Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis
Release Date: Oct. 24, 2014


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PC Review - 'Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth'

by Dustin Chadwell on Dec. 23, 2014 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is a new sci-fi themed strategy game where you, as part of an expedition sent to find a home beyond Earth, lead your people into a new frontier, explore and colonize an alien planet and create a new civilization in space.

Sid Meier's Civilization has been one of my favorite PC series since I first laid hands on Civilization II. With the more recent release of Civilization V, my love for the franchise was rekindled; the revamped, addictive gameplay model was remarkably difficult to put down. When Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth was announced, I figured developer Firaxis would keep the trend going. Thankfully, that's definitely the case.

Beyond Earth, as its name implies, is a sci-fi-tinged take on the Civilization formula. On different alien planets, you establish an outpost that becomes a full-fledged city. The names of the planets matters little; instead, each planet represents different map layouts. Some feature multiple land masses and smaller bodies of water separating the land, while others may have an extremely large land mass surrounded by ocean. There's a decent variety to choose from, along with more advanced types that feature tougher climates and layouts than the standard set. You can also dictate the overall size of the map, allowing for two, four, six, or eight different sponsors on any map.

As you might suspect, a sponsor is essentially a nation or faction controlled by you, another player, or the AI. Beyond Earth features a total of eight sponsors, with names like ARC, Franco-Iberia and Slavic Federation. If you're willing to delve into the optional Civilopedia, you get a lot more information on the background of each sponsor and how each relates to real-world cultures. Each sponsor also has a distinct attribute. For instance, ARC is focused on spying, so it gets a boost to covert ops and the amount of intrigue generated in each city where you have a spy present. The African Union, however, focuses on food and health, producing more food in healthy cities, and providing a free Earth Relic building with each new outpost founded.

There are even more options at your disposal when beginning a new single-player game. Aside from picking the size/type of map and sponsor, you also choose a colonist type. You can also choose your spacecraft, which grants additional bonuses, like the ability to see all coasts or see all alien nests on the map despite the standard "fog" that needs to be lifted via exploring units. Finally, you can choose what cargo to bring on your journey, essentially providing another bonus. For instance, you can start with Pioneering tech (very useful) or begin with a worker unit or soldier unit.

Having all of these starting options and choices helps to make each single-player game feel unique, regardless of how many times you play the game. The options aren't uncommon for the Civilization series, but I enjoyed the sci-fi spin. Every bonus or ability provided by cargo, spacecraft, colonists, etc., helps you mold the game to your play style. Any game can be won in a number of ways, so you're pretty much free to explore the victory condition that you'd prefer.

Most victory conditions are spread across three different affinities that you can explore: Harmony, Purity and Supremacy. You either choose to live in peace with all forms of life on the planet, wipe out alien species or dominate opposing sponsors. You can devote time to all three affinities or focus on just one. Each affinity "levels up" as you gain points by completing branches of the Tech Web. This in turn provides you with new technology, units and buildings to further enhance your cities and sponsor.

Leveling up your affinities provides special bonuses, often to military, land and sea units once you hit certain milestones. The different affinity bonuses do a solid job of complementing their intended path, but some of the military-focused upgrades get a little generic and repetitive. You see a lot of simple bonus effects, like +strength or +defense when fortifying across multiple units, and I would've liked more variety in that regard.

While the Tech Web is chock-full of various technologies to explore, it's a bit clunky and difficult to navigate. The biggest issue I had was pinpointing the natural progression of the affinity on which I was focusing. It doesn't feel as organized as it should, and for a new player, it is absolutely overwhelming. There's actually a mod available that cleans this up, but it's something that should be implemented in the core game. Over time, you'll become accustomed to the Tech Web, especially as you learn or adapt to which technologies are good to start with and build from there, but I'm surprised that Firaxis went from the clean, easy-to-navigate Tech Tree in Civilization V to this clunky mess.

While Civilization V focused much of its early game on battling against barbarian hordes in order to gain footholds and experience for starting cities and units, Beyond Earth has a slightly slower pace. Barbarians are replaced by alien bugs, which are generally peaceful unless you attack first or get too close to their nests. They can still provide a healthy boost of experience for early military units, but they also put up a pretty good fight, even on the easiest difficulty. If you get surrounded by two or more, get ready to kiss that soldier unit good-bye.

Instead, many of your early turns in Beyond Earth are going to be focused on exploring. As you roam the map, moving from one hexagonal tile to the next, you'll luck into resource pods, which can provide quick boosts to base resources like energy and science. You'll want to hunt down as many of these pods as possible in the early game, as they give a quick boost and pad out your resources as you move toward the mid-game. Explorer units can also uncover more spots on the map, like the rare Progenitor Ruins, Alien Skeletons that can grant control over alien units, and Expedition tiles that require multiple turns to mine but grant significant bonuses.

Once you've mapped out a sizeable portion of the area and have likely run into rival sponsors, you'll want to begin expansion by designating new outposts. Once an outpost is established, it slowly grows as long as it remains healthy. Health essentially replaces the happiness stat of other Civilization titles, but maintaining it doesn't feel nearly as problematic as it did in Civilization V. Most health is generated by various buildings and food production, so provided your population hasn't grown at an exorbitant rate, you'll be able to keep each city's health under control.

As cities expand, they occupy more of the surrounding tiles. These tiles can be modified by worker units, which enhance or mine the natural resources. As in other Civilization titles, you can automate a lot of unit functions, but you'll likely want to be hands-on with most of them. Unit speeds are pretty quick, so most turns pass quickly.

The only real issue I've had with Beyond Earth is that the opposing AI is remarkably docile. On various difficulty settings, I've had to really work hard to trigger any sort of diplomatic incident. When you encounter new sponsors, they're generally jovial enough to immediately engage in a dialogue with you. You often receive notices to open borders or establish trade. Trade offers are generally fair but can't be modified much to maintain the game balance. I would've loved some more aggressive encounters and more variety in how sponsors react.

This would be less of an issue if there were any sort of online following for the game. While perfectly playable via local means, with both LAN support and single-machine "pass the mouse" modes, Beyond Earth also hosts online multiplayer. There don't seem to be many players still using it, as I'd only run into one or two hosted rooms at any time of the day. Online play is very smooth, but you won't have much luck in getting a full eight-player online game going with random people.

Passive AI and lackluster online support from the community isn't enough to make Civilization: Beyond Earth a total wash. If you've enjoyed the series over the years, you'll likely spend many hours with this entry as well. It deviates just enough from the excellent Civilization V to be a worthwhile experience, and it offers a different pace than its predecessor, so even though it's not a significant upgrade, it's still pretty remarkable.

Score: 8.5/10

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