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Giant Bomb Review

94 Comments

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

3
  • PC

Firaxis' sci-fi spin on Civilization V has some intriguing ideas that, sadly, don't come together into an equally engaging experience.

After three years of expansions and patches to Civilization V, Firaxis has moved its venerable strategy series off-world in Civilization: Beyond Earth. Instead of guiding the many noteworthy cultures of Earth's past, you're sending the last remnants of humanity into the vast, uncharted nether of space to colonize an alien world. Alongside rival Civs, you'll expand your initially meager settlement into a bustling society with radical new technologies, all the while forming a relationship with the world you've settled that can range from harmonious to actively antagonistic. And you'll do all of this using roughly the same design structure as Civilization V. Sure, victory conditions have changed, the roles of culture, diplomacy, and espionage have shifted, and Civ V sure as hell didn't have giant worms roaming across any of its un-modded landscapes. But if you're the sort that spent countless, sleep-deprived hours building society after society in Civ V, you'll likely encounter the same creeping feeling of over-familiarity that I did.

Civilization shifts away from its historical roots into the far-flung future in Beyond Earth.
Civilization shifts away from its historical roots into the far-flung future in Beyond Earth.

Given that familiar feeling, it's tempting to call Beyond Earth a gussied-up expansion pack for Civ V. The nuts and bolts of Beyond Earth's basic UI, pacing, and visual design all feel in lockstep with what Civ V offered. Jumping into my first game, I had no trouble at all figuring out how to start progressing my new colony. Like always, I sent out a scout (explorer) to start looking for ruins (in this case, a mixture of "resource pods," alien remains, and ancient alien ruins) and barbarian encampments (alien nests), began work on my first cultural monument (earth relic), and began researching my first technologies. But then, little wrinkles started to show up. I discovered that numerous areas of the map were coated in a noxious alien miasma, and that taking units through it would damage them. I also realized that alien creatures were numerous in ways that the barbarians of old never, ever were. Yet they were also generally non-threatening, unless I happened to wander too close to their teeming nests.

The early game becomes a matter of figuring out the best ways to navigate around the more hostile aspects of the environment until you've researched enough technologies to start overcoming them, and this is by far the most exciting part of the game. There's a genuine sense of wonder that comes from exploring these harsh, alien environments, and a decent amount of variety to how you approach them. That variety comes in the form of the game's new affinity system. These affinities allow you to dominate your environment in one of three distinct ways. The supremacy affinity is all about transhumanism, turning your society into a fearsome, militaristic technocracy. The harmony affinity swings entirely in the other direction, blending humanity with the planet's native biology, and turning the planet's most toxic elements into a protective boon. Purity is all about retaining your humanity and turning your colony into something decidedly Earth-like.

Each of these affinities comes with its own set of units, specialty techs, and victory conditions. Every time you complete a task or technology that boosts an affinity, your Civ gets a little boost. Sometimes it's just an upgrade for a particular unit type--these upgrades adjust the look of your units, in addition to their stats--and sometimes it's something felt society wide. Each affinity must be pushed to level 13 in order to unlock its victory condition, though you'll have to do more than just boost that affinity level to get there.

You'll also have to finish quests, which are a new, if not overly exciting addition to the Civ formula. The quests that pertain to victories are static, and usually involve some combination of tech research and unit building to unlock a victory-specific project. There are also a pair of victory options that exist outside of affinities; one involves digging through ruins and unlocking an ancient signal from an unseen alien race, while the other is the good old domination victory.

Combat is reasonably challenging in the early goings of the game, but once you get a few upgrades, it's a cakewalk to bowl over both strategically dim rival Civs and the indigenous alien life.
Combat is reasonably challenging in the early goings of the game, but once you get a few upgrades, it's a cakewalk to bowl over both strategically dim rival Civs and the indigenous alien life.

