Interstellar Imperium Made Easy in Galactic Civilizations IV

Galactic Civilizations IV Preview

The venerable Galactic Civilizations series has been around for almost as long as its terrestrial namesake. It’s a 4X game on a galactic scale, where you will survey, terraform, colonize, and unite the galaxy under the flag of the furry or pointy or slimy species you have chosen. Long-time fans of the series will find a lot in Galactic Civilizations IV that’s familiar, but with a couple of clever design choices, Stardock is well on their way to creating the definitive entry in the series.

Off the Launchpad

I’ve been a Galactic Civilizations player from the beginning, even covertly installing a copy on my school library computer. The series was at its best with the second entry, which really captured a pulpy space opera feeling and managed to put a lot of story in a genre not overly famous for it. The third game operated with a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy, tricking out galaxy generation and ship development. After a few expansion packs, it was truly dense and daunting.

Galactic Civilizations IV wisely chooses to pull back. As you grow your empire, you will also obtain the means to automate certain processes. Smaller planets can be made into satellite worlds that feed into your main planets. There’s a whole system of recruiting leaders and assigning them to important jobs. Eventually, though, you can outsource the lions share of this work to your bureaucracy. Instead of feeling like a smaller game, you feel like you are more in control of your space empire. You make fewer choices, but the ones you do feel more meaningful.

Reinventing Astro-Cartography

This is paired with an excellent new system that divides maps into sectors. This again serves to divide up the galaxy map into something more digestible. In playthroughs, this led me in different directions. In an early one, I fought viciously to control my sector and to be the dominant force (which gets your faction’s icon on the sector in the map mode, which feels like a major victory). A later game quickly found my empire boxed in, but technological superiority let me travel between sectors early, so my space civ stretched over multiple maps. Each game implies a vivid story about an alien species.

That immersive narrative is of course supported by what is now two decades of lore. Stardock paints with a pretty broad brush so you will quickly know where you stand with the evil Drengin or the mysterious Krynn. And even if you want to approach Galactic Civilizations IV less like a story and more like a strategy game, you won’t find it hard to play. The lore presents itself in things like the hunt for precursor artifacts, or in how the robotic Yor hate their creators, the Iconians. Players like that will find a lot to love in the streamlined ship designer tools, or maximizing adjacency bonuses with planetary structures.

As an early access title, there’s still plenty left to try out. Not all the races are playable yet, so I have yet to try out a game as my beloved Altarians. Some of the customization options are unavailable too, so I haven’t gotten to try out their alien species maker, a highlight of previous Galactic Civilizations games. But the underlying game is much stronger than the last, and you can see plenty of room for growth and complexity down the road.

A Galaxy in Peril

That’s because what’s new, works. In Galactic Civilizations, the civs change with the story, so now the Drengin are ascendant and the other races of the galaxy are racing to catch up. Little descriptions for the different leaders imply tragic stories of loss and sacrifice. One species, which used to be a religion, is now a corporation. A new race is a criminal syndicate that can turn galactic chaos into prophet. There’s of course a horde of ravenous bugs in the vein of the Xenomorph. I can bear the wait for my favorite faction while I explore these new options.

There’s also just generally a difference in approach to growth. Galactic Civilizations IV allows for multiple races to inhabit the same planet and empire. This means that instead of a hyper-capitalist race, the Corporate Syndicate is a diverse crew of greedy aliens. This much-appreciated addition to the game creates more robust options for a peaceful civ. You have more reasons to make nice with your space neighbors!

So should you be rushing to play Galactic Civilizations IV while it’s in early access? Kind of, yeah. If you are a fan of the series who cares to see where it goes, this installment takes bold new steps forward. You can’t miss it. And if you are more generally just a fan of turn-based strategy, but have never tried this series, this is the jumping on point. And I guess if you aren’t in those two categories, you’ll just have to find a peaceful way to share the planet with us. Because the day they add those customization options is the day I boot up Galactic Civilizations IV to once again conquer the galaxy.

***PC code provided by the publisher***