Gaming Today Impressions: Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor

temp_title_screen.jpgDeveloper: Stardock
Publisher: Stardock
Price: $29.95
Platform: PC
Category: Turn-based Strategy
ESRB: “RP” for Rating Pending
Release Date: April 30, 2008 (Digital Download through Stardock’s Total Gaming.net)

The fate of the universe is in your hands yet again thanks to the latest expansion in the Galactic Civilizations II series. Twilight of the Arnor continues the excellent tradition established by great turn-based 4X strategy titles like Master of Orion and its predecessor Galactic Civilizations by expanding the options and finishing the story of the Dread Lords.

The addition of a star destroying mobile battle station has nothing to do with just how much fun it is to wipe out your enemies though, nothing at all. (OK, I lie) Especially when the Death Star-like Terror Stars become the key to freeing the galaxy from the influence of the Dread Lords in the game‘s lengthy single-player campaign.

It’s hard to top the original Galactic Civilizations II for all the features and options but after two expansions, when considered together Stardock may have single handedly ended the need for any further space strategy games and ever. I’m not one to feel a game is ever absolutely perfect but Stardock’s latest expansion makes the already amazingly comprehensive series about as good as I could ever imagine a turn-based strategy game as good as it can ever hope to be. Why, you might wonder, would I say that? Well Twilight of the Arnor has everything I could possibly want in a game of this type.

victorypaths.jpgThe ability to play one of 12 unique galactic races is not new, however the individualized technology trees, with certain achievements that no other race can learn independently is incredibly rewarding. I tend to play research oriented games and seek the Technology based victory condition over a military or high-minded ascension and after spending a few hours playing Twilight of the Arnor I was amazed that any game had managed to balance its gameplay well enough to make that a viable strategy.

Sure, I was researching more tech and making more powerful ships than my foes but eventually I was so outstripping them that despite neglecting expansion and concentrating on making all of my worlds the pinnacle of research and production when war finally came against my aggressive neighbors I simple turtled up and poured my turns into research until my defenses were practically unassailable and I reached the ultimate goal of technological victory.

When I reversed strategy on subsequent play-throughs and choose another tactic I found the game just as challenging and the play experience required an interesting adapting of strategy but just as evenly balanced to that approach. Twilight of the Arnor brings a lot of other improvements to the Gal Civ series, including more shipbuilder options, a bunch of new ship components that enhance the starship battle gameplay and design features of the game. Each civilization now sports unique weapon technologies and more options in the look-and-feel department as well.

arnor-3.jpgThe length and options included with the expansion also add a plethora of expanded features including the ability to generate campaigns using a new 3D campaign editor, an enhanced scenario designed and even the ability to create immense galaxy sized maps for play. Considering these new features there is little to no need for another game of this type to ever truly exist and players can freely share campaigns and scenarios over the Internet. The addition of a Meta-verse style tournament mode where players can compete for awards is just icing on the top of a very nice cake.

It’s hard not to recommend Twilight of the Arnor to long time Gal Civ II owners, in fact its almost impossible. New optimizations and graphic tweaks make the game more visually interesting and there is no noticeable negative from my perspective. Gamers who prefer twitch filled experiences are missing out though as the game is approachable on any number of levels strategically and even the most savvy of desktop generals can find a challenge while the most green neophyte can still enjoy this series.

Though this may be the last expansion to the Galactic Civilizations II game, and there is no talk of a Gal Civ III on the horizon but I actually think we may have found near perfection with the additions included and have no need to look further.

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