Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: February 2007
Last year, Stardock announced that they were working on an expansion for their superb 4X space strategy game, Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords. The expansion, titled Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar, was originally scheduled to be released in late 2006, but was pushed back until 2007. Dark Avatar intends to add quite a number of new features to the game, as well as expanding upon and improving several previous features.
One of the gameplay additions in Dark Avatar is the new planet types. Toxic, aquatic, barren, heavy-gravity, and radioactive planets can now be found in the galaxy, requiring that you research planetary adaptation technologies to allow your race to inhabit them. Asteroid fields have also been added. Asteroids can have mining stations built on them, and once they've been constructed, transportation lanes can be assigned to one of your planets, thereby increasing production on the assigned planet. Each asteroid mining station can only be assigned to supply one planet, but the supply line can be converted to another race's planet if they have a strong enough influence in that region.
An interesting change that was implemented is the option to enable "Mega Events." As the name suggests, these events are mega in proportion; they can have huge effects on the game, like splitting races into multiple factions, or affecting significant changes to the galactic map.
The expansion adds in a number of new technologies to the game. An entire new branch, "Xeno Biology," has been added to the tech tree. This branch expands out and holds techs for the colonization of abnormal planet types, as well as medicinal research, which increases population growth. A few other techs, such as space mining and power plants, have also been added. Overall, the tech tree has not greatly changed, but considering the vast tech tree that already existed in Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, it should more than suffice.
Another major addition in Dark Avatar is the expanded espionage options. In GC2, the espionage options were limited to a slider which controlled how much money was spent on it. All you could do was set it to a spending rate and hope to get some tech from it. In Dark Avatar, it has been changed to a system where you train spy agents and then assign them to missions. Spies can steal technology or sabotage buildings, but if you detect enemy agents, you can use your own agents to neutralize them. Each successive spy agent increases in cost, so careful management of your spies is required. There is also an ability which makes a particular race immune to spying attempts.
Stardock took notice of how popular the custom ship design feature became amongst players. Frequent GC2 forum visitors have seen many threads in which people show off their elaborate ship designs. As a response to the popularity of this feature, Stardock has included a number of new ship parts to further diversity ship design options. This is purely cosmetic, but it certainly expands the options at your disposal. The visual quality and details of the ship parts have also been noticeably increased, so it should be exciting to see what the community does with the newly available parts and shapes.
The options when choosing your opponents has been increased as well. You can now customize your opponent's races as well as pick from a number of A.I. types, which will govern how they act. For example, an opponent could be a warmonger, or be more focused on trade and influence. The specialized A.I. routines allow the computer opponents to employ a variety of strategies, and an option to randomly select the A.I. routines also yields some highly varied games. Additionally, Dark Avatar features a number of options with diplomacy and diplomatic treaties; special treaties and alliances can be formed with other races.
The expansion includes a new campaign which focuses on the Drengin Empire. The story of Dark Avatar occurs after the end of the Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords campaign, in which the Dread Lords are defeated by a combined alliance of the other races. After that victory, the Drengin turn on the other races and conquer them one by one.
In the campaign mode, you play as a clan leader of a Drengin faction. The Korath are a splinter group of the Drengin that envision a world free of all other races, so they have set out to commit mass xenocide. You are tasked with stopping them so the other races can be subjugated and oppressed. The campaign mode isn't really the main focus of the game, however, as most of the player's time will be spent in skirmish games in randomly generated universes.
There doesn't appear to be any graphical changes to the game, other than the more detailed ship designs. The user interface is the same as before, with uncluttered menus and a rotating galaxy view. I didn't notice any new audio tracks or sound effects in the game, either, which doesn't really come as a surprise, as the graphics and sound were never the main focus of the Galactic Civilizations games.
The gameplay changes add some diverse options for the player. For example, one could use spies to steal technology and sabotage opponent's planets, or one could form diplomatic relations and exchange technologies. Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords has been known for challenging computer A.I. that does not cheat, and Dark Avatar expands upon this with A.I. types and customization of your opponent's races.
A unique feature of Dark Avatar is that it will only be available via digital download. No retail copies of the expansion will make it to shelves, and only users with registered accounts for Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords will be eligible to purchase it.
Overall, Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar takes a number of features at which the original game excelled and improves upon them while adding some new features as well. It adds quite a bit of content, which will provide more variety and challenge to an already-diverse strategy game. Fans of Galactic Civilizations should keep an eye on Dark Avatar as it nears the release date.