Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is much like the previous Civilization 5. You get thrown into a world where you rule a civilization and compete, barter, go to war with and befriend other civilizations on your way to conquer the world. This is a turn based strategy game on a hexagonal grid. When all your units have taken a turn, you let the next civilization have its turn. You start with a home settlement that increases in size over time. With each settlement, you select a unit or facility that will then be complete after X amount of turns. During your turn you’ll also pick a technology to research that results in new facilities that can get unlocked to build in your settlements. Its all streamlined so you don’t have to hunt for the next city or unit to move, you’ll already have them selected.
It looks like plenty of people are complaining that this is too similar of a game to Civilization 5, and they’re right. However, it still feels like a good fresh science fiction version of the game. The previous Civilizations made good use of historic characters, but this game lacks those characters and that personality. They still manage to put in all Earth’s nations into this game without any sort of alien races. The real hurdle for me was the game crashing every time after the opening cinematic. That seems to have gotten fixed.
No matter what randomly generated world you play, its a hostile one, full of insect aliens that will oppress you. They spawn from nests, attack your troops, and cities. It can be difficult to even get out of your cities to grow and thrive. The game has a combat edge to it. There are combat troops, both melee and long range that can fight on land, water and air. The insects are there to grind and train your troops, to give them experience, get them leveled up with selectable perks for each level. Melee units can only attack the tile next to them, while long ranged can attack up to two tiles away. Each unit has its own movement distance and you can set up a unit to move far away and it will get there over X amount of turns without you having to move it each and every turn.
Each unit has a wide array of commands, move, attack, explore, alert so they wake up if an enemy comes in range, fortify to heal themselves, and more. When you have a combat unit selected and hover your mouse over an enemy, you can see the likely outcome who will do more damage. Its a nice system.
Its not all combat though, there are worker units that will gather resources and build things. Thankfully you can assign a worker to work on his own so you don’t need to control him. Explorers can find and mine resources. Colonists can go out and make a new settlement as long as its three tiles away from any other settlement. It is best to have an armed escort go with them, since they aren’t meant for combat.
When a new settlement forms, it controls a few tiles around it, making that your territory. As the population grows, so does the radius of tiles. So you can connect your settlements into one big territory. Since its your territory, other civilizations need to ask for your permission to travel freely through it. They will offer you tributes for the rights and you barter back and forth with them to make a deal happen. Do you want energy (currency) each turn for their travel? Do you want rights to travel through their land as well? Do you even trust them to travel through your land? They could be setting up a siege to conquer your settlements.
The civilizations can be both nice and hostile. Some civilizations feel that your rapid expansion near their territory is a cause for concern and they’ll warn you to stop. The game keeps track of your promises too. If you say you won’t build another settlement, you might risk a war if you do. Then at some point the game will tell you that your promise has been kept and you can build another settlement at your leisure. Some will even warn you that you’ve slaughtered too many people or insects and you need to stop. Its all a delicate balance.
You can make alliances with countries, ask them if they’ll go to war with another civilization. There is a lot of depth here, but some are justifiably unwilling to budge. Just because someone declared war on you doesn’t mean one of your allies will help save you. There is a nifty diplomacy tab to see what is going on politically. Who is at war with who and your relationship to other civilizations.
If combat isn’t your thing, there are covert ops. You can unlock the ability, build a facility, train your agents by defending your cities from spies that will steal your technology or energy. Then send your agents abroad to other cities and do the same to them. It also becomes a political issue, when agents are found or killed. Do you let it slide or declare war? Its all a way to get around combat. I did find a giant covert ops breaking bug. When an agent was idle, the covert ops panel was just black and empty.
Beyond Earth feels like a race to see who can decimate the other civilizations. A tranquil, relaxing game can turn very stressful when your neighbor picks a fight and declares war. I would say the game lets you play how you want, but like other Civilization games, I felt dragged into war, bullied and unable to stop it. If someone declares ware, you can always make a peace treaty by offering them up resources or things like cities. Yep you can give them your cities, because they’ll take them anyway.
Settlements can defend themselves, but they’ll soon get overwhelmed. Its really a competition over land. Who controls the most land. Who has the most settlements to generate things. There is a problem though. Sometimes the civilization outgrows its energy consumption. If energy consumption dips below the reserve energy supply, the units will begin to disband one per turn. This balances out the energy consumption, but makes units disappear and leaves you vulnerable. That is the risk you run having a grand civilization.
Sometimes there is not enough food in your cities and it will halt their growth. To compensate, you can unlock trade depots and trade convoys, then set their trade routes between settlements to distribute food, energy and resources.
For those that need goals, the game does have quests, but I found myself ignoring them to do what I wanted. Competing a quest, gives you a choice between two perks. It was always a real toss up. I never felt like any perk offered was that much of a game changer.
The game feels excessive when it comes to frills. There are civilization perk trees, technologies to unlock and even troop upgrades. The upgrades change every troop of that type. You even get to select a permanent perk for that type. The choice and the random worlds make for huge replay value. The excessive frills are useful for marathon games. You’ll always have something new to unlock thousands of turns into the game. With different difficulties and different sizes of planets to inhabit, one game could go on forever!
Beyond Earth is still a good game, its just like Civilization 5 and its expansion with a science fiction twist. I would have appreciated alien races other than insect fodder.