Mankind has exploited Earth to capacity. There are no more resources to exploit, there is no more room for all the people, there is no more hope. It is time for mankind to set its sights on the final frontier. For the first time since Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (that’s 15 years ago, and yes – you are really that old), the Civilization franchise is heading out beyond Earth, to the uncharted reaches of outer space.
Beyond Earth, as the title suggests, leaves Earth behind to take the adventure onward and upwards. Staying true to the nature of mankind, the journey is far from an idyllic exodus to bring a new hope to an endangered species; expect warfare, intrigue, espionage and diplomatic double-dealing, and that is just the beginning. Alien life-forms and even the planet itself will try their hardest to make you feel as unwelcome as possible while other factions will do their best to win the race for mastery of the new world and drive you out of their claim.
As you are no longer running an entire civilization but rather a frontier colony, your first choice is picking a sponsor. There are eight to choose from where each one provides a different bonus – everything from an improved espionage capability to better combat performance is available, catering to just about any playstyle. For my first playthrough I picked the ARC – I decided to try my hand at Beyond Earth’s espionage system and the ARC provide a substantial bonus. The next choice is the type of colonists I’d like to send on the mission. Again, there are five choices, each one providing a bonus to a key attribute (Science, Food, Production, etc). For my attempt at a super-spy civilization, I chose to send a bunch of aristocrats – their innate bonus to Energy and above-average health should provide a good base to force my way through early stages of the game as quickly as possible.
The last two choices were easy and obvious – I choose a ship with a Fusion Reactor, providing another 100 Energy at game start and I loaded my vessel’s cargo bay with a worker unit, providing another initial advantage to my first colony. If you’re curious, all those available choices come up to a total of 1,000 combinations and the game hasn’t even started yet.
With loads of energy in hand and a workforce head start, my plan was simple: Use energy to purchase everything I need instead of spending time on it and be on my way to seeding turmoil in my opponent’s cities. Of course, this is a hostile alien planet and no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In this case, aliens ate my worker.
Once the game has begun in earnest, I was presented with a landing site choice (which can be increased by choosing the right ship type to launch in). Much like in other Civilization titles, cells may have varying resources or attributes associated with them as well as varying terrain types. Nothing new here. In fact, it seems like a missed opportunity – all terrain types are familiar and nothing new exists. Expect the same plains, grasslands, swamps, hills and so forth to somewhat diminish the feel of exploring and settling an alien planet. The terrain types also have the same penalties we’ve grown accustomed to from previous titles (attacking over a river still carries a -25% penalty, no matter if you’re an iron-age spearman or a futuristic stormtrooper). The only “new” thing is the alien Miasma – an ever-present and ever-expanding greenish alien gas which will damage any unit staying in it while healing any alien. I did say the planet hates humans, didn’t I?
Speaking of aliens, they are the first thing you’ll likely notice as soon as you start the game (although the human settlers are actually the aliens in this case, but let’s not dwell on that too much). I’ve played several games and in each one there was an alien nest within immediate visibility range of my colony – which on every single occasion lead to the same scenario. Nest generates alien troops, alien troops fill the map, alien troops eat my Worker.
In case it needs repeating, Aliens are meanies. They’re a spin on the familiar “Barbarian” faction, only much more dangerous and much more numerous. If you make them angry you best rally up your soldiers because you’re about to get trampled by siege worms, may their passing cleanse the world. The aforementioned alien nests are basically an endless alien generator which can be destroyed by moving a unit over it and is a good source of resources, if you can plow through the hordes and miasma protecting it.
The Aliens are also much more of a faction than the Barbarians. They actually have several states of relationship towards you, much like a real faction, handily displayed to you by the color of their respective unit icons: Green for “mostly safe, will probably not attack unless provoked”, yellow for “look out, they think you smell like lunch” and red for “will steal babies in the night”. The aliens’ attitude is global, again like a faction, and attacking aliens in one part of the world will have a planet-wide result on their reaction towards you. Aliens killed by defending troops don’t count towards this hate-o’-meter, at least.
Another first in the Civilization franchise is the way units are upgraded and improved. Using a combination of research for unlocking entirely new troops and ideology, each troop type has several upgrade steps, with the first one (usually) being a linear upgrade while the following improvements upgrade the unit’s overall performance. They also let you choose one of three variants, with each variant presenting an additional choice of one out of two possible upgrades. To make it all slightly less theoretical, here’s a simple example using the Soldier unit: At first affinity level of any kind, a Soldier can be upgraded to a Marine – already you choose one of two possible upgrades. The next tier at affinity level 6 will allow you to upgrade your Marine into a Brawler (Harmony), Sentinel (Purity) or Disciple (Supremacy). Each one of those upgrades has again a different pair of upgrades from which you choose one and of course, a Sentinel’s possible upgrades are different from a Brawler’s. At fourth and final tier your unit once more gets a choice of 3 versions with 2 more upgrade choices each. Now, repeat for each unit and you can see the sheer volume of choice and breadth of customization available to you.
Civilization: Beyond Earth does a great job of being a Civilization game. It provides everything I’ve come to expect from the franchise while adding several new features to keep things fresh. Still, it does nothing to draw you in if you aren’t a 4X or Civilization fan to begin with and there are certainly some missed opportunities where it comes to the feel of the game. Despite its few flaws, Beyond Earth remains a great game and a good starting point if you’ve never played TBS or 4X titles before.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.