Written by Taylor Grin
This last weekend, Firaxis released Civilization: Beyond Earth. Like many gamers, I awaited this title with the eager anticipation typically reserved for children on Christmas eve.
I’m mostly aiming this review at players already familiar with the long-running series, though I’ll try to include some context for those of you who are new to the franchise.
Sid Meyer’s Civilization: Beyond Earth (the official and far-too-long title) is the newest iteration of the addicting series of 4X (eXpand, eXplore, eXterminate and eXploit) games. 4X’s are a form of strategy game, where the player takes an empire from a small band founding settlers on a new planet to eventual world conquest. If you’ve played a 4X game before, you know that “just-one-more-turn” feeling. The one that takes you from “I can play a few rounds before cooking dinner,” to “Oh god, is that the sun in my window? I have work today, and I’m starving.”
Civ:BE takes takes place a few hundred years from the modern day, set after some great catastrophe….blah, blah, blah. I’m tired of post-apocalyptic scenarios, let’s move on. I mean, it’s Civ! In space! You get to make Elon-Musk-esque colonies on faraway planets in order to reboot humanity, because, you know, it all went so well the first time around.
I have to compare Civ:BE to its predecessor, Civ 5, because it clearly stands on its shoulders. For that measure, take it as my first complaint: Civ:BE, from a design standpoint, is little more than a reskinned Civ 5. You would think that with all that free time not spent designing an engine from the ground up, they would have had more time to experiment. No. All of the old gameplay features like currency, food, supply, and unrest have been simply renamed without a major change to functionality. They have swapped out familiar “strategic” resources and eliminated luxuries. Barbarians are now called aliens, etcetera, etcetera. I could go on like this for a while, but what it all essentially boils down to is that this is the same game, with a new skin.
My largest complaint, however, is that the game is far too homogeneous. There are three planet types: Arid, Lush, and Fungal, each as mono-climate as a George Lucas landscape. Similarly, the game changed Culture into Virtues, and rather than the flavorful options of “mercantilism” or “rationality” for example, you now have “prosperity” or “science” or “productivity.” Most of the benefits in the game have simply been ported from Civ 5 perks, but in the process have lost their flavor like chewed up bubble gum.
When you start the game, your space colonists come from a given culture (minor benefit to your empire, no flavor), select a type of passenger bonus (like aristocrats, refugees, or scientists, still no flavor) and a type of cargo (another game benefit, and you guessed it, as much flavor as white rice).
The Ideologies — I mean, Affinities are Purity, Supremacy, and Harmony, which sound a little too much like the motto for a cult. Purity seeks to maintain humanity on an alien world, Supremacy reads too much Ray Kurzweil, and Harmony has watched Avatar too many times. Ideologies are developed based on the interactions you have with aliens and other colonists, and more so by nature of the technologies you research.
You would think this means researching something like “xenobiology” would make you better at Harmony, or “AI” would make you better with Supremacy. You would be wrong. Despite the fact that ideologies can take most of the game to develop, it is almost impossible to pair ideology points and useful technologies well.
In my imagination, I see members of Firaxis with spare time saying “Wouldn’t it be great if we made a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri?” at which point their manager rounded the corner and said “That sounds like volunteerism!” Far too few months later, after an early leak of the game trailer forced the developer’s hand, Civ:BE was born.
I can’t in good conscience recommend this game. I wish I had my $50 back. Maybe someday, with lots of mods, or 2-3 expansions, Civ:BE will be a good game. Right now, I would recommend my fellow nerds just save your cash for the Steam Sale, or spend it on Civ 5, the far superior title.
Also, Civ: BE has a strategic resource called “Firaxite.” Seriously.
Because I feel bad for such a negative review, I’ll compliment the game for its beautiful interface, which is minimalist, but suffers from bland icons that are hard to tell apart. I just want to spray Sriracha all over the design team.
I give Sid Meyer’s Civilization: Beyond Earth 1.5 stars out of 5.