Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

In case you couldn’t already tell, I’ve been on a huge video game kick lately, which is amping up with Civilization Beyond Earth. Civ has been one of my favorite series ever since the beginning; in fact, it’s by far the longest-running franchise that I follow. It’s been a series of ups and downs with me; I loved I, II, and IV; enjoyed Colonization; liked the concept of Alpha Centauri while not finding it very fun; and haven’t particularly enjoyed III or V. That’s still a pretty excellent overall record, though, and in the absence of any particularly frightening information I tend to look forward to a new Civ game with a lot of anticipation.

Beyond Earth has been acquiring much more attention than usual. Alpha Centauri wasn’t a particularly successful game, but it had some of the most incredibly devoted, die-hard fans anywhere, and there’s been intense lobbying for well over a decade to make a sequel. The path for this was always going to be difficult; Alpha Centauri was made during the MicroProse years, and unlike the Civilization rights, Sid Meier didn’t get to reclaim Alpha Centauri when he left to found Firaxis. Still, the general idea of “civ in space!” is a very compelling one, and it isn’t at all surprising that they would return to this in one form or another.

Beyond Earth ends up being a really unique game. It isn’t a retread of Alpha Centauri, nor is it a reskin of Civ V. While it’s obviously built on the Civ V engine, it massively overhauls all of its systems, creating a game that is approachable but ends up feeling quite different.

One thing it shares in common with AC is a surprisingly strong narrative for a turn-based strategy game. Neither game obviously starts off telling a story, but as the game continues you’ll encounter more and more events that provide narrative hooks, linking in your strategic struggles to a deeper, more thematic plot. Of course, the biggest story is the one you create for yourself, the story of your triumphs and struggles and the rivals you face and vanquish in your drive towards victory.

The game starts on a really strong note, with a surprisingly effective opening movie that establishes the background fiction for the game. Due to the Big Mistakes on Earth, humanity is desperate to escape the ruined planet and start anew elsewhere. This could be communicated via apocalyptic mushroom clouds or mass riots or other standard signifiers; instead, the movie goes small, zeroing in on a father and his daughter. There’s no dialogue, but their expressions of dismay and hope convey everything we need to know.

I really liked this, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it really grounds the action in a great way, reminding us that this is ultimately a story about people: we are responsible for the survival of humanity, not in an abstract sense but in the specific sense of needing to keep this individual people alive. Ultimately, though, that opening sequence will resonate extremely differently depending on which affinity you pursue throughout the game. In my game, I’ve been pursuing Harmony, where we shed off our corrupt, weak Earth selves and unite with the benevolent alien life we have encountered. In this context, the opening shows the folly of our old way of life, and how lucky we are to have chosen a more peaceful path.

In contrast, a player who pursues Purity will read that opening scene as the moment when humanity was knocked down, and the rest of the game as humanity getting back off, dusting itself off, and diving back into the ring. Here, you are telling a tale of triumph, where we hold on to our essence even when orbiting a distant star, and can admire our strength and resilience even in the most desperate of circumstances.

Finally, a Supremacy player would probably be startled to realize that, by the end of the game, they’re no longer the same people as they were at the beginning. That father and that daughter are no longer part of the same species. A supremacy player on the cusp of victory might re-watch that clip and feel much the same way we would when watching tadpoles: interesting in an academic sense, but not something we can truly relate to.

There’s a ton of reviews out there that summarize the new features in CBE, so instead I’ll just babble for a bit about my first game.

In contrast with earlier Civ games, which just had you select a civilization and, possibly, a leader, you have a whole bunch of options to pick from at the start of CBE. In fact, this will prove to be a major theme throughout the entire game: surprisingly frequent and significant choices. These are rarely narratively satisfying, but can have huge impacts on the mechanics of your play, as you can adapt common elements available to every player to have vastly different effects.

Anyways: your opening choices have to do with things like the expedition sponsor, the colonists you select, the materials you take, etc. All of these are independent of one another, giving you a lot of freedom in fine-tuning your desired stats and gameplay. As with earlier Civs, human players will have the best success if they plot a strategy early in the game and doggedly pursue it. So, here, you can usually set yourself up pretty well at the start of the game; after making planetfall, you can explore your immediate surroundings, locate your neighbors, and make some final decisions about what kind of game you want to play. In my case, I opted for the Pan-Asian Cooperative, whose bonuses to wonder construction and worker speed are really helpful for builder civs; I took along aristocrats, who provide bonus energy and health; a fusion reactor, for a starting bonus of 100 energy (= money); and machinery, which gave me a free worker at planetfall. I’m very happy with how all of these turned out; I’m sure other combinations are fine, but I didn’t have any problems at all with this one.

