Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

The new Civilization game gives you more of what you expect from the franchise without much to blow your socks off.

Beyond Earth is the most recent chapter in the Civilization franchise that has become synonymous with turn-based strategy. This chapter effectively continues the story of the human race after building a spaceship at the end of Civilization V, much like Alpha Centauri did. If you’re expecting Beyond Earth to resemble Alpha Centauri or stand alone as its own game in the Civilization series, you’re going to be disappointed. If you expect a game that serves the franchise well by using an already proven game engine with a few tweaks, more like Colonization did, you will enjoy this new chapter.

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First Impressions

When you first open Beyond Earth, you are treated to the usual cinematic intro that graces every game in the franchise. This initial cutscene actually has a short story that leaves you with a sense of dread for what the human race had to do leaving earth. A huge improvement over Civilization V is that the game doesn’t try to load the game behind the cinematic, making both the intro and the game much smoother. It does mean that you will have to wait through a launch screen while the game loads, but you can still skip the movie. (Which will save you from suffering through the choppy mess that was Civilization V’s opening.)

The choices for starting the game are typical for a Civilization game at first. You can jump right in with “Play Now” and not worry about all the major choices provided to you in setting up your colony. If you choose to set up a game, you will be given the choices of map type and size, length of game, and difficulty. Without knowing much about the game, you will be given several choices on starting abilities.

Starting out

Instead of choosing a civilization with pre-set abilities, you will get to choose a sponsor, the prominent type of colonists on your ship, an upgrade aboard the ship, and a specific cargo you bring along for the trip. With these options, you can have a civilization that starts the game with faster workers and a worker unit already ready to go, or a civilization with extra trade routes and the ability to get a trade depot out quickly. These choices can be made to magnify one strength or balance your colony for several possible situations.

Beyond Earth removes the age-old problem from previous Civilization games, where you have to decide if losing a turn at the start of the game is worth moving your settler. You are given the option of landing your colony ship in a seven-hex space that will be your city center. If any of these spaces are occupied by water, mountains, or canyons, you lose landing options. One option for your ship upgrade at the start of the game is the “Retrograde Thrusters” that expand the options for where you can land your ship.

The Same, but Different

Note: Since this review a patch has been made to highlight wonders and buildings differently in the tech web to be seen more easily. This fixed one of the negatives that impacted my final score for this game.

I have played nearly every game in the Civilization franchise and there was still a learning curve for this game. Most of that curve was learning all the new terms that replaced ones from previous titles. Happiness becomes health, and gold becomes energy. Production, city management, combat and culture remain largely the same. Technology changes just a little, but becomes incredibly confusing.

 I feel sorry for the colorblind trying to play this game.

The Tech Web is a neat idea. You aren’t required to research every tech along the way to a victory. In fact, you aren’t expected to get through half the technology before the game is over. There are “leaf” technologies that don’t lead to anything new and sometimes have insignificant effects. The advantage is that you can choose if researching the equivalent of a granary is even worth it to you. If not, skip it, move on to something you do want. The problem with that is there are different versions of the same concepts littered all over the tech tree. You don’t have to build the first health improvement before you move to the second one anymore. There is a different kind of power plant (gains you energy) nearly every direction you go down the web. You could master your income by researching and building every power plant option in the game.

The disappointing part about the tech web is the use of iconography. While we are used to it from previous installments of Civilization, there are two things lacking from the icons:

  1. This game tries to use bright colors to create a more futuristic feel, but it also uses such a small palette that everything feels the same. When pictures were used in the older games, they were immediately identifiable. (I can tell what an archer is with a tiny picture or what the Hoover Dam looks like with just a glance. I can’t tell what your weird combination of arrows and squiggles is supposed to stand for as an armored troop.)
  2. The only thing indicating that a building is a wonder is the smooth circle surrounding it.(Instead of a circle with points, which indicates a normal building. Not much difference there.) Similar buildings share similar descriptive words as well. “Gene” can be used to describe a food-based or a health improvement building.

Quests

Quests have become far more interesting than they once were. There are still a few instances where a small research base might ask you to destroy another, but there are far more interesting quests that let you discover ruins by launching several satellites. You can find out that a lone research base is pursuing illegal experiments on humans and needs to be stopped. You’ll also find a quest to kill one of the monstrous “Siege Worms” that might remind you a little of the classic Moby Dick tale.

The quests have useful and legitimate rewards now. They are worth completing and checking out the story the first time around. All your quests are conveniently put together on one tab, along with your victory conditions. Be sure to check it frequently, as it will change while the computer is calculating an opponent’s turns.

Covert Ops

Covert Operations in Beyond Earth are far better than the previous versions. Once you build your Spy Agency, you are led on a series of quests that will reward you and teach you how to use the new system as well. One of the notable improvements is the fact that agents left at home still work towards a “Nation Security Project” that has a passive benefit for your civilization. No spy goes unused at home anymore.

Your spies can go on missions that allow you to steal money and technology, convert troops to your side, or even take the city if your agent is talented enough. It has to happen over time as your agents build up an intrigue level in their respective cities. Each success brings the level up, and the higher the level, the higher reward their missions will be.

