Civilization: Beyond Earth Preview: Civ V Goes to Space
2K Games seems to have a business plan for the next 12 months, and that plan is: space.
At E3 2014, I played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and that was very much Borderlands 2 Goes to Space. I also sat through a hands-off demo of Civilization: Beyond Earth, and it, too, was very much Civilization V Goes to Space.
I’m a great deal more excited for Space Civ than Space Borderlands, though, I must admit. Though the interface and experience of Beyond Earth look and function similarly to Civ V in a number of respects, Firaxis looks as though it has learned a lot from the improvements made to Civ V over its life through DLC releases. A lot of new ideas brought to the new game will streamline play and make Civ’s many systems develop more organically as players work through the game.
What we saw of Beyond Earth will harken back to the previous Civ game more than it might divert from it. Humans have left Earth for greener planets, and the settlers on this new world are not unified in their beliefs about how the future of the species should progress. Where Civ V lets players choose the philosophies of their civilizations, however, Beyond Earth looks to make them more practical, developing along the lines of your choices in technological development and the goals you pursue in the game.
That’s all done with the tech web, the replacement for previous technology trees seen Civ V. The web format means you can research technologies through a variety of paths, since Beyond Earth starts far in the future, rather than at the dawn of civilization. What you choose to pursue, from robotics to cybernetics to…whatever, plays into the philosophy, or “Affinity,” of your particular civilization.
Those affinities play into the larger idea of what humanity should look like as a spacefaring race of colonizers. “Supremacy” suggests that humans should be a versatile race of explorers with the strength to withstand the loss of another planet, should humanity’s new home go the same way as Earth; “Purity” emphasizes humanity’s focus on maintaining itself as children of Earth and emphasizing the culture of its past; and “Harmony” encourages humans to adapt fully to their new home and become indigenous peoples through the use of sciences like genetic manipulation.
Your affinities develop as bonuses as you choose which technologies to pursue, so they’ll help craft your civilization along certain lines, but they don’t seem to be limiting factors. Instead, they line up in such a way that make the developing story of your civilization more organic. They also carry their own victory conditions that fit their various ideals.
Similarly creating a more structured narrative to go with your burgeoning society is the new quest system. Quests produce goals for players to meet that are systematically generated based on what you’re up to: they’ll help you drive toward a certain affinity or encourage you to explore the game and deal with neighbors. Those neighbors include native alien life — which may be hostile in the same way barbarians are in Civ V, but with whom your relationship might change through the course of the game — and other human settlers, who may carry different affinities from yours. Quests can also function as a means of teaching players about systems they’re not using much and as a way to deliver the story of the game that’s not unfolding on the planet with you, like the history of what happened on Old Earth.
Outside of the more meaningful changes, however, is the pervasive science fiction atmosphere that clings to Beyond Earth. You’re exploring an alien world, and players will deal with things like a poisonous floating miasma that can damage units, aliens that can be hostile, domesticated, and interacted with in a variety of ways, and the ruins and remnants of past peoples in similar form to Civ V. Much is also being made about the new “orbital layer” of control that you’ll interact with as you move around the surface of the planet. Since this is a game about space, having control of the area around the planet offers key benefits to military power, warding off creatures, and the like.
Even though there are a lot of additions to what is essentially a de facto sequel to Civ V, you’ll see a lot of similarities in the core interface. The inability to stack units on the same hex, for example, seems to persist into Beyond Earth, and it appears that systems in the core game and introduced in DLCs, like the ability to form trade routes, are going to persist into the space age as well.
What we saw at E3 2014 suggests that Civilization: Beyond Earth is positioned to expand on some of the best elements that made their way into Civilization V, and that’s very good news. To a degree, so far, the game does feel a bit like a reskinned version of its 2010 predecessor, but that’s an impression that could quickly change once we see more of the game in action.
There are a lot of interesting changes to the core gameplay in store when players reach their new planets that look to make for a dynamic Civ experience that also captures the wonder of exploring somewhere completely new.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is set to release in fall 2014.
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