Like Alpha Centauri before it, Civilization: Beyond Earth breaks the shackles of the third planet and offers up a gameplay experience that is both familiar and alien at the same time.
A friend once remarked to me that everything he knew about human history, he learned from Sid Meier’s Civilization games. Well, at least the stuff that he fondly remembers—not the Indian history lessons hammered into his brain thanks to the fear of an impending exam the following day. With Firaxis’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, however, there’s a different kind of learning to be had—you learn more about yourself as a person, or more particularly, whether you will turn into a megalomaniacal dictator with a thirst for blood, a defender of humanity in its current state of technological and social evolution, or a future-ecologist who has a curious love for all things alien.
It’s never too late to go back
If anything, Civilization: Beyond Earth made me realise that it was never too late to go back; back from the ocean of triple-a blockbusters with obscene production values and downloadable content to a game that’s mostly about building stuff, indulging in a spot of faux diplomacy and spending several hours to get a minor Tile productivity bonus. This is interesting because Beyond Earth is doing the opposite as far as the series is concerned; it’s going forward. No longer constrained by our miserable little blue planet (which Firaxis foresee becoming uninhabitable in the future), Beyond Earth takes you on a journey to the stars—the story begins with a moving cut scene in which we see a father bidding farewell to his daughter so that she can find hope for us all somewhere else in the universe—a theme that carries through across the game.
Of Affinities and fan service
There isn’t much of a departure from the way in which Civilization fundamentally works in Beyond Earth—fans will be greeted with familiar visuals (which could use a sprucing up after all these years) and scenarios that require decisions to be made. While the game does allow for players to choose their own path by picking an ‘Affinity’, of which there are three: Supremacy, Harmony and Purity. Suffice to say, they’re both akin to ideologies from Civ 5, but offering military and other bonuses.
With Beyond Earth’s considerably hostile planets, armies are of utmost importance. Alien life-forms can be quite aggressive, while planets are laden with Miasma, a harmful gas that damages units over time (at the beginning, at least). Over the course of several hundred turns, I noticed that pretty much all non-military activity plays second fiddle to the might of your armies and their quest for blood. Yes, you can still achieve endgame objectives without annihilating all other human factions, but having already built up considerable forces to repel alien threats, it feels like a no-brainer to achieve your goals through might. Besides, diplomacy doesn’t always produce good results given that the AI is pretty dodgy for the most part.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is the absolute perfect follow up to Civilization V, with strange new worlds to explore and advanced societies to establish. What’s more, Beyond Earth’s sandbox allows you to really play the way you want—made possible by the flexible research tree/leaf system. The quest system gives the game much needed context while easing players into the kind of choices they will need to be making on a macro level, while the endgame is greatly affected by the path you take in terms of Affinity. On the downside, I found the emphasis on combat to be excessive—more so than previous games in the series, while the UI (despite streamlining) can still feel overwhelming to new players.
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