First look: Civilization: Beyond Earth

Beyond Earth takes Civilization to new frontiers and introduces fresh gameplay strategies, which makes it a must-buy for fans of the 23-year-old franchise.

For more than two decades, a loyal following has kept the faith, with five earlier versions and millions of copies sold. The grandfather of strategy games has always been about starting out as a primitive tribe and growing into the leading empire on Earth. Now, that battle for global domination goes to space.

Beyond Earth keeps the basic gameplay mechanics of the series, but introduces so many additions that it makes Civilization feel fresh.

The game starts at a point in the distant future, when an event known as The Great Mistake has changed territorial boundaries and put Earth in danger of extinction. To survive, humanity must travel to space and colonise new worlds.

You start the game as the leader of one such space expedition. Unlike in previous Civilizations, where your starting bonuses were tied to your choice of historical leaders (Abraham Lincoln and Alexander The Great, for example) you can now mix and match four sets of starting bonuses to customise your opening strategy.

When you make planetfall, you will be able to assign citizens to work on the six surrounding hexagonal tiles surrounding your city. As before, your first city has only one citizen, so you can choose only one of those tiles. The first order of the day is to expand your population, so that you have more citizens to work on other tiles to generate production, energy, science and culture points.

Production points are needed to build combat units, buildings and other stuff. Instead of money, the currency is energy, which is needed to pay for the maintenance of your army and buildings. If you have stockpiled energy, you can buy units and buildings immediately instead of waiting many turns to produce them.

Science points go into research and the huge change here is the completely revamped technology tree. It is now called the Tech Web. As the name suggests, research paths are no longer linear, but arranged in four concentric circles like a web.

So, instead of having to research more than 20 prior technologies before you secure the advanced technology you desire, you can now get there in just three to four steps.

However, it takes much longer to research a more advanced technology than to unlock a lower-level technology. This usually makes it impractical for a technological leapfrog too early in the game.

As before, culture points help to expand your territorial borders and also to unlock "virtues" which offer special bonuses. Scavenging is one of the coolest virtues. It nets you a huge dose of science points when you destroy an alien nest.

That means you can ignore your research at the beginning and focus instead on building an army to destroy alien nests, as well as to catch up and even overtake your more docile opponents mid-game.

Your first unit is the explorer, which you will send out to scout the terrain and look for resource pods to earn energy, science and culture points. In addition, explorers can discover alien artefacts or satelite crash sites and start an expedition to unlock additional resources and bonuses.

Each explorer, however, can perform only one expedition. Instead of wasting production time to make more explorers, a better strategy is to unlock bonuses, which lets your existing explorer conduct additional expeditions.

Instead of fighting neutral barbarians, you now face off against aliens. Many of the tiles on the planet also have a substance called miasma, which damages your units, but heals the aliens. Also new is the concept of Affinity, a guiding philosophy for your colonists.

If you embrace Purity, your aim is to develop your planet, so that it feels like Earth, where your friends and family can live.

Supremacy players focus on robots and cybernetics and aim for humans to evolve into machines. If you choose Harmony, your aim is to be one with the alien flora and fauna.

Conquer all your rivals in the game and you will achieve the usual Domination victory. Victory also comes with unlocking all the levels of the Affinity which you have chosen.

Despite spending more than 10 hours on this title, I feel I am just scratching the surface of a complex game I know many fans are looking forward to.


This article was first published on Oct 1, 2014.
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