Those last two mark the only good options for victory if you find yourself lagging behind in the affinity specific ones. In Beyond Earth, planning your method of victory is essential from the get-go. This is the result of the game's reliance on its new tech web, a branching system of technologies to research that's initially daunting to get the hang of. There are a lot of different technologies to play around with, many of which you will have to actively ignore if you want to build up your affinity at a good pace. Victory quests do at least specify what technologies you'll need to research to win, but that won't prevent you from potentially falling behind other Civs, and once you have, it's extremely difficult to pivot to an alternate victory condition.

This makes the late-game progression of Beyond Earth a bit of a drag. With most of the victory conditions being so similarly rigid in design, there's rarely any opportunity to throw off any other Civ's progress outside of military intervention. Once you get to the point of having your victory device built, you end up just waiting around--sometimes you have to press a specific button or guide a specific unit each turn as well--until the game is over. And even on some of the higher difficulty settings, the A.I. rarely seems aware enough of your impending victory to do anything about it. At best, they may denounce you, but it's extremely rare to see a computer player actually wage war in an attempt to stop you. Passiveness in A.I. is something that Civ V often had an issue with, and nearly every game I played in Beyond Earth demonstrated similar problems.

Combat in general is not a particularly thrilling thing in Beyond Earth. At the outset, when all you have are a few weak units to deal with potentially huge volumes of aliens, there's a degree of tension when trying to figure out if you should engage or just hang back and defend. But once you get a few upgrades, they become little more than a brief nuisance. Strangely, the same feeling applies to combat against other Civs. Even though they advance units at roughly the same pace you do, they're rarely difficult to slice through in battles. Some of that is due, again, to the A.I., which can't often seem to figure out how to flank properly, or even properly navigate the terrain.

The relative ease of those battles negates some of the fun you might have tinkering around with your unit upgrades. It's great that you get distinct choices for how you want your units to improve, but those bonuses are meaningless if you can just bowl over enemies regardless of what you choose. That kind of meaninglessness of choice became more apparent with each game of Beyond Earth I played. While it was initially fun to play around with different techs and buildings and wonders, after a while I realized that most of them didn't really have any significant impact on my ability to win the game. In Civ V, getting the right wonders and buildings built could greatly impact the speed of your Civ's progress. Here, it starts to just feel like busywork after a while, especially once you've gotten the necessary techs and units built to get the endgame race going.

The new tech web is initially intimidating, but it's vital to plot your path through it early in the game if you want to succeed.
The new tech web is initially intimidating, but it's vital to plot your path through it early in the game if you want to succeed.

It's not just buildings and wonders that suffer from this problem. There are tons of new tile improvements to build, plus new orbital units that provide culture, energy (the game's currency), and defensive boosts, among others, to swaths of your territory. Yet few of these things ever feel especially vital. I went through entire games just building one or two orbital units (often in cases where satellites were required for a victory condition), and got by just fine. The variety of tile improvements for workers to build ensures a diverse looking terrain by the time your game is done, but many of these improvements are just slight stat tweaks compared to other improvements you've been building since the beginning of the game. There is a ton of variety in how to design your society in Beyond Earth, yet little of it feels consequential to your path to victory.

Other systems introduced in Civ V and its expansions have either been left as-is or removed altogether. Religion is gone, though you could argue that the affinity system is a more than capable replacement. Culture has been scaled back considerably, relegated to unlocking perks in the game's version of the policies menu. There are no great people to spawn, nor city states to interact with--the game's closest equivalent, independent stations that can be used for trade, offer little else in terms of interaction. Espionage, at least, has seen a more significant overhaul. Spies planted in other capital cities can still steal technologies, but not right away. You have to level them up by performing other, simpler tasks, like establishing a spy network, or syphoning energy. Performing operations successfully raises the intrigue level in the city, and opens up more elaborate possibilities. If you've exhausted the number of useful technologies a rival Civ has, maybe it's time to recruit some defectors in the form of stolen military units, or even stage a coup to overthrow the city itself.

Except that rarely ever works. Performing a long string of successful operations is very difficult, because there's always a chance the agent may be detected. Detection does not equal death automatically, but even when not killed, agents are less effective once spotted, and usually need to be sent elsewhere to start all over. And even if you do manage to perform enough successful operations to get to those higher level ops, I never had a single one past the defectors mission succeed.