Ever since Civ III, I’ve been drawn to builder civs, so I had decided from the beginning to try and pursue as pacifist a path as possible. This would also have the effect of allowing me to simplify my game somewhat and focus on mastering a subset of the mechanics in this game; I ended up paying minimal attention to combat, and almost entirely ignoring the orbital layer, while investing heavily in infrastructure, virtues, trade, and espionage.

Similarly, I decided early on to try and pursue Harmony, reasoning that this would allow me to remain on friendly terms with the aliens and minimize my warmongering. That turned out to be not entirely true. Your choice of affinity is pretty orthoganal to your position on the hostile/pacifist scale. Furthermore, most of the later techs that grant Harmony points are pure-military techs for creating new bug units, which put me in the weird position of choosing between violent harmonic tech and peaceful unharmonious tech.

One interesting change in CBE is the staggered start. Usually, every civ starts in the year 4000 BC and starts expanding immediately. In CBE, your craft is the first to land, and you’ll have some time to start exploring and establishing yourself. Every decade or so, another pod will come down, and its leader will immediately introduce themselves. Even if you haven’t explored much of the world yet, you’ll see where their capitals lie, and so can start getting a feel for which rivals you’ll need to pay attention to, where you might want to establish chokepoints, and where expansion will be easiest. (I’m pretty sure that the late arrivals arrive with a few more resources than the early birds, since everyone ended up at pretty comparable power levels early on.)

I lucked out, starting off on the eastern shore of a long and fairly narrow continent. I eventually ended up with Polystralia a decent distance to my west, in the center of the continent, while the Kavithan Protectorate were wedged in the far west. All of the other civs shared a large and pretty chaotic continent on the other side of a wide ocean. My capital wasn’t very resource-rich, but I was able to claim some really good strategic resources and upgraded tiles for my later planned cities. Most of them were coastal, although I did place one inland to maximize available sources of titanium.

Trade is really fantastic in this game. It’s kind of a hybrid between the active and the passive trade systems that have been alternately deployed in earlier versions of Civ. You build specific trade units, and must choose their destination; you aren’t responsible for actively moving them around, but you’ll see them on the map, and you’ll need to protect the units if you want to keep your trade routes productive. It ends up feeling a bit like a public/private sector divide, which is a cool concept. As the public sector, you’re responsible for the details of deploying your army and directing the overall trade policy; the private sector kind of runs its own show, you can’t micromanage them, but will need to look after their needs if you want to reap the benefits of their productivity.

You can establish a trade route to any other city or station (city-state) that you can reach; they don’t need to be connected by roads, but need to be free of hostile forces and miasma. Trade is VERY lucrative, and as with everything else in CBE, you have two choices in how to handle it. Trade routes established between your own cities will produce more food and resources for both of them, letting your cities grow more quickly and build infrastructure. Trade routes with foreign cities will generate science and culture, which will boost your civilization’s overall advancement. Trade with stations will provide a wide variety of benefits. Furthermore, foreign civs are usually happy when you establish a trade route with them, since they gain some benefit from it too. Presumably, this should help strengthen diplomatic ties with them. (It is reflected in the relationship advisor screen, but doesn’t seem to be very effective in preventing a betrayal.)

Managing aliens, though, can be tricky, particularly in the context of trade. Aliens are somewhat analogous to barbarians in Civ or mindworms in AC, but also sort of act like their own independent faction, with slightly different rules; now that I think about it, a better analogy might be the native tribes of Colonization. Aliens are initially curious about your presence. They might just move around passively, or might try to attack you. If you are attacked, and you strike back, they seem to learn their lesson and will keep their distance. Now, if you continue to harass them, and particularly if you threaten their nests, they will turn hostile and will begin to swarm you like barbarians. But if you leave them alone, they will generally leave you alone as well, making it safe for your workers to head out and do their work.

