Civilization: Beyond Earth picks up from where its predecessors left off, by combining the excitement of planetary exploration from Alpha Centauri, with the solid hex-based gameplay from Civilization 5. C:BE has found a wonderful niche in the market that will feel new to experienced Civilization leaders, but also offer some streamlined mechanics for those fresh to the series.
At first glance it’s easy to think 2K Games have simply slapped a new lick of paint on their existing game, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Barbarians from Civilization 5 are now replaced by indigenous aliens and, rather than a simple early game annoyance that you have to manage for the first third of the game, the new aliens take on the role of a complete new faction and interweave with the very fabric of the core game. This isn’t a faction that you’ll engage in diplomatic relations with or trade for resources, but make up a part of the living, breathing world that you’ve landed yourself on. The sheer size of the alien forces that surround you will make you want to live in harmony with your new extra-terrestrial friends while you build up your civilization around you. But like any good science fiction story, these pesky aliens stand in the way of your progress and need to be slaughtered swiftly so you can develop ahead of the other factions that are growing around you.
Your faction of choice will provide bonus’ which will give you minor boosts that are most beneficial through the beginning of your leadership. However, once your civilization is up and running you’re going to be focusing on using the new affinity system – to develop the culture of your people and decide how you wish to approach new life on this fresh planet. Do you want to integrate alien life into your DNA, or perhaps preserve the way of life you enjoyed on Earth? Your three options – Supremacy, Harmony and Purity – provide completely different options as to how you will approach your playthrough and offer signature units as well as differing victory conditions. Two of these offer polar opposites to each other, while one sits firmly in the middle should you wish to test a little of everything. Purity is the idea of purging aliens from this new world, keeping your bloodlines pure, and making it on your own, while Harmony embraces alien life and allows you to use the alien forces to your advantage. Supremacy takes the least extreme route offered and presents bonuses to maintenance costs for the victor who chooses the peaceful path. The new depth offered through these options goes beyond simply wanting to play as a faction because they get something cool in the late game and actually increases the different playing options three-fold, to allow you to play multiple factions in multiple directions and have a different outcome and experience each time.
The new tech tree offers a chance for players to plan out exactly where they want their faction to go, and rather than having a Wiki document open to ensure you’re making the right choices early on in the game, you’re presented with the entire tech tree up front to allow you full control over your destiny. This spread of each new technology you may want is a powerful weapon in controlling your development and building the civilization and type of playthrough you want.
Beyond Earth offers quests to complete throughout your playthrough, which result in you often trying something slightly different, or challenging your perception of what you are trying to do. These small side quests, while completely optional, provide bonuses that can come in handy in the late game pinch. As each faction pushes for victory and, in some cases, begins to direct you a little about what you could be doing whilst your city is amassing forces to attack your opponent, or you’re patiently waiting for that wonder to be built. In some ways the quest system feels like a powerful tool to offer buffs and advice that many will welcome during the long hours they will spend in front of the game.
The thematic differences that an alien culture provide in Civilization: Beyond Earth ensures this feels more than a simple re-skin of the hex-grid perfection that was Civilization 5. The tweaks to the technology systems and the new affinity system makes the game feel new while still feeling familiar and welcoming to new players. While Beyond Earth isn’t rewriting the core mechanics of the franchise, it is bringing enough to the party to justify itself as a full release and is an epic journey into the unknown that players old and new need to play.