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E3 2014 Must Buy: Civilization: Beyond Earth
There are very few developers these days that I blindly put my faith in to produce outstanding work time and again, and Firaxis is one of them. XCOM: Enemy Unknown absolutely blew me away with how well it streamlined complex tactical strategy, and Civilization V’s years worth of post-game updates and expansion packs have easily turned it into one of the best 4X strategy games of all time. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours between XCOM and Civ V alone, and I can easily spend hundreds more. The house that Sid Meier and the Civ franchise built has been home to some of the greatest strategy game developers in the industry.
Thus, it’s pretty easy to be crazy excited for Civilization: Beyond Earth, releasing this Fall.
I’ve been playing Civ games since Civilization II in the mid 90s, and they’ve always brought me endless hours of enjoyment. It is my great shame, however, to admit that I’ve never played Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. I love Civ and I love sci-fi, so it seems like a no-brainer, but for whatever reason (most likely a strong addiction to other amazing late 90s games Heroes of Might and Magic III and Fallout) I never played Civ’s original sci-fi spinoff classic.
Now with Beyond Earth, I can finally make up for it. Considered a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri, Beyond Earth takes place where the science victory path of Civ games end: humanity sets off into space and lands on a habitable planet, ready to colonize and conquer as humans are wont to do.
Beyond Earth eschews the typical Civ starting option for choosing a historical faction and leader in favor of organically choosing your overall philosophy and path to victory as you play. There are three of these Affinities you can pursue for your futuristic faction: Purity, Supremacy and Harmony.
All three represent interesting but wildly different ideals that humanity would approach upon reaching a new planet. Choosing the Purity path means you idealize the old way of life on Earth, and believe that humans are and always will be Earthlings. Purity players will seek to make the new planet more like Earth and utilize tried and true technology (only a bit more sophisticated and futuristic). Supremacy is for the robot-lovers, as humanity fully embraces their technology-focused future with cybernetic implants. Harmony takes the opposite yet similar approach – technology is bad, one-ness with nature good! This also translates to copious amounts of alien gene-splicing and organic advancements.
Each Affinity has their own victory path, from opening a Warpgate back to Earth (either as emancipators or conquerors) to awakening the sleeping sentience that lies dormant within the planet. In addition to those three, Beyond Earth also sports the tried and true method of Kill ‘Em All conquest as well as a replacement for the reach for the stars science victory of establishing First Contact with an intelligent alien species, for a total of five paths to victory.
The Affinities also serve in diplomacy, as players choosing different paths will be much less friendly with each other, as well as representing the new web-like tech tree (think Endless Space or Path of Exile). Previous Civilization games offered a linear left to right progression as your faction gained familiar technological advances and research throughout history. With Beyond Earth’s future setting, the developers can replace this linear progression with a free-form web (with spiffy sci-fi and speculative technologies), further allowing you to choose whichever advancements you wish while determining your overall Affinity.
Although Beyond Earth’s new alien planet is habitable, it’s not welcoming the new human colonists with open arms. The randomly generated planet is host to dangerous and powerful indigenous life forms, and the developers have claimed that the natives represent an additional neutral faction. Civilization veterans are familiar with neutral barbarian tribes that caused headaches and minor scuffles in the early game, but Beyond Earth’s alien creatures remain a constant threat throughout the game.
If Civilization: Beyond Earth were simply a reskinned sci-fi version of Civilization V, I’d still be pretty excited. Make no mistake, Beyond Earth’s gameplay is still very much Civ, and the Civ V engine is still prominently on display. The new Affinity system and tech web combined with the exciting possibilities on an alien planet have me incredibly excited, and I put absolute trust in Firaxis with their excellent mod support, post-game updates and worthy expansion packs to make Civilization: Beyond Earth an endlessly replayable strategy game for years to come.
This year we’ve had Age of Wonders III, Warlock 2: The Exiled and the upcoming Endless Legend to make it one of the best years for turn-based strategy gaming, and leave it to Firaxis and the venerable Civilization franchise to cap it off as the best year ever and my E3 2014 Must Buy.