The exception, though, is trade convoys. For whatever reason, aliens seem to believe that these convoys are absolutely delicious, and will munch on them any chance they get. I tried escorting them for a while, but even so they would end up getting destroyed. The trick to solve this is nonintuitive: you need to build an ultrasonic fence. According to the description, this will prevent any aliens from approaching within 2 tiles of your cities. However, as with all of the other buildings in CBE, some time after constructing your first ultrasonic fence, you will get a one-time quest event prompting you to choose an upgrade. One expands the range of the fence; the much more useful one is to make all of your trade units immune to alien attacks. After picking this upgrade, I quickly maxed out all of the available trade slots in all of my cities, and reaped massive economic and cultural benefits.

Sadly, my attempt at a completely passive game proved overly optimistic, as those dastardly Polystralians betrayed me and launched an invasion, despite previously being quite Friendly to me. I had virtually no military to speak of, so I desperately rushed some Soldiers in the city nearest the border, started rushing my two other Soldiers from their spots near the Capital to the frontier, and began purchasing some missile rovers and a tactical jet. Fortunately, even at this early stage in the game I had a very healthy bank account; if I remember correctly, the war struck during a lull when I had built all of the buildings available to my tech level in most of my cities, so I’d just been letting cash accumulate.

Having barely played Civ V, and only limited wars in there, I was a bit nervous about how I would do in this conflict. From what I can tell, the rules of war are very similar across both games. Units have hitpoints, and it usually takes multiple rounds of combat for any unit to be eliminated. Your city also has hitpoints, and also strength; it can bombard nearby units, and must be attacked over multiple rounds to be defeated. Hostile units establish zones-of-control around them, and you can’t move more than one tile around a hostile unit after entering its proximity.

The war was a desperate match, but I had a few advantages. Despite Hutama and me I both pursuing Harmony, only I had already acquired the tech that rendered all my units immune to miasma; so his units regularly dropped in health for every turn they stayed near my city. I also had that enormous bank account; while my units were one tier behind his, and were scrambling to reach the location of the fighting, I had much more capacity to reinforce myself than he did.

My workers fled from the fighting, crossing paths with my incoming soldiers. Fortunately, a few of his units decided to pursue the workers rather than focus on the city. This allowed me to direct all of my limited firepower on attacking the units threatening my city.

Combat in Civ V (and Beyond Earth) is rather famously rock-paper-scissors in its design. Artillery is highly effective against infantry, since they can launch ranged attacks that do a lot of damage at no immediate risk to themselves. Artillery is vulnerable to combat rovers, which can quickly chase down the distant units and force them into crippling melee battles. And rovers are threatened by infantry, who have straight-up better stats.

So, even though I’m not exactly a combat expert, I was able to figure out an effective way to use my limited forces against Hutama’s assault. My city bombardment focused on the nearest units. Missile rovers drove into range, then launched ranged assaults on melee units. By this point, after their strength had already been weakened, I would unleash my tactical jet or a soldier to finish them off. When they set up their own missile rovers to start barraging my city, I treated it as a secondary threat - ranged attacks can’t capture a city alone; after the immediate vicinity was clear of other forces, I could send a combat rover after it and rush it. In the meantime, my workers led Hutama’s straying units deep into my territory; after we had secured our city, though, my newly-promoted force was able to easily crush them.

And so, after some frenzied fighting, I had wiped all of those dastardly yellow units from sight. I now had a choice to make. Would I seek to end the war, and return my attention to my builder strategy? Or should I try and make Hutama pay for his treachery, and go after one of his own cities?

It was a tempting thought, but I ultimately elected to opt for peace. While I was happy with how the battle had gone, I knew it would be much more challenging once I started going after his core, especially since I’d not only neglected my military units, but also my military techs. Based on previous experience in Civ, I expected that I would be able to get favorable treaty terms after the solid thrashing I had delivered (crushing all six of his invading units while losing none of my own).

I opened up negotiations with a humiliating demand: all of his energy, plus additional reparations each turn. No dice. I began dialing it back, gradually lowering my demands to find the highest he could bear. He stood strong. Annoyed, I offered a straight-up peace. He refused. Out of curiosity, I asked what he wanted for peace. He demanded the city we had been fighting over, plus tons of resources and energy! Pfah!

Stunned, I sent him away. Why on earth would he be making such outlandish demands? It was almost as if he was utterly confident in his ability to defeat me militarily. But that was absurd; if he had greater strength, he surely would have led with it, rather than send a weak expeditionary force.

