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Civilization: Beyond Earth was released in 2014 as a sort of stop-gap game between the release of Civilization V and Civilization VI, and it was also a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, one of Sid Meier's games from 1999. Having gotten hooked hardcore on Civilization V the previous year, I was extraordinarily excited for Beyond Earth, especially with the sci-fi theme of the game. At the time, however, I was horribly disappointed with the game and quickly formed a negative opinion of it. Having had a few years between then and now, however, I decided to revisit the game and give it a shot without any preconceptions about what I want the game to be and rather judge it on what it is.
The basic premise of Beyond Earth is that humanity has - unsurprisingly - fucked up the Earth too badly for most human life, so we load up on some space ships and go find a new planet to fuck up. Your "civilizations" are actually colonies chartered by certain corporations, and your "leader" is the CEO of that corporation and, by extension, leader of the colony. Think the East India Company but in space and with lasers. Your research is also a "web" with certain research unlocking multiple branches in a much more complex method than a traditional Civilization game. There's also a thing called "affinity" that certain researches and quests (I'll explain those in a minute) give you points in, either Supremacy, Harmony, or Purity; basically is your attitude to dominate your new alien home and bend it to your will, live in a symbiotic relationship with your new alien home, do whatever it takes to retain what it is to be human and principally Terran, or - this is most common and most advantageous - do you blend all three to some degree?
So let's talk gameplay. The unit construction works pretty much the same as in regular Civ games, the only real difference being that when troops level up, they just gain passive stat boosts instead of specialized perks. It simplifies things, but they're less entertaining. Units also don't upgrade through research; raising your affinity levels (you can have points in all three) allows you to develop and essentially evolve your units, and the affinity evolution you choose will determine what two perks you get to choose between when you upgrade. The buildings and tile improvements also work basically the same as in classic Civilization games, but there are a LOT of buildings, and there are a few more types of tile improvements, as well. Cities halfway work the same way. I say halfway because there are two types of cities that you can build. Your land cities work the same; the only difference is that they start as an "outpost" for a few turns that you can't really do anything with until it develops into a full fledged city. The other type of city, however, is new and very different - floating cities. These begin the same way - as an outpost - but they're settled in the ocean instead of on land. When they develop into full cities, the main differences are that they can move (albeit only one tile at a time, and it takes a few turns) and that they don't gain territory over time like land cities do; they do so through movement. When you move your city to an adjacent tile, all tiles adjacent to it become its territory. So if you move an aquatic city to the right one tile, the tile in front, the tile to the upper right, and the tile to the lower right would all be added to its territory. It's a really cool take on cities that gives your naval units a dramatically increased importance.
My favorite gameplay change is really, in most ways, more a theme tweak than full on change, and that's the aliens. Instead of barbarians, Beyond Earth has aliens. Now don't go thinking you're going to be killing twiliks or Andorians or anything; these aren't humanoid, sentient aliens. They're basically things like enormous bugs and sea monsters and stuff. The reason that I like this more than barbarians is because it's different. Barbarians in traditional Civilization games use the same kinds of units you do; these aliens are, for lack of a better word, totally alien. They're COMPLETELY different from ANYTHING you can build. Through the right research, your Explorer units can "lasso" and take control of most alien units, but you can't build them. Furthermore there are certain colossal alien units like the dreaded Siege Worm. This worm - which can appear VERY early in the game, as I found out - is a RIDICULOUSLY powerful alien unit that attacks through melee and kills most units in one hit while taking VERY little damage from most units. If one of those things strikes your city early on, you're doomed; I threw my entire army at it (granted, that was only four units at the time), and by the time I managed to kill it, I had just a city surrounded by pillaged farms and no military left at all. Imagine the grabboids from Tremors but like a million times worse.
There are two more major gameplay differences that I feel are worth mentioning, one good and one bad. I'll start with the good - quests. You'll get quests randomly - some tied to research, some tied to random events and discoveries, some tied to building construction - that, when you complete the tasks, will offer you a choice for rewards. This may involve choosing between a point to Purity and a point to Harmony, choosing between a building giving you +1 science or +1 culture, choosing to get 1000 energy (gold) now or +1 every turn from a certain building, etc. It adds a cool element that gives you a bit more freedom of choice over how your empire develops. Now for that bad gameplay difference - diplomacy. It's EXTREMELY barebones. Instead of having treaties or pacts, you have just five general "attitude" levels - from best to worst, Allied, Cooperating, Neutral, Sanctioned, and War. That's it. The only real benefit to diplomacy is that there are certain agreements you can use diplomatic capital (another resource) to get with another colony that gives certain perks like faster city healing, reduced research cost, etc. It's not that the additions to the diplomacy that are bad; it's how much is stripped out. There's no trading outside of trade convoys; there's no choice of types of pacts; there's no joint declarations of war. It's just...so minimalistic, and the immersion really suffers for it.
So let's come back and recap my thoughts on Civilization: Beyond Earth. The alien environments keep things interesting along with the replacement of barbarians with alien creatures, and the miasma on some tiles that causes 10 damage to units standing there every turn (I hadn't mentioned this yet) adds another element to take into considering when planning city placement and troop movement. The addition of quests and revamping of the unit upgrades is different enough to liven the game up but not so foreign as to make it convoluted, and cities have been tweaked just enough to keep things fresh. My biggest complaint with the game is that all of those positive improvements came at the cost of completely cutting diplomacy, leaving your interactions with other empires a shell of what it was in Civilization V. While other factors also play into this, because of that severely limited diplomacy, Beyond Earth just doesn't "feel" like Civilization in a lot of ways. That's not to say, however, that it's a bad game. On the contrary, having spent pretty much an entire day with it again, I've come to enjoy the game a great deal. The downfall comes in expecting it to feel just like Civilization V on an alien planet because it doesn't. Beyond Earth is very much its own game distinct from the other Civilization titles, and as long as you approach it with that in mind rather than trying to force it into a shell it doesn't fit, you'll have a lot of fun with this one. I recommend it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.