“Civilization: Beyond Earth” One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

“Civilization: Not Earth” might very well be a more appropriate title for the latest game in the hit Civilization series. I say this because Civilization: Beyond Earth fails almost entirely in going beyond what was done in the last Civilization title, Civilization V (which was released in 2010). This is especially disappointing when taking into account the outstanding reputation of Fireaxis Games, developer of the Civilization series.

Fans of the series will find several minor innovations in this title. One supposed development within this game is the “technology web.” As opposed to the linear technology tree of previous Civilization titles, the technology web starts you from a center point, with different technologies radiating from said center point. This gives players more flexibility in how they choose to develop their civilizations.

However, I found that while you aren’t forced to develop your technologies in a slightly branching linear pattern as in previous games, you wind up choosing between three. This is because of the new affinity system, which allows for three alignments; purity, supremacy, or harmony (and depending on the alignment that you choose, different technologies become available). However, each affinity has its own technologies which are pretty much essential, so rather than letting one develop their civilization freely, this technology system gives you more choices. In order to get the most out of their resources, one is going to have to remove miasmas (toxic alien gasses). This need (and others) direct ones advancement on the technology web, limiting freedom.

Also worth mentioning is the removal of technology trading from the diplomacy menu. While technology trading did serve to imbalance previous titles, I think removing it was a poor decision, as its elimination severely reduces available diplomatic options. Even if technology trading was unfixable (which I find unbelievable), it should have been at least replaced by another system to fill the void left in diplomacy. Civilization has had a flawed diplomacy system for a while now, but at least Civilization V made improvements. Try as I might, I cannot identify a single tangible improvement in Beyond Earth. Fireaxis Games has had negative feedback in regards to this system from players and critics alike, and on top of that, they had over four years to work on it. In my mind that is very difficult to overlook.

Several changes were made to the intelligence system to make it more effective and accessible than it was in previous titles. Personally, I consider this to be the biggest step forward in Beyond Earth. In Civilization V, I had some trouble understanding how to use my spies, and as a result did not get much use out of them. However, in Beyond Earth I found it to be one of the most important systems. That said, I do have one serious issue with the system: it is so effective that it imbalances the game.

The new quest system, which was meant to be the biggest addition to the Civilization series in Beyond Earth, is basically there to add in little choices and objectives, providing story tidbits and rewards to the player for completing them. There seemed to be two basic kinds of quests, simple decisions where all one has to do is make a choice, and more complicated quest lines where one typically completes multiple objectives, often while making decisions. Some of these decisions were interesting, and the objectives did add a bit of depth to the game. As a whole I like the system, but it seems to need refinement; the consequences of completing an objective are not always made clear and more than once I faced global condemnation simply for completing an objective.

Perhaps what annoyed me the most was the lack of distinguishable leaders to select for your civilization and play against (in previous titles these included historical figures like George Washington or Catherine the Great, among others). In this game, these leaders are replaced by sponsors (essentially a group to which your civilization belongs). I would be fine with this, but I have one major problem with it: there are only eight sponsors. If, like me, you want to have the maximum number of possible civilizations on the map (12), then there will be duplicates. This means the leaders of the civilizations that have the same sponsors will look exactly the same and have the same names, but still be unique civilizations (they could even go to war with each other). To me, this is lazy and unjustifiable in a $60 game.

Despite all my criticisms, I did have a lot of fun playing Civilization: Beyond Earth. Despite a changed appearance and some slight tweaks to systems, there’s not much progress here; at the end of the day, I’d personally rather be playing Civilization V. Were Civilization: Beyond Earth a $20 expansion for Civilization V, it would have my almost unconditional approval, as while it fails to innovate, it does add variety to what Civilization as a series has already done. However, as a $60 game, I can only recommend it to hardcore fans of either the Civilization series or strategy junkies (even to them I’d say wait until the price goes down). To score Civilization: Beyond Earth, I feel that 7/10 is appropriate.