Still, even if we technically remained at war, the immediate threat was past. My recently-marshaled army was ready to beat back any future incursions, and in any case he had only a narrow passable corridor from his territory to my own; now that I could keep an eye on things, he wouldn’t be able to sneak up on me again. Instead, I turned my attention to a more active threat: rampaging aliens!

Like I’d said, after some early misunderstandings I’d worked things out with the bugs. However, this detante did not extend to siege worms. Two of them, highly agitated, had appeared in my territory right as my war with Polystralia began. I’m still not sure if this was coincidental or not; given Hutama’s love of affinity, I suspected he might have influenced this threat to my rear. I’d ignored the worms during the main war, but in the meantime they had pillaged my vital road connection, damaging the connection between my capital and cities and harming my economy.

Unfortunately, taking down the worms was no simple task. Siege worms have a ridiculous 60 Strength, against my marines’ pitiful 14. A single worm, let alone two, would have no trouble crushing my entire army.

So, what’s the secret to defeating a Dune-sized sandworm? Two simple things: ranged units and flagrant abuse of hypersonic fences! A hypersonic fence keeps any alien, no matter how strong, from approaching within 2 tiles of your city. As I learned, this also means that it can’t attack into that 2-tile range. Therefore, all I needed to do was line up my missile rovers at that 2-tile border, and fire away! It took many turns, and I would occasionally need to chase it and then fall back in retreat, but eventually the mighty worm fell. This felt nicely epic, on par with defeating Acheron the Red Dragon in Fall From Heaven 2, and comes with a comparable bundle of rewards: an immediate boost of energy and science, completion of a long-standing quest, a sigh of relief as my workers were able to move back in and repair the damage, and an intense feeling of pride in what we weak, fleshy humans were able to accomplish. (Though, as a Harmony player, it would have been more appropriate for me to feel envious of the mighty worm’s immense power, and provided a further strengthening of my resolve to become one with these awesome beings.)

Around this time, Hutama came back to me, asking for peace. I repeated my punishing terms, and this time around he accepted. I was a bit surprised, since we’d had exactly zero interactions since our previous negotiations, and as far as I could tell nothing significant had changed. It does make me wonder if the AI only re-calculates its relative power at certain intervals, or if perhaps it keeps a rolling window of power metrics that only gradually updates. Regardless, I was pleased to bury the hatchet. Despite his shocking betrayal, Hutama and I shared many good reasons to cooperate (including our mutual affinity and numerous trade routes), so I felt optimistic that he had learned his lesson and would leave me in peace, much as the aliens had learned their own lesson early on.

That optimism proved, well, overly optimistic. He betrayed me again almost a century later, again with little warning and no provocation. I resolved to wipe him off the face of the Earth… well, off the face of whatever this planet’s name was. Once again, I tapped my ridiculously large energy stockpiles: “Buy me an army!”, I bellowed. And so they came, and I fought, and it was good.

There’s so much that I love about the affinity system, and one major positive aspect is how well integrated it is with the mechanics of the game. When it comes to combat, your affinity choices will have subtle but profound impacts on the style and look of war. For example, as a Harmony player, many of my units had a unique ability where they gain 40% additional strength when not adjacent to a friendly unit. This encourages a very different style of combat: Harmony players are strongest when scattered, whether because a lone unit is fighting on after its comrades have died, or because they are swarming you from all directions. This has a very different visual look from the sleek, unified front lines you would see when facing a Purity or Supremacy player.

That does cause some potential problems: in the most typical combat configuration, you would want your shock-troop soldiers in the front line, and ranged missile rovers or rangers in the rear line backing them up; but you’re effectively cutting your potential strength (both offense and defense) by 40% in this configuration, so you need to choose between a disciplined formation that negates the upgrade, or a more powerful loose configuration that puts your ranged units at greater risk.

Fortunately, by the time of the Second Polystralian War, I had upgraded to the top-level Harmony artillery units, Minotaurs, which have an incredible range of 3 tiles. So, my Marauders could still form a good front line, and get support from the rear, and each fight at maximum effectiveness. Furthermore, many top-level units like the Minotaurs have thrusters that cause them to hover over the ground; as a result, they could move through hilly terrain very quickly, and even float over canyons, which until now had been completely inaccessible.

