The holidays and the flu and various other real life issues have kept both of my regular gaming groups from getting together to play very much over the last couple of months. The instance group is just one instance into Warlords of Draenor and the strategy group managed to play a game of Age of Kings while talking about what we should dive into next.
Picking a game is a wide open discussion. We tend towards strategy games, but more out of habit than a burning desire to remain pure to a given genre. We could go anywhere, and even if we stuck with strategy the field is wide open.
But even as Potshot was bringing up Crusader Kings II (another on the list of games that have made me feel dumb) Steam stepped up and offered us an out. There was a special demo/sale weekend a couple weeks back for Civilization: Beyond Earth.
The download was quick enough and the price was right, so while Loghound and I each gave it a quick try, we both ended up just buying it. The following weekend it was just him and I online, so we decided to test drive it multiplayer.
That quick game, on a small map with options set pretty conservatively, pretty much all I had heard about the game was born out.
The Civilization: Beyond Earth feels more like an expansion to Civilization V than a whole new game, certainly when compared to the way Alpha Centauri felt after Civilization II. When I first played Alpha Centauri way back when, I immediately wanted some of its new features ported back to Civ II. I still do. I still dream of a Civ 2.5.
Beyond Earth though, it pretty much feels like Civ V. Civ V in space, as noted elsewhere. It is like a stand-alone expansion. And, given that Sid Meier is headed towards Civilization: Starships next, it might be the last hurrah of the Civ V era.
But being tied to Civ V is not necessarily bad I suppose.
Civ V is my second favorite flavor of Civilization, so it is hard to fault them making more of it. While they have rearranged the UI some, there are no mystery buttons. Just playing through a quick trial game settled everything for me. The options for multiplayer pretty much map directly back to Civ V. And it does look like Civ V… in space… which means it looks pretty darn good, even if it starts taxing all four cores of my processor pretty quickly.
There are some small differences that spice things up a bit. There, for example, little “quest like” decision points that determine how resources will be handled or what production or units your cities will favor. And then there are the alien life forms. They are sort of barbarians, sort of not. (You cannot turn them off in the settings as in Civ V, as they are somewhat essential to the plot, such that it is.)
The downside for Beyond Earth is that while it did not carry the impact of Alpha Centauri when it launched, it is still saddled with some of the baggage that keeps Alpha Centauri down at the third position on my list of favorite Civilization games.
The game sticks to the conventions of the series, even when they do not make a lot of sense. The map is blacked out despite the fact that I just landed from space? I flew in a spaceship, but I need to do research on how to make a space buggy to ride around in… or allow certain agreements to be made with other factions? And I care about these caricatures of factions and their inflexible philosophies why?
Then there is the tech web itself.
I realize that we are in the future for Beyond Earth, so we have to deal with future tech and rather than a tree forming at a single root it is more realistic to have a lot of choices to make. The problem is that, as choices, they are only mildly interesting.
Part of what makes the historical Civilization games compelling is that journey from spearmen to modern mechanized infantry. That is an epic journey through time that involves technologies that we know and understand. High tech space soldier to slightly improved high tech space soldier can never capture that same sense of progress.
I will temper this by saying that, at this point, I have not played a lot of Beyond Earth. Those are initial impressions. Since it looks like Beyond Earth will be our next weekly game, we shall see if my opinion changes over that time.
And, if nothing else, it keeps us the hell away from a comical quagmire in Crusader Kings II for a few more weeks.