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Review: Civilization: Beyond Earth

by onDecember 29, 2014
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Whenever a new Civilization game comes out, there’s always the anticipation of a small revolution for all lovers of this micro and macro management turn based strategy title (that sounds more complicated than it is, right?). With Beyond Earth, Firaxis wanted to break new ground by offering their vision of the humanity close future. Besides, it’s a bit like the original game concept: what will our future hold to us and what will we accomplish as a specie?

Let’s move quickly on to the context and history of the game: humanity has become too big for our little blue planet and it’s time to conquer a new world. Humans were picked by their skills and luck to fly across space into unknown planets, building new colonies, making hard choices to survive but also forge their history. A perfect time for this game, after the release of Nolan North’s Interstellar, don’t you think?

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Civilization V already became the title to be deemed more accessible than the previous ones, and Beyond Earth continues to improve things with the help of quests. These help as both a tutorial for new players to guide them in their choices, but are also a way to tell the story of your civilization. Moreover, depending on your style of play, you’ll tend to pledge allegiance to one of three affinities, which will affect the quests, and influence its different bonuses throughout the game.

What will our future hold to us and what will we accomplish as a specie?

Beyond Earth at first seems chaotic, especially for those used to the Sid Meier’s franchise, with its immensely color scheme and details of the alien planets we are about to settle our first colony on. The interface might have not changed much from Civilization V, but it’s the heavy change of scenery that becomes quite overwhelming. Gone are the lands filled with barbarians and coal to be mined, but hello to Alien nests and Firaxite minerals to exploit.


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Nevertheless the true principle of Civilization hasn’t changed: You start with a city and a worker to build and expand your civilization throughout the centuries. And for this, you must make major choices which are split into affinities: Are you more a follower of the “Supremacy”, exploiting technology and dictating your vision to nature and your opponents? Or would you prefer to live in “Harmony” with your new planet, adapting to the alien biology as one? Unless you choose neither of these affinities then your mindset is simply “Purity”, transforming this new home into a copy of the old Earth.

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Knowing that these orientation will affect your quests and different variables in the game, affinities also transform your civilization, whether in the form or exclusive military and civilian units, but also in the aesthetic and architecture of your cities and buildings. To that combines the values (power, prosperity, industry and knowledge), and bonuses generated by the culture that you accumulate to meet the needs of your empire. Because of course, your goal will be to produce, evolve but also maintain the standard of living for your population, so that it continues to work.

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And for that, you’ll need to generate enough energy to produce workers (for building key enhancement buildings such as mines), explorers (to scavenge artifacts, ruins, etc. and bring culture) and maintain a steady flow of producing soldiers, tanks, ships and so on to protect your land.

Ultimately, your goal is to maintain a synergy between your needs and productions, while not forgetting to provide a decent quality of life for your people, paying close attention to their level of health, without forgetting of course to protect against external aggression, whether it is alien or other human colonies.

Another big novelty with Beyond Earth is the Technology Web. Because the game is set in the future, the technological limitations due to historical contexts of the old episodes are gone, and we can begin to develop any technology early in the game, but some will still take more steps to research. Thus with this flexibility of choice, comes a sort of calculation on your civilization’s priority: Do you want to clone organs to boost your population’s health and longevity? You’ll have to skip studying Biology and focus on Genetics. The possibilities go as far as exploiting the planet’s ecosystem and use it as a weapon, create even a new race of human mixed with alien genes. I bow my hat to Firaxis for this system, as it brings a whole new level of replayability, which I surely enjoyed while trying out over 6-7 different game scenarios.

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Now since I’ve been speaking about the aliens for quite a while, I figured I should expend a bit on the matter. Now, if you are already struggling alone against other human settlers (which often have competing values and values), you should know that the alien lifeform also have their own collective consciousness.

Would you prefer to live in “Harmony” with your new planet, adapting to the alien biology as one?

Far from the barbarians in previous Civilization games, aliens act together and if you attack them or destroy a nest, they will not forget the aggression easily. But on the opposite case, if you live in harmony with them, interesting things can happen, such as getting help from these aliens in your power struggles with another human faction. The idea is great and gives extra tactical dimension and a third element to take in consideration. So watch your choice, they always have consequences, either in the beginning, middle, or end of the game.

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With all these changes, even diplomacy, espionage, and the rest received small improvements but nothing that really revolutionize the game. Sure some visual changes were made, with your rival faction leaders changing their looks throughout the years depending on their affinity, or even espionage was dissected into a better user interface, but I still feel you can make do without it. I never actually truly had the patience to play politics with my AI rival leaders, and calling in favors when they are needed. This might just be me, or it’s just the game’s political warfare is still lacking the appeal it deserve.

Now Beyond Earth does appeal to be faster in pace at first in comparison to its predecessor, but you should be wary of this idea. My advice to anyone starting this game is to learn the new victory system in this game, far different from the franchise’s many opus. If you do not quickly understands the synergy needed to carry out key building projects or even wonders, you’ll dig yourself in a mess of overproducing minerals you don’t need, or even picking technological grids that won’t be in the interest of your civilization. And despite the quests, the counseling and many tutorials available, it is still hard to understand everything, as there so many new parameters to manage, even if it is still easier than most of the previous titles.

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Now is Beyond Earth truly a revival of the series? Well, not really since despite the innovations and changes, the basics recipe is still there and we all it too well! This game is more of an evolution that propels us into a tangible and credible future. With its really nice design, its heavily worked context (purely imagined and not based on history) and affinities, values, flexible technology web, and bloody aliens, Beyond Earth is still a real success in Sid Meier’s legacy.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth was reviewed using a PC retail copy purchased by the writer. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.

What we liked

• The futuristic context
• Innovative technology web
• Aliens!
• The affinity and value system
• A very enriched game

What is not fun

• The lands and scenery can be a bit too colorful
• Hard to understand at first
• Quite slow pace in the end game
• Like all Civilization, you'll need a lot of time and patience to finish a game

Editor Rating
 
Concept
9.0

 
Graphics
8.5

 
Sound
8.0

 
Playability
8.5

 
Entertainment
8.5

 
Replay Value
9.5

Final Score
8.7


Our final verdict
 

The great strength of Civilization: Beyond Earth is in its futuristic context, which brings a true breath of fresh air in the saga. Visuals have been changed to offer players something accessible yet deep, including the technology web, values, affinities and of course the aliens race, which provide a real treat and replay value. However, the real revolution is still lacking where it should be, in a more extensive and elaborate tutorials, and a lack of clarity when the map becomes too loaded with elements. But if you are fan of the genre and the sci-fi lore, Beyond Earth should not be missed.

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