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Beyond Earth Review

I’ve played every Civilization game, and Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was one of my favorite games of all time. Beyond Earth is very different and incredibly fun. I’ve completed 2 victories so far, and I feel it captures the inspiring science-fiction feeling of SMAC, while adding modern gameplay and aesthetic features.

The game also appeals to people who don’t play many strategy games. My best friend never played any Civilization before Civ 5, played it briefly, then was absolutely blown away the fun of Beyond Earth. She’s hooked! Even my brother is addicted, and both of them are mainly action/shooter gamers.

Beyond Earth brings brings an open-world roleplaying feel to the series. There’s many more choices than previous Civ titles, which I suspect will provide an incredible level of replayability long into the future. You can play each game in totally different ways.

  • 9/10 Gameplay – The affinities, tech web, and quests make BE more open and fun than Civ 5.
  • 10/10 Visuals – The Firaxis art team does a fantastic job with every game they make.
  • 10/10 Sound  – The music has a wonderfully epic scifi feel, more inspiring than SMAC or Civ.
  • 5/10 Story – I wish there was more character development and dialogue for the main leaders.
  • 7/10 AI – Civilization games have mediocre AI, a problem with most of the game industry.
  • 9/10 Overall – I’m enjoying this game as much as I did Civ 5.

Roleplaying

You start with colony seeding choices like character creation in an RPG. You get to pick traits of your faction. Some of these are really fun. I love the retrograde thrusters, since I like having lots of knowledge about my starting area.

Decisions you make throughout the game shape your Affinity. This is like your roleplaying personality. It’s completely different than anything we’ve seen before in the Civ series.

Affinities give your faction unique bonuses, unit upgrades, victory conditions, and change the visual style of your faction. Increasing affinity levels lets you pick abilities to upgrade your army. Going deep in one affinity gives big rewards, but there’s also great bonuses to unlock by picking up some easy points in the other affinities.

You receive frequent roleplaying decisions from world events and building construction. These “quests” are like the “opportunities” in the Civ V Communitas mod. They provide a choice between two moral options, neither of which is necessarily right or wrong, with different gameplay effects.

Not just a war game

My biggest surprise is you can play a completely peaceful empire focused on economics, trade, and construction. As someone who was a total warmonger in Civ 5, a peaceful game is shockingly fun!

It’s made possible by the greater depth and complexity of peaceful empire building. Trade routes, technologies, quests, improvements… there’s so much to do! The aliens won’t attack you if you respect their territory, and many strategic resources are used for buildings.

This is radically different from previous Civ games where barbarians were always hostile, resources are for war, there were few improvement options, and no moral decisions.

The tech web gives vastly more freedom than the rigid and linear tech tree of previous Civ games or Alpha Centauri.

Virtues (policies) provide bonuses for going either deep in one tree or wide across many trees, giving a choice between those options. The virtue setup was clearly inspired by the Communitas and Civilization NiGHTS mods for Civ 5. The wide-or-deep choice was a strong focus of Communitas, and the visual style of the trees resembles NiGHTS.

The designers may have solved the difficulty curve problem. Civilization was notoriously hard in the first 50 turns, where you must identify possible city sites ASAP and claim them immediately.

The early game of Beyond Earth focuses on exploration before expansion. You don’t have the techs or health you need to expand right away, providing time to assess the situation around you. It also takes time to get cities up and running. You can’t pop a fully defensible city in a dangerous area and build stuff right away.

Room for Improvement

My main disappointment is dialogue. The faction leaders have very few lines, so there’s less NPC character development than XCOM or SMAC. Their sole trade dialogue line gets repetitive quickly.

The open-ended story is less linear than SMAC, which was set on one specific planet with a certain set of factions and personalities. This gives us more freedom, which is good, though I miss the fascinating characterization of Planet. You can still get some of that by focusing on the Harmony affinity, similar to the Gaians of SMAC. I still wish the latest Civ games had victory/wonder movies, though I can understand why – those are expensive to produce. It’s better to focus that effort on gameplay, art, and playtesting.

I’m also disappointed they didn’t improve the building tips. It looks like they’re still written by hand, which is slow and error-prone, and follows 3 different inconsistent formatting styles for the yield, icon, and quantity. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out what buildings do. Most tooltips don’t automatically show their hotkey, either, so you have to look up hotkeys online.

Conclusion

I’m very satisfied with Beyond Earth. It lived up to my expectations, and captures the feeling of Alpha Centauri, while bringing in many modern gameplay elements from the mainline Civ series.

I haven’t encountered any crashes or problems, unlike a lot of other titles full of bugs on release. It just WORKS! (I’m looking at you, SimCity. Grrr.)

For a game this amazing on release day, I can’t wait to see what Firaxis has in store for us in future patches and expansions. They have a good record of releasing fantastic updates to their games, even in free patches, and the expansions always add new and interesting features.

Thank you, Firaxis, for always making well-polished games.

Comparisons

Beyond Earth is better than Alpha Centauri in these ways:

  • Factions are not forced into one playstyle, set of civil policies, or unit design. I felt there were “best options” I always had to pick in SMAC. There’s so much freedom in Beyond Earth.
  • Amazing music and opening cinematic really set the epic scifi mood.
  • The trade system is vastly more fun than similar attempts at trade in Civ 1-4 or SMAC.
  • More interesting city expansion and development than SMAC’s city spam.
  • One unit per tile is more tactically complex than moving units in a big stack.
  • Open-ended tech web gives lots of research freedom.
  • Interesting unit upgrade choices. SMAC’s unit workshop was cool in theory, but in reality there were just a few good ways to design units.
  • Health is more complex than the old hab complex/dome system of limiting population.
  • Cities expand more naturally.

It’s better than Civ 5 in these ways:

  • Open-ended tech web.
  • Immersive roleplaying experience.
  • Early game focuses on exploration before expansion.
  • Moral choices for affinities, colony seeding, and quests.
  • Choosing abilities to instantly upgrade your whole army.
  • Bigger focus on the trade system.
  • Energy and air units available right away, providing more economic & military options.

Tips

  • If you want a truly alien visual experience, in game setup click the advanced options button at top right, and choose the Fungal biome. You can then go back to the normal colony setup.
  • Harmony is more peaceful, while Supremacy and Purity are warlike.
  • You can see which lategame resources are good for which affinity by hovering over the affinities at the top-left of the screen. Affinities give a few free copies of the resource they need for their units.
  • The tech web has helpful search and filter features in the top-left.
  • Resist the temptation to build new cities right away. Filter the tech tree by “health” if you want to mass colonize.
  • If you like to immerse yourself in this scifi universe, read the civilopedia articles! There’s a tremendous amount of backstory there.

2 responses

  1. Yep, this game has huge potential for modders, there can be very good mods in the end!

    October 26, 2014 at 7:16 am

  2. Nice read, very concise. I’d like to hear an evaluation of the capacities of the AI as well, if that’s already possible 😉 Oh, and whether the number of decisions you need to take rises as exponentionally as it does in previous civ games/alpha centauri.

    October 26, 2014 at 9:00 am

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