Hutama’s forces fell quickly in the beginning; once again, he didn’t seem to have the boots on the ground to back up his violent aims. As before, I initially focused on beating back his assault, and then on eliminating his units; now, though, I followed up by moving into his territory. This war was mostly fought along the eastern border of his realm, in contrast to the First Polystralian War, when he had sent troops north and attacked the middle-west of my country.

Many of Hutama’s cities had been abandoned militarily, and put up little resistance. I decided to burn all of his cities: I was reluctant to take the Health hit for absorbing them into my nation, and didn’t see much benefit in installing a puppet government. Unlike previous Civ games, burning a city isn’t instant: instead it lowers the population by one person per turn until the city is destroyed. If this had been our first war, I would have held on to them and then given them back in a peace deal; however, since he had already proven himself untrustworthy, I had no plans to ever offer peace.

The war got a bit tougher once he was down to his last few cities; I think that he got a few extra Harmony points after the war started, which allowed him to upgrade some already-veteran units to match my top-level builds. He was actually really clever in using his fast units to chase down my vulnerable Minotaurs, and the war ended up being surprisingly close, with him tenaciously holding on to his final city while I had to split my forces between defending not-yet-wholly-burned cities and pressing the assault on his very powerful final stronghold.

Along the way, though, I had yet another AI annoyance. In an earlier war, Hutama had captured the capital and several other cities from Kavitha Thakur of the Kavithan Protectorate. Rather than burn these, I opted to return them to the Kavithans; they were so weak that they didn’t pose a threat, and I figured some goodwill would be appreciated. She thanked me profusely, and I got a nice diplomatic benefit. On my VERY NEXT TURN, she appeared before me, irate, demanding that I remove my troops from her territory. Um… you mean, those units that just freed your city? The ones who are the reason you’re here at all? I chose the second option, truthfully saying “We’re just passing through” - which was true, they were all on the way to Hutama’s final city, which happened to be another of Kavitha’s captured cities, and another one I was planning to liberate.

The next turn, she showed back up, irate, canceling our open borders agreement, censuring me before the world, and turning hostile towards me. I was speechless! There’s a lot of buggy diplomatic AI in this game, but this was by far the most egregious: someone who should have been my friend, irrationally lashing out at me, destroying our relationship AND her own self-interest.

Because her border was closed, I now needed to go the long way around a mountain range to finally reach Hutama’s last city. I almost burned it out of spite, but at the last minute decided to give it back to Kavitha after all. She seemed to appreciate it, but not enough to be friends again. Grumble, grumble.

The AI in general got pretty frustrating around this point. A lot of people were denouncing me for being a warmonger. Which is, you know, just patently untrue. I’d never initiated any wars. I’d never provoked any wars. Granted, I was burning all of Hutama’s cities to the ground; but if that’s what they were upset about, then they should have complained about that, not lying about me being the aggressor in the conflict.

While I enjoyed Beyond Earth, the farther I got into the game the less polished it seemed. Beyond the janky diplomatic AI, I had a shockingly hard time figuring out how to get the Transcendence victory. From the Civilopedia, I knew that I would need to build a Mind Flower; but the Civilopedia didn’t list what techs I needed to research in order to build it. I spend an inordinately long time trawling through the Tech Web, and searching the Civilopedia directly, and just could not find out what I needed. I ended up needing to Google it and hunt through several forum posts before finally finding the answer. Frankly, it felt ridiculous. I don’t think over Affinity victories are this messed up, but it felt like a really gaping oversight.

For the Transcendence victory, after you build research the requisite techs, you build the Mind Flower, a big Project that consumes a tile in your territory. You then need to defend it, as all alien life on the planet turns hostile towards you. I thought that was a really interesting wrinkle: thematically, most Harmony players are probably likely to try to live in, well, harmony with the native life, and so may not have invested in the anti-alien technologies that other players will have. Still, it was really easy. Even though they turn hostile, the hypersonic fence is still effective at repelling them, so they never came close to threatening my borders. I did appreciate that my human opponents didn’t gang up on me: in previous Civs, it’s very common for the entire world to declare war on you if, say, you start launching your spaceship to Alpha Centauri. The other players were more hostile to me at the end, but I couldn’t really tell if this was due to me approaching victory, or more bold in my covert ops against them, or their miscomprehension of me as a bloodthirsty warmonger. Regardless, I was happy that the game didn’t force me to fight a big war at the end of what had been a fairly pacifistic path to victory.

