It takes just a single turn in the new Civilization: Beyond Earth
to realize that your first opponent is the planet itself.
Beyond Earth takes the popular 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) series into space, enabling you to colonize alien landscapes full of greenery, deserts, or fungal areas and sometimes-cranky indigenous life. It releases October 24th on PC for $50; developer Firaxis
and publisher 2K Games
promise Linux and Mac OS versions will come later.
The first 250 turns of a traditional Civilization V
: Brave New World game and then went through the first 250 of Beyond Earth, comparing the experience. Rest easy, Civ fans: CBE is the turn-based strategy game you remember from Civ V, both prettied and expanded. But it has a few changes that twist your gameplay.
Getting started: Making planetfall
The planet chosen was Protean, a fungal type with a handsome blue-green color scheme and plant life that fit the alien-mushroom theme. Players of Civilization should recognize the one-unit-per-hexagon setup from Civ V immediately.
Instead of starting with a small town as in the traditional Civ games, you start with a spaceship that you plunk down on the landscape, establishing your colony. That’s also how your human rivals will arrive later on.
Chosing the Brasilia faction (one of eight choices, each of which gives a different bonus – mine was +10% strength in melee combat), Engineer-type colonists (one of five, giving me a +2 production bonus), and the Lifeform Sensor ship, which immediately showed me clusters of aliens on my map.
The cargo was Weapon Arsenal, one of five choices, which gave me an instant unit of soldiers – CBE’s equivalent of Civ V’s warriors. So having moved them out and then watched in dismay as they started to die with nary an enemy in sight. Unknowingly parking them on miasma, a marine-killing gas present on some hexes of the terrain.
Roving bands of barbarians would attack you in Civ V, and their equivalents are the fly-, bug-, and scorpion-like unintelligent aliens that roam the landscape in CBE. But the Earth itself would never slowly poison you.
Choose a harmonious path — or choke on the gas
Miasma isn’t always deadly; it depends on the choices you make. You may choose and put points in three Affinities: Purity, your option if you want to take a flamethrower to everything and create a new Earth; Supremacy if you want to choose a more intellectual, robotic route; and Harmony if you want to take advantage of your alien world’s own resources.
Which route you choose guides how your units will evolve (choose an upgraded form and all units of that type will automatically change, unlike in Civ V). Soldiers become Marines and then could become Brawlers or Sentinels or Disciples, depending on what you choose, and so on down the tree. Unlike Civ V, it’s not just dependent on your original faction or your tech.
Level up your Harmony far enough and your troops will actually heal in miasma. Sadly, I was nowhere near that level, so I kept moving.
Exposing a part of the map with aliens on it – the fly kind – and watched warily as we parked next to the group. Unlike the barbarians in Civ V, these guys were neutral and didn’t attack. Later, they changed their mind and did, so they were annihilated. So much for my resolution to live in harmony with my native friends: Supremacy it is.
And so it would go throughout my colonization efforts. Some aliens immediately jumped on my units. Others would be friendly, or neutral, or shift between feelings about my virtual colonists, presumably as a result of the choices made in-game.
Discover quests, make tough decisions, and reap the rewards
Further exploring found a downed space pod that friends back home had sent ahead, packed with supplies. This brought up the first quest: to find two such pods in the landscape. CBE’s quests ask you to do everything from establishing trade routes to building particular types of buildings to finding things in the game world.
Some are similar to the quests you used to get in Civ V (and still do in CBE) from other cities; many are very different, and they pop up from actions you take, not from a particular NPC. They can award gold, or supplies, or technology, or other bonuses.
A few of the quests were more like achievements in other games – they offered you a reward for doing something significant, such as the first time you down one of the huge diving alien squid-worms that like to eat cities.
Many quests come with decisions: What you choose affects gameplay, the bonuses you get, and even how you progress in your chosen Affinity.
Choose to save the aliens and betray the humans if you like (the aliens are sometimes nicer)
Gameplay gets a lot more interesting when the other human factions start to arrive. This is familiar territory for Civ fans; it’s all the backstabbing, squabbling over borders, threats, trading, and war/peace declarations that you’d find in past games.
The tech web, CBE’s version of the normal Civ tech tree, is also only slightly different from the earlier games. You must navigate through the web, buying each new technology in turn with Science points.
Opening up a new node enables you to drill down to two sub-choices, which cost more than the main nodes but offer some pretty interesting rewards. Ecology’s fencing and Miasma repeller lead to Geophysics for geothermal wells and Alien Biology for miasma immunity and Harmony bonuses, for example. The sub-levels are new for CBE.
Most nodes in the web relate to one of the affinities, but you’ll find yourself taking items from other nodes, too – at a basic level, they’re all useful, offering bonuses to your colony’s Health or Culture or Energy (the CBE equivalent of Civ gold) or Science points.
Each node and sub-level allow you to construct different buildings. CBE has many more building types than Civ V carries, and some of them change your gameplay dramatically.
Researching Computing to build a Spy Agency, for example — because hello, spies are the best part of the Civ V Gods & Kings expansion — and it opened up a Covert Operations menu for me, allowing me to recruit spies and send them on missions in other human settlements, stealing resources or generally causing mayhem. Computing also enabled you to build Missile Rovers, which could shell other cities (and those nasty city-eating worms) from range.
In space, no one can hear you say that everything old is new again
Choosing building options will be familiar to anyone who’s navigated a Civ tech tree before, but there are so many more of them that it starts to feel like a playground.
And that’s the crux of CBE’s initial appeal: Everything’s here that you remember from Civ V. Gather resources, build your buildings, research your new tech, send out new settlers by land or sea to colonize new areas, and try to get along (or not) with the other humans.
But the things you remember appear offer deeper play in CBE, and the new elements, such as that hostile landscape and the ability to throw things into space, seem destined to change your tried-and-true strategies … at least a bit.