There are some good ideas in Beyond Earth, but it's still got a ways to go if it wants to recapture the addictive qualities of Civ V.
There are some good ideas in Beyond Earth, but it's still got a ways to go if it wants to recapture the addictive qualities of Civ V.

Between these various issues, and Beyond Earth's unfortunate lack of personality, I had a hard time mustering up the desire to keep playing it beyond my first few play-throughs. That, to me, is the most damning thing about it. Say what you will about Civ V and its lingering problems, there was an intangible quality to that game that kept its hooks in you for long stretches of time. Maybe it's the lack of historical flavoring, maybe it's the lack of meaningful Civ personalities, or maybe it's the lack of consequence to the choices the game constantly presents you with. Whatever it is, there's definitely something missing from Beyond Earth's transcendental equation.

It's a shame, because Beyond Earth offers up a tantalizing premise that, nonetheless, feels incomplete. Its best parts are aesthetic in nature, changes to a visual palette that evoke a world of futuristic possibility. Yet the game itself feels regressive compared to the many changes made to Civ V's formula throughout its lifespan. People who thought better of spending countless nights clicking through turn after turn in Civ V might get a bit more out of Beyond Earth's alterations to that formula. But for those who, like me, dumped hundreds of hours of their fleeting lifespan into Civ V and its expansions, Beyond Earth is more a glimpse of potential greatness--the sort that would come from future updates--and less a great game in its own right.

Alex Navarro on Google+

94 Comments

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Sackmanjones

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Hmm this is a bummer. Would you recommend just grabbing the Civ 5 expansions over this for now? @alex

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autumn_thunder

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It's no Destiny but may be a contender for most disappointing game of 2014.

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alex

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@sackmanjones: If it's a choice between the two, I'd take Civ V + expansions.

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Sackmanjones

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@alex said:

@sackmanjones: If it's a choice between the two, I'd take Civ V + expansions.

Cool, I've had the itch to go back ever since the unfinished video you guys posted. Might as well save some cash and grab the two expansions on sale. Thanks for the review and recommendation!

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bacongames

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You know, I'm actually good with a Civ game not being the monster time sink Civ V was. If I can duck in, play a few games, and duck out and be good, I'll take that. Besides, Firaxis has been smart about what it improved on with Civ V so by the time I get around to it Beyond Earth could very well be that much better.

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Sniper26

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My only issue is that they over-hyped this game. When I heard about it I figured it would be exactly this, a game very similar to Civ 5 with some slight changes. However, they touted this as something so much different. I am still having fun playing it, but man it is disappointing.

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slyspider

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That sucks, I'm a sucker for Civ though and I'm aching for a new Civ type game. With expansions this will be just as good as 5 I reckon

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Sykdom

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Its kind of hard to compare this game to civ 5 with its years of dlc and expansions.

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Voysa_Reezun

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Civ V + Expansions was a pretty intriguing game since the World Congress/UN made for a really interesting way to try and control the game. Between that and the re-worked culture victory, the game had some variety.

I bought Civ: BE knowing that, as the base game, it would take an expansion or two before they figure out how to tune the game to have that much variety. I just really wanted to support this game. I do think that future expansion packs should figure out something more interesting to do with the third-party outposts other than holding them for trade routes, and I also think that the modes of victory are really pretty bland; it's either achieve the pinnacle of your focus, kill everyone, or uncover the signal.

I am not through my first game completely yet because of time constraints, but I'm hoping to uncover some more depth to building a unique civilization as I go along (and I am also hoping to get a sense of the tech tree so that it becomes more intuitive to figure out how to best navigate it for any one strategy).

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alex

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@sykdom: I would agree with that if this game felt more radically removed from the Civ V design formula, but it doesn't.

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asantosbr

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Accurate, it is definitely a 3 stars game.

CIV 5 still a better game.

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Ares42

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Having played quite a few games already it's become pretty obvious what the major problem with the game is, internal trade routes. It sounds sorta silly, but due to their ridicolous strength everything else becomes meaningless (like mentioned in the review). Sure, there are issues with lack of variety in multiple areas etc, but nerfing trade routes would do so much in terms of making all your desicions matter.

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cikame

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cikame  Online

One of the charms of Civ is the world map itself, if for whatever reason you hate france, attack france, damn you sweden for refusing to trade with me etc...
The alien world here while full of interactive elements, lacks a personality, smoggy poison clouds float about and alien nests spawn aliens, that's kind of it.

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ripelivejam

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Edited By ripelivejam

Let the civ beyond earth hate train roll on

E: nothing against your review alex, thanks for your thoughts. Im still enjoying the game and, regardless of people's thoughts on having to buy dlc to flesh out the game i think it will certainly help it and differentiate it in the end. I guess that's how the new generation of civ games work nowadays.

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Rayeth

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This game desperately needs an expansion pack or two in order to compete with the current state of Civ V + its expansions. It's obvious how much COULD be done in this setting, and that they haven't put so much out there is a bit sad. I'm still enjoying what I've played, but I don't see myself putting 300+ hours into this one.

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SlashDance

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Edited By SlashDance

I did not realize how much the historical setting helped the Civ games before I played Beyond Earth. As a huge sci-fi fan I expected to love it but it's just not the same when you can't kill Gandhi with an army of Praetorians. That and Civ V with the expansions is just a better game I think.

3 stars is about right.

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Voysa_Reezun

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Edited By Voysa_Reezun

@ares42: This is also true, and when you get the tech that keeps aliens from attacking your trade routes (which you can get to early), it really unbalances the game.

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Y2Ken

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It was interesting on the Quick Look to hear Alex say that he thought this might have less appeal to people who had spent a lot more time with Civ V. Personally that made me more interested, if anything. Had I just played one or two games of that, I would probably have been fine to just run another one in that same game if I got the urge to play Civ. But having put over 100 hours in, everything in that game had become so familiar to me that Beyond Earth has been fantastically refreshing just because I don't immediately know exactly what I want to do to achieve any given thing.

That said, this is a good review (I would expect nothing less from Alex) and I do pretty much agree with everything said here. My only query is with the combat - given that you talked about how easy it is, did you try cranking it up a bit difficulty-wise? I haven't spent enough time with the game myself yet to determine, but I'm interested as to whether doing so actually makes the AI more competent or just spams them with additional resources in a somewhat cheaty fashion.

I'm pretty pleased with the game - personally I'm looking forward to getting the chance to play it as a whole-day electronic board game of sorts with a group of friends, because I feel that's where Civ V really shined the most. It definitely won't convert people who didn't take to that game, however.

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GERALTITUDE

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I feel the same about this game as I did Civ V when it came out. The previous game is better, the current one needs time, fixes and expansions to get it to the same level (if it does).

I think this is true of Firaxis games across the board, and while I appreciate that people may not like that, and feel like it's a bummer that expansions are required for their games to become great, it's important to note that nobody does expansions like Firaxis. The are true blue, top to bottom game changing and enhancing expansions, not DLC with one or two new bullet points. So I dunno, 3/5 for the Base Game of Beyond Earth seems like a good start. I'm enjoying it enough to recommend it to longtime fans of Civ and Sci Fans who are OK with the idea of playing it now, taking a break, and coming back later when it really jumps off. There aren't many developers I say this for but I do trust Firaxis to deliver the goods.

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jon_e

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Yeah. That was my reaction to it as well. There were a couple of cool points, but it feels like a (very well done) mod for Civ V.

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Deathpooky

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I guess somewhat to be expected since it's a brand new game versus one that took years and several expansions, but it's still sad to see how much is missing from this game given how similar it is to Civ V. Besides the tech race, building culture, religion, and politics were always what interested me in Civ games more than just combat, so having the Civ V's fleshed out systems gone is a big bummer.