As with Civ V, winning a game is incredibly anti-climactic: you see a still image, and a few sentences of text, and that’s it. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but after that excellent intro video, I’d foolishly allowed myself to hope that they would show something of similar quality (if shorter length) as a reward for the long time it takes to win the game. I continue to feel befuddled at just why they have relapsed so far from the triumphant, uplifting victory sequences of Civilizations I, II, Alpha Centauri, III and IV. They’ve even gotten rid of the most basic classic aspects of victory, like replaying the game in strategic view; there’s still a graph view at the end, but it’s deeply buried within the main menu. I dunno. I wonder if it’s a purely financial decision, or a stylistic one, or what, but out of all the things I miss from Civ IV (a very long list!) this is near the top.

Here’s a rundown of my opinions after my first full game!


Affinities! The whole affinity thing is really colorful and flavorful, and nicely unites purpose, mechanics, and visual design in a really attractive (but compact and comprehensible) whole.

Choices, choices everywhere! It’s actually kind of ridiculous: every time you build a new building, or reach a new affinity level, or do one of the dozens of quests, you’ll get a popup asking you to make a decision on something. This will have lasting effects on your game, typically changing the outputs of a building or a tile upgrade or certain unit types in your military. Because every choice is independent with every other one, there’s a ridiculous combination of different outcomes, many of which will be perfectly viable depending on your situation.


Lore! It’s easy to just click past this, but any time I pause and actually read the quotes and descriptions on the Civilopedia, I’m really impressed. I feel a bit like how I imagine a Renaissance genius would feel listening to a podcast from the 21st century: it’s comprehensible, while still being fantastical enough that my mind has trouble absorbing it.

Music! It’s maybe slightly less iconic than the awesome tunes in Civ IV, but still one of the best soundtracks of any Civ.

The tech web! It’s radically different from earlier Civ games, and yet works really well. Tech choices now feel even more significant than before: in previous Civs, you were really only worried about the order in which you would discover things; now, you’ll definitely finish the game without ever getting a whole bunch of techs. But, because the web is shallower, it’s simultaneously easier to pivot if you realize mid-game that you need to pick up an unexpected tech.

Searchable civilopedia and tech web! Especially in my first game, when I didn’t always know what type of thing I was looking for, it was really handy to be able to just type stuff in.

Leader personalities! It’s fun to see the Affinities eventually mark their followers. I also liked the way that, for example, a leader would occasionally mention that they were happy that we were in a mutual group of friends.

Espionage! For a non-combat person like me, it’s a great way to exercise soft power and feel engaged with the world without building enormous armies. I was stunned and delighted to see that it was possible to incite an insurgency in a foreign capital and take possession of it! The victim didn’t even declare war on me! (I gave it back because I felt bad, but, man, that’s really cool; it means a conquest victory wouldn’t rely on arms alone.)

Unit evolution! This is another drastic change from Civ: instead of specific techs unlocking specific new units, and you needing to upgrade old units to new, earning enough affinity points will give a free upgrade of your choice to all existing instances of a given unit. So, there’s never the problem of updating your field military. It makes more sense than ever before to invest in early military units, since later ones will grow more expensive.

Aliens! I liked their general “we’ll leave you alone as long as you don’t spook us” attitude. It’ll be interesting to play as a more aggressive player later and see how that changes things; I imagine it’ll lead to more of an arms race, as your own units will become veterans more quickly but you’ll face increasingly hostile waves of bugs.

Based on my limited battle experience, the enemy combat AI seems pretty smart. Perhaps bad at the strategic level of making decisions about when to go to war, but effective at managing its assets in a fight.

Trade routes! They’re very lucrative, arguably too much so; I wouldn’t be surprised if they get nerfed in a future update. I like how they also lead to diplomatic bonuses, which often incentivizes me to pass over a more-rewarding route for one that offers me a more strategic relationship. There are good choices to make between internal and external routes, and in general I like the level of activity involved in setting up routes (which reminds me a little of the soft-touch hands-on involvement with spreading religion in Civ IV): you make some initial decisions around setting up your trade routes, but don’t really need to micromanage them.


