Civilization: Beyond Earth (PC, 2014)

I should stop sucking at the tit of Firaxis. The milk is starting to run dry and a sore spot has begun to form, but Beyond Earth is still quite good. No, it isn’t perfect and no it isn’t Alpha Centauri. In a fickle entertainment metaworld where expectations are king, mine were safely held in check and the resulting new 4X game in my Steam library has thoroughly enraptured me.

This fact has been repeated in every impression, hands-on, or review of Beyond Earth: it is definitely Civilization V. While some may complain that its just an expensive re-skinning, I actually love it for the way it thoroughly overhauls the Civilization experience without destroying it.

Gone are the various ages and huge technical gaps amongst rivals in the form of Spearmen standing their ground against Tanks. Gone is that dead period of unfun at the beginning of every new game where players fight to build the simple things to reshape their world. Gone are the things that make each Civilization feel truly distinct and the things that make you feel connected with the history of a place and people.

Civilization IV will forever stand as the pinnacle of the Civilization experience for me, but with each new release in the series, they’ve carefully and thoughtfully trimmed it down to a far more efficient, effective, and entertaining package. These games are bafflingly complicated and almost infinitely robust, so it matters a lot to “dumb them down” and make them “more accessible” because in doing so, the design approaches real elegance.

The same chisel that gave us Civilization V from the remaining granite that formed IV also gives us Beyond Earth, but the Sculptors may have chiseled too much here and too little there. I absolutely love the new tech tree and the new culture system, but a lack of Great People or ideologies that feel like real ideologies rather than byproducts of the technologies and resources you’ve chosen to horde first are equally problematic oversights.

Despite the huge changes, the entire game manages to feel vanilla almost immediately (which for me was around fifty hours). This is typical to the series, and I fully expect (and am ready to pay any cost) new expansions will round out the experience yet again.

If you really like Civilization games like I do, then it’s worth it. If you wanted Alpha Centauri or a game that felt far more sci-fi than previous Civ entries, it will likely disappoint. I really love it, though it could be better.

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4 thoughts on “Civilization: Beyond Earth (PC, 2014)”

  1. My question is, how is the emergent narrative in Civ: Beyond Earth?

    One of the biggest strengths of Alpha Centauri was that everything seemed steeped in the lore, from flavorful quotes from named faction leaders with strong personalities every researched tech, to set intervals where the main plot event of the mindworm cycle would occur. Couple that with philosophies built to be antithetical from the get go (peacenik hippies vs militaristic survivalists, fundie religion vs science, democracy vs communist dictatorship, etc.) and it was very easy for stories to emerge.

    In vanilla Civ 5, I would get occasional flashes of potential narrative, but the main plot is mostly retracing the tech of mankind to the space age, and it’s a bit weird to imagine these immortal nation leaders as characters, leading to only telling little history bits about countries doing stuff to each other.

    Where would you say Civ: Beyond Earth stands?

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    1. It won’t compare to Alpha Centauri, but it is a step above Civilization V. You’ll have to dig for some of the lore, but I just find the basic premise a lot more engaging than other Civs. The victory types are also more lore-driven than the typical score or culture races, though they aren’t necessarily more fun.

      There are also a lot of quest text you can read for the many, many quests the game gives you. It’s squarely in between Civ V and Alpha, I’d say.

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