I'll probably still get it when it comes out for Mac later this year, since I think learning a new tech tree and playing with the affinities is more than enough to keep me interested for a half dozen games. But here's hoping they build on this the way they did with Civ V.

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triplestan

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Edited By triplestan

From what I've played of Beyond Earth so far it feels a lot like vanilla Civ V, and having played it I realize that the various cultural aspects are really what give the Civilization series it's personality. Civ: BE just feels sterile and lifeless from what I've played (which to be fair isn't much).

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kirkdouglas

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@alex Would you compare the tech web to Alpha Centauri's techs progression with the 'Cannot set precise research goals' setting off? This seems to be what they're trying to do with it. In Alpha Centauri with that setting turned off, you could pick and choose techs at will. Sometimes that led to you falling behind other factions because you chose the wrong tech to go forward with.

Anyway, I agree with most of your review. I too think that quests are good a good addition to the game. What disappoints me is that the game has no unit creator. The game isn't beholden to reality, why can't I build a laser hovertank?

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Lord_Anime

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Thanks Alex. This steers me in the direction that with the limited mileage I got out of Civ V, getting beyond earth wouldn't really...erm...light my fire.

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hassun

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I think people who expected a new Alpha Centauri are pretty disappointed with this release.

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Incapability

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I agree with pretty much everything that is being said in this review - I have had slightly different experiences with my spies and the AI, but not much - but I'm still having a good time with this game.

I appreciated it more when I played my second and third campaign, and I went from three to four stars over the course of that. But even though I don't agree with the score, I agree 100% with what Alex has to say here.


I still think it's good, but I think a few expansions and some (needed) patches would do this game good.

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Kohe321

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Kind of a bummer, I was hoping this would be better. Still, I might buy it later if the price drops a little.

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aleryn

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Edited By aleryn

3 stars? A little better than average is fine, I'll give the demo a shot because the theme sounds fun. Thanks for the review.

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Cerebus

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Thanks Alex.

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Kazvon

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On the bright side, Firaxis can now focus on making another XCOM. Any by that I mean PLEASE FIRAXIS MAKE ANOTHER XCOM...and hire the guys who made the Long War mod please...thanks...

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Icemo

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I'm enjoying Beyond Earth, but it does feel like they left too much out of the game so they can have bigger expansions. And why are there no stats at the end of the game and you have to find them from the main menu? Who thought that was a good idea. If the AI wins then you don't even know who won the game.

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meissnerd

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Thanks for the review Alex! I agree completely with you. I've dumped a great deal of time into Civ 5 across the expansions, and Beyond Earth seems lacking in so many ways, especially compared to Brave New World. If this game was on a new system it would be more understandable, but for as much as Firaxis made it seem like things would be different, it's telling that thinking of this game more as a very good mod than a full fledged game is realistic. I found the leaders and wonders in particular to be a great let down. Going from 45 leaders to 8 leaders who are all quite bland was jarring, and while the wonders themselves are cool, the bonuses from them are boring! Oh well, it's an interesting premise that I hope is built upon soon.

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Edited By Donos

Sounds about right, but I felt largely the same way about Civ 5 back when it launched. The game needs a lot of polish and balance and content, and Civ 5 recieved all of those things in time.

I just wish Firaxis hadn't charged full price for what might as well be a demo, and I hope they aren't planning on charging as much for the necessary expansions.

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forrester90

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Have to say I disagree, really loving it so far. Though I didn't play a lot of Civ V so maybe that has something to do with it.

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SomeJerk

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The demo is limited to 100 turns but it does give a very good impression of the whole deal. Going to be a mutha to map the tech web out into something a little more sane and logical for us numbercrunches.

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ArbitraryWater

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This review is about where I stand on this game. It's fine because it has the core mechanics of Civ V, but I don't feel that the mechanics by which it differentiates itself are all necessarily well fleshed out. I can see myself playing another game or two, but I don't think it will be my 4X timesink of choice until some improvements are made.

