Analog Reviews: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

Analog Reviews: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth


It’s been fifteen long years since Sid Meier
has given us the opportunity to conquer the cosmos with Alpha Centauri. Galaxies far,
far away and alien life have been unmolested by man for far too long and by popular demand,
Civilization: Beyond Earth has reached store shelves and Steam. Putting down pikes for
laser cannons and researching alien technology instead of animal husbandry is certainly a
welcome change of pace but is Beyond Earth a proper full release, or will fans be waiting
for a few expansions packs before this voyage among the stars reaches its full potential? Set 600 years into the future where the earth
is on the brink of destruction. The nations of the world send some of their best and brightest
into space as a last ditch effort to colonize another planet. With an uncharacteristically
utopian view on things, many nations have combined and cooperate with one another. For
instance, Australia and Polynesia merge to become Polystralia, America, