Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

Lindsay took her first steps into the Civilization series by going Beyond Earth.

Beyond Earth — A Review From TotalNoob, aka Lindsay Geektron

Allow me to preface everything I say below with an admission: I’ve never played any Civilization games prior to Beyond Earth. None. In fact, the last “strategy” game I played was SimCity 2000. In 1998.

Beyond Earth is a turn-based strategy game built on the Civilization V engine and formula, but unlike previous Civilization games, it abandons the historical context which made earlier iterations so popular, and instead tosses you onto a new planet in the future, which you must then colonize. Folks have been comparing this game to Civ V and Alpha Centauri, which I find ironic, given that Firaxis cannot seem to escape its past even when dealing with the future.

It’s played on a hexagonal-based grid, with many other features borrowed from Civ V such as the same perspective and the same tactical views. Because I haven’t played Civ V, I cannot even begin to tell you the difference between the two games. The vantage point I have is one from someone completely new to the whole series. As such, the initial impression I got upon loading the game was that Beyond Earth really, really loves options. There’s even an Orbital Layer, which is new to the series, and gives the player a fourth unit tree, in addition to land, sea and air units that exist in previous games.

Single Player mode allows you to set up the difficulty, game pace and map size before you begin. You start by selecting a sponsor, with each sponsor offering its own starting benefit. Being the totalnoob that I am, and after a long while reading what each faction has to offer, I selected the Kavithan Protectorate, because who doesn’t want new tiles twice as fast as the other guys? Because growth! Little did I know that with each benefit comes a drawback, and there is no way a complete newbie to the game could make an even remotely educated guess when it comes to selecting a sponsor. And for me, herein lies the greatest fault of the game. There is, seemingly, too much choice.

Yes, I said it. Too. Much. Here’s why: for the uninitiated wanting to get into this game, I feel like the lack of exposure to the Civilization series left me ill-prepared to begin a new game. There is no way to know what benefit a free Technology for every 10 Virtues developed would be when compared to ARC with their Covert operations 25% faster and cause 25% more intrigue. Evidently, covert operations are quite a robust and important part of this game, and had I known that ahead of time, I would have selected ARC over new tiles that came with Kavithan Protectorate. Again, I was at a disadvantage because I was not familiar with any of the mechanics of earlier games.

Now, I understand that the sheer amount of choice is what makes the series so excellent, but I was crushed under the weight of it all for the first few hours I played. I proceeded to select my colonists, Aristocrats, because I correctly assumed that Energy (aka currency) and Health would be important for any burgeoning civilization. My spacecraft had the Continental Surveyor feature, since I felt that revealing coasts would be another great boon to a baby city. My cargo choice was Machinery because workers equals good? Finally, because I think I have masochistic tendencies, I selected an Atlantean world, which is basically a world of tiny islands.

You could literally spend an hour (and I think some people have) seeding a new map to play on, particularly delving into the Advanced Setup. I won’t even touch that. There’s a huge emphasis when designing your game since it plays such a huge part in the outcome. Once into the game, the mechanics are very much like other Civ games: you can produce one unit, or one building, at a time. It took a bit of my fumbling around to figure out how all of this goes, and the game’s Jarvis/help guy actually did a great job at getting me oriented. Once I got the reigns, however, the game really opened up for me, and I got pulled into it.

Again, there are so many options and choices, and that’s why wikis are really great things to have around, since, if I attempted to list anything about the Tech Web, we’d be here for hours. I will point out that the Tech Web is similar to that in Civ V, but there’s an addition of Affinity Points, which I think are closest to Ideologies in Brave New World. However, the buildings, units, covert operations and even some resources are all affected by your Affinity, of which there are three: Harmony, Purity and Supremacy. Affinities bring their own bonuses, development and strategies. My initial goal was to go with the Harmony route, but my choices drifted me into the Purity Affinity. Best laid plans and what-not.

Virtues are also greatly detailed and help to augment your choices in the Tech Web. You gain a virtue by accumulating Culture (among other resources, of course). Might, Prosperity, Knowledge and Industry, each with three tiers, which you can fill up as you accumulate more resources, also offer Synergy bonuses. Being the quasi-hippy I am, I pooled all my virtues into Knowledge, Prosperity and Industry. The drawback is that I never was able to upgrade any of my military units. But, seeing as I was going for a prosperous, peaceful nation, I felt I didn’t need it. Until the Siege Worm started wrecking my sh*t. Then it got real. That bastard took out my Marines… Don’t worry: I won. Be impressed.

One of the features I found particularly helpful in learning the game was the quest system. Each quest offers its own rewards, based on whether the quest is a Choice quest (which come from buildings and tile improvements), Affinity quest (which grants rewards specifically geared towards branching further into your Affinity), or Exploration quest (which grant resources), as well as a few more not listed. The most confusing system to me was the Covert Operations, and how it plays into Intrigue. Each city has an Intrigue range, and can send in covert ops into your city and cause a ruckus. I didn’t get into the game enough at the time of writing this to really delve into this whole system. But like any system, your Virtues and choices in the Tech Web allow you to expand on your Covert Operations for your own cities. I can tell you that those spies can cause problems, and my solution was to build an electric fence of sorts, which don’t really help, but I felt good knowing I kept my hippy-dippy hands clean of Intrigue.  

For those of you wondering whether this is worth buying after playing (and presumably conquering Civ V), I would venture to say yes, and here’s why. As I mentioned earlier, previous iterations of the game are based in history, granted it’s alt history. I jumped feet-first into this game with the full intention of playing the earlier games because I am a history NERD. Civilization: Beyond Earth has sold me on the franchise. What I particularly liked about having played this version first is that it’s Sci-Fi, and that genre is one of my absolute favorites. I love space, technology, aliens and lasers. So having gone a more science-fiction route first, I feel like I can certainly go back in the series and get more out of Civ V: BNW. But I’m sure the same can be said for those who went in the chronological order, as well.

If you’re looking for something akin to Alpha Centauri, this definitely encapsulates the spirit of the game. But it’s far more snazzy. At 60fps, or nearabouts, with a really robust mechanical experience, to me, it’s a no-brainer. Now, if you’ll excuse me. Samatar Jama Barre needs more Firaxite, because apparently, his city sucks at farming it, and he needs to attack someone. Ugh. Plebs.

Lindsay “amoril” Noobtron



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