trade baron is so roguishly charming with his one line, I give him a pass.

What is surprisingly refreshing though, is that maps can be completely different colors. There are tan marshy planets, cool blue-purple oceanic planets, traditional greenish- orange forest planets. It honestly helps a lot to keep things fresh.

But the single thing I love the most about Beyond Earth is the tec web. For there is no longer a permanent arms race. If you get behind on technology, you don't have to scramble to keep up, you can simply change direction. That. F**king. Rocks. In Civ V you would have to rely on the painfully brittle espionage system to get more technology. Which was never much help, and almost never what I had wanted to do with spying. Which brings me to the second best thing about Beyond Earth: Espionage is now everything I ever wanted it to be.

Don't look at it too long... it'll look back into you.

Why hasn't anyone been talking about this? It's fantastic. You can set up colony wide buffs if you want to turtle up with counter- intelligence (which was what I always did in V) or branch out and set up contacts in other cities. From there you can truly sow bloody chaos. You can siphon off vast amounts of cash, science points, technology (again), and so much more. How bout' some defected military units? A straight up revolution? All this is possible and it adds a nail biting ticking clock onto the always laborious end game. Sure, I'm at turn 350 and I'm drowning in cash and goodwill. But what if my neighbor figures out I've been stealing money and soldiers from him for 200 years?

That could make things awkward.

The icing on the cake are the vastly different victory scenarios. Each of the 3 affinities (Jesus, I haven't even brought up affinities yet) have a unique win condition. each involve building a wonder and waiting for that wonder to switch on. Or at least, that's what the harmony victory needs. I have a feeling most critics went for that first. Because the purity, supremacy, and contact victories require a hell of a lot more.

I'm only going to spoil the contact victory. In order to make contact with another species of intelligent life, you need to construct "The Beacon." Not so difficult. But it needs to warm up for 30 turns. And it siphons all your extra money while it does so... AND every leader knows what you're doing when it switches on, AND now they're going kill you. You're gonna need one hell of a war chest, buddy.

I forgot her name, so I just call her "Science Grandma" now. I hope you'll do the same.

I loved Beyond Earth. I loved it to pieces. I'm seriously asking you guys not to read into the negativity. Though it's not without merit, the AI is still really passive and dumb most of the time, I think the game stands strongly on it's own. I'll happily switch back and forth between V and BE, because I believe they are vastly different games with much to offer. If I had to give it a score, I hate doing that, but if I had to it'd be an 8.5. Not an "unassailable masterpiece worthy" 9.5. Nor is it a "disappointing stumble from perfection" 8.5. But a "scrappy and lovable" 8.5. It's perfectly happy with what it's accomplished and not looking to make too many new friends.

That turns some people off, sure, but not every game needs to strive for perfection. It does it's job well in most regards even though it's clearly lacking in others. I'm fine with that. The good far outweighs the slight disappointment and the great is conspicuously absent from most reviews.  I honestly don't understand why there weren't promotional videos about spying. Because again... it's never been more fun to silently screw over your opponents.

So there you have it, I dug deep to find what was so "lacking" from the fan's perspective. I didn't find their evidence compelling. If a sci-fi Civ V sounds awesome to you, grab it right-the-hell now. If you were looking for a bigger and better Alpha Centauri... that's probably the problem right there.

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