This isn’t the first time Firaxis Games has taken to the stars. 1999’s Alpha Centauri stood as one of the best interstellar civilization building games for an extended period of time. Fans of the title were ecstatic when the developers announced that following Civilization V it would be incorporating the space simulation title into the main Civ brand. Then there were those who didn’t know what to expect, those who were unfamiliar with the title, but relished the semi-historic factors that came with typical installments. Needless to say, both groups were holding their breath when Beyond Earth released and many have since gotten their hands on it, but we can confirm that it successfully incorporates elements of both such as to respect each franchise.
Landing on a foreign planet is slightly different than deciding where to start your first settlement. Rather than just worrying about potential barbarian encampments, you need to balance both the resource potential, miasma presence (a type of gas that’s poisonous to humans), but also the alien hives that could be nearby. Unlike Civ V however, you can’t just keep walking around until you’re content with the location, instead you’re given a landing zone that you must choose from. And the differences don’t end there. Rather than having to discover other potential civilizations, over the first 20-30 turns of the game they join the game world, which notifies you as they do so, revealing the location of their home base. The same is said of the city-states who require the main civs to sponsor their endeavors. As always, they allow you to establish trade routes, but outside of that, basic interactions are lacking.
That feeling permeates throughout Beyond Earth. While there are plenty of new features to discover such as upgrading units, a tech web (rather than a tree), a new favor system, and much more. There are also a lot of areas that have been skimped on. The Affinity system allows players to choose between Purity, Supremecy, and Harmony – each more peaceful than the last – and while each has an effect on how your civilization evolves and deals with foreign countries, it’s really just the Ideology system from Civilization V in disguise. Many of the functions that made its predecessor unpredictable like religion and the World Congress are nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps the most disappointing is the process of creating your game. Gone is all pomp and circumstance. You no longer choose a civilization, each fleshed out with its own history, special unit types, and sense of relate-ability. Instead you choose a Sponsor such as the Pan-Asian Cooperative or the Slavic Federation. And while each has special abilities and named cities, because of the lack of grounding each feels relatively hollow. Aside from these differences we don’t care who we’re playing. In Civ V, if we played as the Mongolians, embodying their supremacist style gave each match a special meaning. Following this you choose what type of colonists you will bring with you: Refugees provide extra food, Artists, extra culture. Then you select what type of spacecraft and cargo you’ll be bringing with you. Each of these choices is as simple as checking a box that lies over a piece of concept art. It’s a hollow experience that leaves us feeling detached from our new found civ.
Combine this with the rudimentary planet options and we’re left feeling slightly let down going into our first match. You’re no longer able to customize almost everything about your map. Whereas you used to be able to select one of tens of types of planets including the age of it, how many resources, start bias, and more. You can now only select between Terran, Protean, or Atlantean planets – there are also some more advanced planets – but outside of this you have no say in what your world looks like.
Replacing happiness is health, go too negative and your progress is slowed. Luckily this is one improvement we are content with as it’s now much easier to manage simply by building new structures or selecting new virtues. Unsurprisingly, Wonders have been significantly reduced, increasing the importance of each one.
All of these complaints aside, Beyond Earth has grown on us over time. Inevitably we fell into the “one more turn” mentality, only stopped when our responsibilities demanded so. There’s a lot here to learn, and it’s arguable that the title feels more rewarding. But for those that are more invested in the big picture, there’s been a significant reduction in the amount of material for you to be excited about. Rather, emphasis has been placed on each and every turn. Perhaps that’s for the best, long gone are the times when you used to be stuck passing turns just waiting for something interesting to occur.
And while we can’t know for certain how much Firaxis put into its latest title, it certainly feels as if plenty of room has been left open for downloadable content. Sure that’s been the staple of Civilization titles year in and year out, but with the (re)launch of the franchise we were hoping that it would be packed to the brim with content. Instead we’re left feeling like there’s greatness to come. Beyond Earth is a wonderful experience but we can’t shake the feeling that the past holds much more than the future, at least for now.
- Content web offers much more potential.
- Worlds are full of wonder…
- …But don’t offer much for veterans of the game.
- Feels very slim in areas.
A code of the game was provided for review.