Aliens (The New Barbarian)

Aliens are very different from the Barbarians they are based on. They still use a base to spawn from, and these appear randomly on top of Xenomass spaces. The aliens on land can usually be mitigated. They don’t normally hunt beyond their territory until they don’t have enough space of their own. They won’t likely attack your units unless you get close to their nest. They will attack a lone settler unit if given the opportunity.

If you have a nest or two that remains unchecked near your borders, you will likely find yourself in an ugly spot if you don’t deal with it. It can’t be dealt with by one troop. Building an Ultrasonic fence is the best way to establish an offensive against the aliens. From behind the barrier, you can attack alien units until their numbers have thinned out enough for you to take their nest and prevent reproduction. If you get your first level in the Purity Affinity, your explorer can wait until they move off the nest and move right in. The aliens will never attack the explorer after you’ve earned the first level of Purity.

You will want to avoid the Siege Worm early on, as he can usually destroy a unit of yours each turn in the early game. The oceans are also more dangerous thanks to the alien presence. Sea Dragons are mediocre units that are just strong enough to keep you from leaving your coast until you have a reasonable strength of boat. The worst is the Kraken, which is much like a Siege Worm for the ocean. If you are close enough to see one, you are likely close enough for it to destroy your ship outright.

Combat and Troops

Thanks to the way you upgrade troops early on in the game, there isn’t a large discrepancy if you are slightly behind in technology. While some of the best troops come from high-level technologies that sit on the border of the web, your basic troop from the beginning of the game improves as you increase your affinity towards one of the three major victories. This means that destroying all your old troops and replacing them with new ones is a thing of the past.

Each of the major troop types still makes an appearance in Beyond Earth. Artillery, tanks, troops, planes, and “archers” still behave nearly exactly as they did in Civilization. The major difference comes in the promotion system. Since the interesting abilities were combined with the affinity upgrades, a unit only has two choices when it earns enough experience. You may increase your attack and defense by 10% or get a quick heal of 50HP. Those are all the choices you get.

Winning the Game

In addition to the classic “Destroy everyone” option, there are three major courses for victory. They seem simple enough when first introduced, but each one is tied to an affinity. You’ll have to reach a significant level in one affinity in order to complete one of these victory conditions. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to level up your affinity through research. Points are dispersed across the tech web, meaning that you don’t necessarily have to take a specific victory path because you like taking certain technologies. It’s more likely you will want to tie your victory condition to the unique resource you have the most of in your territory. That resource will let you build the powerful and unique units for that affinity.

Each victory condition ends up being some version of research first, build a big thing, and then hold off the opposition long enough to win. It isn’t unexciting as each one is different, but since they are not as distinct as they have been in the past, specific research paths don’t guide your civilization quite the same way they did in previous games.

The game as a whole plays in less time than a complete game of Civilization V. Of course, you can change the game length if you want to, but the current length lands in an acceptable amount of time. It’s not long enough that you feel you are spending your time in the dark ages, waiting for the next useful technology to show up so you can get back on your feet. Yet it isn’t short enough that the final experience is as unsatisfying as a Civilization game.

Expansion and Improvement Potential

Do you mean to tell me that we traveled hundreds of light years, but we don’t know how to make furniture out of alien lumber?

This game has plenty of potential for expansion. It doesn’t feel incomplete when you play it, but it doesn’t depart from the source far enough to really be its own game. The Orbital layer could be given more depth with planes capable of attacking satellites. Icons for buildings and wonders should be given distinct colors to emphasize what they are meant for (ex. Science as blue, Food as Green, etc). Perhaps a shortcut icon to tell me what affinity and what level is needed for certain buildings and units on the tech web. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t an improvement for forests. Do you mean to tell me that we can travel hundreds of light years away but we can’t use alien lumber for furniture?

Some things need to be patched

Nothing keeps the game from being unplayable or frustrating like Colonization was early on.The game’s biggest struggles are superficial. The use of ambiguous colors makes it hard to easily identify buildings, wonders and units. Features such as the Orbital Strike from artillery units sometimes moves your artillery piece instead of actually attacking the satellite. Often, your troops will move while you are trying to map out their potential paths. Sometimes that path won’t even be shown. When being offered upgrades, multiple units will show up in the display that should only be showing you the current unit available for upgrade. Leaders from other colonies will make you an offer, then when you accept, they will say you aren’t offering enough on your side and reject the same exact offer. These are all more nuisances than real problems, but they’re incredibly odd, considering that the older game engine didn’t have these issues.

Final Rating

I give this game a seven because it was released as a full, new game. It delivers like a significant expansion to Civilization V. There are some new features that are neat like the technology web, but the painful neon colors and difficulty distinguishing advancements on the tech web really hamper what could be a much more enjoyable experience. Knowing Firaxis, it won’t take long for a patch and then an expansion to really improve the game.

7
Civilization: Beyond Earth Review
The new Civilization game gives you more of what you expect from the franchise without much to blow your socks off.

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Author
Landon Sommer
While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!