Wonders seem less powerful than in previous Civ games; they’re still fairly expensive, but there are a lot of end-game Wonders that cost over a thousand Production and only grant, say, +4 Culture and no other benefits.

Cash is king. I’m used to running at a minimum bank balance, or hoarding my reserves for emergencies, but in the Energy economy it’s trivial to stockpile an enormous reserve, which you can and should expend. I generally tried to maintain reserves of around 10k Energy (which has good synergy with a Prosperity Virtue), and spend the surplus on buildings. But it’s also very useful for rushing an army if you’re attacked, or acquiring tiles if you suspect a rival of making a land-grab.

In general, I really like the idea of “favors”. It always bothered me in previous Civs when a rival would demand me to give them something for free, and then get upset when I told them “no”. Psychologically, I’m much more willing to acquiesce if I’m getting anything back, even something as insubstantial as “favors”. That said, favors are very insubstantial indeed. I had initially thought that these would be general diplomatic modifiers, and that by collecting enough favors I would be able to maintain friendships for longer. Instead, though, they’re just another resource to trade, and apparently not a very valuable one anyways. I’ll probably be much less likely to accept favors in any future games.


The Civilopedia (or whatever they’re calling it) is frustratingly incomplete. I ended up winning my game many decades later than I could have, just because the Mind Flower page didn’t list the prerequisite techs. There are very few internal links between pages, and very few deep links into the Civilopedia. Man, I really miss the glory days of Civ IV when you could right-click on pretty much anything in the game and be taken to the relevant page. I do like the search function, but in all honesty, probably 90% of the time I was typing, it was because I’d seen some text that wasn’t clickable that I needed to check out.

Along similar lines, while I love unit evolution, it’s seemingly impossible to find the actual stats on any given unit. Even for my own units, I would occasionally get confused (especially after several evolutions) about their powers and abilities.

Limited info. This is the downside of that “choice” thing I’m so excited about: without already being familiar with the game, or looking to an online reference (none of which are complete yet), it’s impossible to know what the actual effect of any given building will be after you build it. Many that initially seemed kind of pointless, like the Command Post, ended up seeming critical after I got the upgrade, making me regret not building them centuries earlier. (This is probably a complaint that will go away after I play a few more games, though, and honestly I’m not sure if I’d even want this info to join the Civilopedia; it would ruin the pleasure of surprise, even if it would improve overall strategy.)


As noted above, the ending feels incredibly hollow and disappointing. Especially when the gameplay has been so polished and the setting so flavorful, the bare-bones victory screen feels borderline insulting.

The diplomatic AI seems pretty buggy, unwilling to accept peace in one turn only to reverse itself for seemingly no reason shortly after, making bizarre demands, etc.

The late game tech web is a mess. There are advances that cost the maximum amount of science to research, that only enable a single world wonder, which only gives (e.g.) +4 Culture and no other bonuses.

There are a bunch of interface things that seem like weird oversights (and which I’m pretty confident will get patched soon). There’s currently no way to tell what building or unit a city has just finished building. There’s no sorting of trade routes, which gets particularly frustrating for coastal cities late in the game which can easily have 30+ available routes. There’s a “Previous route” choice, but it isn’t highlighted in any way and isn’t sorted anywhere in the list, so it takes just as much effort to hunt for this as it does to find the top-yielding route.


I took a few screenshots while playing this game, which I have captioned and uploaded into the now-requisite album. There are a lot fewer for a strategy game like this than there are for my RPG albums! Still, if you want to check them out, that's where they are!

So, yeah… while the ending was a bummer, on the whole I really enjoyed Beyond Earth. It’s very evocative of Alpha Centauri while still confident enough to do its own thing. Some aspects of the game, like affinities, are really inspired. Things like the complete re-think of military unit progressions seemed like major changes to conventions that have been around in Civ for more than two decades, but ended up being wonderful innovations that solve problems I hadn’t realized the old games had.

As my brother aptly pointed out, it isn’t going to dethrone Civ IV / Fall from Heaven II in our favorite-Civ-like-experience category anytime soon; but for me, it’s at least a significant improvement over Civ V, and something I’m sure I’ll try again in the future. If only they would add that little extra sense of reward at the end of the game, I’d be champing at the bit to dive right back in. As it stands, I’ll probably return to some deferred games for a bit and wait for them to patch this before I take another crack at it.

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