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@hassun: Yeah, I jumped on it expecting a new Alpha Centauri. I loved AC not so much because of its Civ pedigree, but because it was brilliantly written sci fi. The factions were broken out by philosophy rather than nation which made them way more memorable (seriously, I have played 20 hours of C:BE and I probably can't name 3 factions, let alone their leaders), and the voice acting was top notch. C:BE has some really bad fake accents. Like Heavy Rain bad.

AC also seemed to introduce new tech better. I'm not sure if it was the accompanying title cards, voice overs, or what, but in AC you were given some idea of what the tech or unit you just unlocked was (oooh, unidirectional magnets!) - in C:BE you get 0 description of new tech or units without diving into the Civopedia. There doesn;t even seem to be any way to go from the unlock notification screen straight there; you have to manually look up whatever you want to know about. That's Destiny Grimoire-levels of obfuscation.

So yeah, tl:dr - if you liked Alpha Centauri for the story, writing, personalities, voice acting, and presentation, avoid C:BE.

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csl316

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Curious how this'll develop as updates roll out. Shame it's not all it could be.

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SgtSphynx  Moderator
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HoboZero

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@hobozero: I almost forgot! The wonders! O man what a let down. No video, not even an indication of what the thing *is* - just a Ken Burns shot of a blueprint. Yippie.

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matiaz_tapia

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I was super enjoying this game! It's my first Civ. But The second time I played and I had the systems kinda figure out...Then I found the victory condition problems. It's almost like the A.I has absolutely no issues with me going forth with the victory conditions. At that point it's just a lot of time being wasted till the clock ticks down.

I had fun preparing my defenses, setting up my army and making sure my cities where in top shape. Only to find no opposition unless I was the active aggressor.

"The Promised land" victory objective was particularly tedious. I was also disappointed to see my rival army right next to one of the earthling colonies, one move away from stopping my progress. Even presenting that kind of carrot, the AI decided to turn tail and let me win.

Not very cathartic. Not to mention wining doesn't bring up some kind of point or progression chart, it just dumps you back into menu ( being my first civ, not sure if that's simply the norm). I was expecting "something to happen" beyond the picture and quote.

Hope they fix that or maybe I simply need to crank up that difficulty to make the ladder climbing the challenging part.

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veektarius

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Edited By veektarius

The QLs were enough to tell me that $50 was more than this game was worth to me. I think this will be fun for a couple of playthroughs, but it's far closer to being more Civ V than anything that'd strike me as truly fresh.

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LivelyBantha

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Hmm. Guess I'll just wait for the first expo to hit.

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Tennmuerti

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Yeah ... i kinda found it disappointing.

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matiaz_tapia

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Edited By matiaz_tapia

@alex If you don't mind the question, What are the fundamental differences from difficulty to difficulty?

I realize this might be a very basic question that went without saying because of all the Civ V similarities. But so far my biggest concern going forward is that I'd like the AI to be a bit more engaging ( but perhaps that's an issue even Civ V has)

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xenopst

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Edited By xenopst

I seem to remember Civ V being a mess at release as well. While it would have been nice for this game to just WORK at release, I'm sure after some time it'll be right up there in terms of quality with how Civ V turned out.

All of that said, it would have been nice for this to have been more of a game along the lines of Alpha Centauri. That game was super dope.

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AuthenticM

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@alex said:

@sackmanjones: If it's a choice between the two, I'd take Civ V + expansions.

That's weird, why don't you have a "staff" emblem in your posts anymore ?

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MiniPato

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Edited By MiniPato

Unless you really hate history and absolutely need a sci fi veneer to get you into a Civ game, there's no reason why you should buy BE over Civ V and its expansions.

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viking_funeral

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Are they planning on releasing expansions?

I was burned by Civ 5 at launch, but I hear that game has really improved, so I think I might have to play the patient gamer card on this one.

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championfetus

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@alex said:

@sackmanjones: If it's a choice between the two, I'd take Civ V + expansions.

Forget Civ V, just get IV. It's probably going for chicken scratch on Steam at this point. On top of that it was the high point of the series.