When you think of the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, typically extraterrestrials or intergalactic colonization aren’t the terms that come to mind. But Civilization: Beyond Earth leaves behind the historical figures and technologies for a chance to colonize and conquer alien worlds using futuristic gadgets and genetics, acting as a spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. As a science fiction/fantasy fan, I was excited to see the Civilization series take a futuristic approach rather than a historical approach, wondering how they would turn game rooted in reference mechanically and aesthetically to a game with potential references. Beyond Earth delivers the same stellar strategy, 4x component found in the franchise but just microscopically justifies itself as a separate title.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Most everything in Civilization: Beyond Earth has been remodeled from its Civilization V blueprint to fit the interstellar, futuristic theme and the results are spectacular. While a lot of the terrain remains the same, it’s been given a new color palette that mutates grasslands and marshes and deserts into bizarre alien environments. Populating this terrain is a horde of alien creatures and futuristic humans that are well-crafted and bring a tremendous amount of life to the map, replacing barbarians and familiar, cultural aesthetics. The transformation from historical to futuristic comes alive in the artwork and the units and fits perfectly with the game’s overall theme and the more specific categories within the game.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
If you’re thinking that Civlization: Beyond Earth and Civilization V share a strong resemblance, that would be because the former uses the same core mechanics and engine as the latter; players take turns on a hexagonal-grid moving units, acquiring resources and building a civilization (4x) and race each other towards one of the many game-winning objectives. For veteran players of the series, a huge chunk of what Civilization: Beyond Earth has to offer will feel quite familiar minus a few new systems and an aesthetic overhaul; it still contains a solid, enjoyable turn-based strategy gameplay but there’s nothing effectively new to the formula that will alter the way you experience Beyond Earth. That being said, Beyond Earth does seem to be a little less challenging than Civ V. This might be contributed to an experienced familiarity with the game and the strategies behind it, but therein lies the problem: as a stand-alone title, my tried-and-tested Civ V approach shouldn’t be so easily carried over into a game with new systems that’s priced as a new experience. Returning players want new challenges, they want a new perspective on the Civilization gameplay for a current market price of $49.99, yet Beyond Earth falls short on that delivery.
Speaking of new systems and perspectives, let’s delve into what separates Beyond Earth from its predecessor. One of the major changes to the series is the look of the technology tree, which has been transformed into more of a web design to highlight potential innovations. Each “branch” contains three “leaves” to expand upon once the initial technology has been researched, and completing certain “branches” will unlock other “branches” farther out. This intuitive system emphasizes player choice and progression and its one of the main reasons why I particularly enjoyed Beyond Earth. Specialization is the key to this new technology tree and it allows the player to say become a master of espionage, or a player primarily focused on orbital tactics, or a player keen on alien hybridization. In previous titles, the specification aspect was there but in Beyond Earth they’re the main focal point; instead of just choosing an attribute to master, such as culture, military or science, now there are further specializations within those broad categories.
Narrowing it down even further, another new mechanic that makes this emphasis on specialization possible is the Affinities system. In Beyond Earth, on top of picking your organization/backer (which very closely resembles the civilizations of Civ V), you’ll also be able gain points in either the Purity, Supremacy or Harmony affinities. These three philosophies gain points depending on certain actions/technologies and then transform your civilization to match. For example, if you specialize in the Harmony affinity, your civilization will start to take on alien attributes, including your cities and military units. As with the technology tree mentioned beforehand, this allows players to differentiate themselves further and slightly tweak their play styles in the endgame. The affinities are enjoyable and add an incredible sense of individuality to the game’s progression.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is a wonderful strategy game that adds a few novel mechanics and systems to the pre-existing Civilization V formula and just barely pushes itself over the line of being an acceptable stand-alone title. The extraterrestrial atmosphere and artwork, especially in regards to the player units, are done brilliantly, giving the game a real sense of being in a hostile, futuristic environment while still exploring some familiar landscapes such as forests or tundras. In terms of gameplay, the new technology web and Affinities system lend some new and unique strategies to the returning Civ V players, but a lot of the core mechanics remain intact and don’t present enough of a challenge for veterans of the series. Now, recommendations for this title are a bit tricky. First off, if you’ve already played Civ V and really enjoyed the experience, I’d say wait till Beyond Earth goes down in price before purchasing it; it’s definitely worth the play but the current price is a bit too steep for what ultimately amounts to an impressive mod. For those who are new to the franchise or Civ V specifically, its hard to choose between Beyond Earth and Civ V. Personally, I’d recommend Beyond Earth for the added content and scif-fi skin but at the same time Civ V has the core essentials and is a much cheaper purchase.
Final Score: 8.5 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood