Civilization: Beyond Earth has been advertised as the game for me. A slow, strategic game with a setting of post-Earth space exploration and the future of humanity at stake.
This thing sounds like something I've dreamt about. It's the type of game I want to play, and when given the opportunity to review it, I jumped at the chance.
Now, I'm not a crazy, crazy Civ fan. I've played each since Civ III, and I spent a lot of time in Civilization V, but I'm not the person with 10,000 hours on record with each title. I'd say I push towards 100 or 200 with them. I'm a fan, but I'm not the hardcore fan.
I am, however, the most versed with the franchise here at TechnoBuffalo. That, and my love of this game's concept, made me the perfect one to review it. I will say, as a fair warning, if you're looking for the review that dives into the minutiae of every single research branch and unit type, you might want to look elsewhere. I'm not that person.
I'm the person who wants a strategy game to play over the span of months in the mornings with a cup of coffee in one hand and my mouse in the other. For that, Civilization: Beyond Earth works beautifully.
A Pile of Customizations
Once the introductory cutscene rolls, Civilization: Beyond Earth throws up a massive wall of options. You can go into a randomly generated game in order to learn the basics. After you do that, you'll want to customize your own system.
That's when you start a game and are met with choosing a sponsor, colonist types, the type of spacecraft you'll land in, your starting cargo and the type of planet you'll colonize.
Once you get to the planet screen, you have three basic choices ahead of you. You can go with a standard mix of continents and oceans, a single giant continent or smattering of small islands. Or, why not go for an advanced world with more complications?
For instance, there's the Equatorial planet. According to the game, this is "a rapidly spinning world with a bulging equator and day/night cycle much shorter than Earth's." There's also the Taigan planet, "a punishingly cold world whose best lands are found along coastlines and rivers."
You get the idea. Every single one of these choices will have either short or long term side effects. Since you picked, say, the Brasilia sponsor, you'll have an army more versed in melee combat. Maybe gearing up with Engineer colonists with more production in each city, a spacecraft that reveals alien lifeforms and starting with a soldier unit might lead you down the path of purity and domination.
This pile of customizations dictates your play, but not in a way that feels restrictive. There are so many options to start each game and throughout the hundreds of turns you take that every single playthrough can be different. I went with a more passive and symbiotic playthrough my first time around. The second time, I tried to go supremacy, destroy all alien life and was quick to go to war. Both playthroughs felt wildly different, and both challenged me in unique ways.
New Tech, New Learning Curve
With the new setting and "plot line" of Beyond Earth, it's reasonable that Firaxis created an entirely new system of currency, research, virtue and more. Everything in this game has been rewritten, so to speak, in this regard. As such, old Civilization fans will have to take some time to get familiar with everything ahead of them.
Beyond the semantic differences, Beyond Earth provides a new layer of gameplay that further steepens the learning curve. In this game, humanity has three basic ways of thinking to adhere to. Think of it like humanity outlooks. The Harmony line asks players to coexist and even become one with the life on new planets. The Purity line tasks players with adhering to the ways of old Earth while fighting off and exterminating aliens. The Supremacy line is the chain that pushes players to take over and control the planet rather than eradicate and inhabit.
Each line informs choices in the game. Each line, even further, informs the way you'll play and how you'll tackle quests and research progression. You'll need to learn how all of this works, and it won't be until your 15th or 20th hour that you'll fully understand exactly how best to grow your civilization for each way of life.
That's part of the fun, though. This isn't just a game of diplomacy; it's a game of almost racial tension. I'll expand on that in the next section, but this way of thinking about the future of humanity is more than just a different skill tree with rewards. It's that, of course, but it also becomes the foundation for each choice you make, who you ally with and a whole lot more.
Everybody Hates Me!
When you do start to file into a specific affinity (that's the Purity, Supremacy and Harmony stuff), you'll notice that the NPC nations start to, well, hate you. They'll publically denounce you for squashing bugs on your new home planet, for instance.
It's genuinely infuriating. I mean that in a good way. When you start building your colony and choosing to co-exist with or totally annihilate a planet's inhabitants, the competing colonies show up on your screen and insult your way of life. They hate you. They hated me!
The thing, though… that infuriating stuff? I loved it. I love getting all worked up because some nation is mad that I'm harmonizing with the planet around us. It builds in-game drama as these factions start to develop motivations. Every colony shows up on the planet pleasantly enough. Some even open trade routes and share resources. But, man, once that affinity is selected, all hell breaks loose.
Once I was 300 turns into a nation, I developed a love for the way it was being developed. I really liked becoming one with the new planet, existing in Miasma (this gas that hurts humans on contact) and creating genetically modified units. When another nation (those darn Franco-Iberians) publicly denounced me for my way of life, we went to war. It was a war I wanted to fight and win, all because of these silly affinities and their victory-specific perks.
The hatred works really well in Beyond Earth. It's one of the many things that kept my sessions hours long.
The Long Play and Light Reward
The first time I achieved victory in Civilization: Beyond Earth, I had roughly seven hours and 30 minutes played in a single game. I was going for one of the Harmony specific victories, and I'd spent like 500 turns getting to this ultimate point.
As you play, and most Civ fans will speak to this, the game gets more and more complex. That complexity requires more computing and simulation, and that means the NPCs actually take longer and longer in between each turn. Getting towards turns 600 and 700, I found that like 20 seconds would elapse between my personal turns.
That long play got rather annoying down the line. Once victory was achieved, I was met with a single fancy image and a quick text announcement regarding the route I chose. And, well, that's it.
No cinematic, no crazy new unit, just a block of text and the option to either keep going or start over.
I guess the reward is in the journey here, but spending eight hours developing a civilization towards victory only to be rewarded with a quick TADA and a game over or game-sorta-over was quite lame. Just brace yourselves on that one. I won't call it a game-hurting fault, but it was just very deflating for this otherwise epic experience.
A Civilization I'm Happy With
That long build to little reward might actually be off-putting to a lot of gamers. Heck, the whole notion of spending eight hours in order to crawl towards victory (or defeat) in one single game might be a turn off as well.
Civilization and 4X strategy games in general have their fans. These things are tremendously slow burns, and they usually pay dividends to gamers who spend a lot of time with them. I've spent a lot of time with Beyond Earth over the last few weeks, and while I can't speak for the 10,000 hour Civ fan, I can say that I've had a lot of fun here.
I'm addicted. In the middle of a holiday season that's seen and will see a lot of strong games, I don't want to put Civilization: Beyond Earth down in favor of other titles yet. I'm still having fun, and it's slowly becoming my morning coffee choice amongst several other wonderful 4X affairs.
That, to me, is the best thing I can say about this game. I want to keep playing it, even during my downtime.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Civilization: Beyond Earth from 2K. We played several games with multiple sponsors, colonists and planet types selected. Yes, we even clicked that "Just…One…More…Turn…" button in a screenshot above a few times.
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