How much stake do you place on originality? What makes many games great is their ability to do something no game has ever done before, or put a twist on that something in a truly original way. Originality on its own isn’t enough though, because different doesn’t necessarily mean good. So what’s more important to you? Different or good? Nothing epitomizes that contrast more than Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth.
There is almost nothing new or original that Civilization: Beyond Earth does. Normally, that would be a huge knock against a game, but when a franchise has made its bacon for well over a decade by constantly making slight improvements and refinements to an already proven formula it’s hard to blame them, Reinventing the wheel with a new Civilization game could prove disastrous, and it’s not what fans of the genre are looking for. The franchise is renowned for it’s well-balanced systems, solid interface, and a happy medium between the hardcore and the casual. Changing that could be a big mistake.
There is one big difference in Beyond Earth, which is the whole “Earth” thing. We’re beyond it. The story setup is that Earth is “in its twilight” and certain people have been sent forth from Earth to find a new planet to inhabit. It’s an interesting concept that goes pretty much entirely unutilized. Instead of really mixing things up on the factions end, you end up with each nation landing on the same planet and colonizing it at the same time. Instead of dealing with crazy alien factions, you’re still just dealing with the same African, Asian, American, French, and South American factions you were dealing with on Earth.
There’s a swapping of a lot of resources to more alien-sounding names (like Miasma, exotic!), but it doesn’t really make a gameplay difference. You still find them scattered across the map, and you still fund research upgrades in order to refine them so you can build and upgrade troops. There are indigenous alien species’ present on the planet, but they just serve the same purpose as the barbarian tribes from previous Civ games. What I would really have liked to see was a few advanced alien civilizations already present on the planet when we arrive. That would have provided a unique challenge as yet unseen in the series.
So the setting is different but everything else is pretty well the same. Beyond Earth is built on the Civ: V engine and the two games play almost identically. That’s a bit disappointing, but Civ: V was an incredible game, so there’s definitely still fun to be had. Beyond Earth is still loaded with personal experiences and war stories. In my case, I was blocked in early on a peninsula by the French and had to restrict my empire to that one region. The French also locked themselves in a small area by doing this. Their leader repeatedly offered ridiculous deals like opening our borders both ways as long as I threw in literally all of my energy reserves. Alternatively, my favourite deal she constantly offered was all my energy and opening my borders in exchange for one favour.
We had one or two wars that were nothing more than short skirmishes followed by long periods of peace. The real challenge was the Asian faction. Almost immediately after landing on the planet the Asian leader and I struck a co-operation agreement. We kept our borders open to each other and renewed our agreements as soon as they expired every time. We freely traded goods for centuries. One turn our co-operation agreement ended and I prepared to offer it up again the next turn, but was stopped short by an immediate declaration of war on her part. Completely out of the blue. We had aligning political and religious views. I had defended them in their battle with the Russians. They had condemned the French after they declared war on me. I thought we were friends. One turn later there was a massive fleet of Asian nation ships already on my shore.
Things like that make Civilization games interesting and enjoyable. I was going for a victory called Emancipation (they scrapped the traditional victories for some more creative ones) and was building what was essentially a Stargate for my inevitable return to Earth. This unexpected war with the Asians was tense. I sent all my troops to the front lines while my scientists furiously continued to build the Stargate in my territory. One more unexpected backstab by the French later I finished the Stargate and transcended it to victory just before the Asians were able to beat me to it. 425 turns to victory by Emancipation!
Civilization: Beyond Earth does essentially nothing new, but you know what? That’s probably fine with most people who have experienced the franchise before. It still does what it does incredibly well, and every new campaign in a Civilization game brings originality and variety on its own. I thought the extra-terrestrial setting was badly wasted, but even without any real innovation it’s still a very solid game, just not one that’s much different from Civilization: V.
***This game was reviewed on PC via a code provided by the Publisher***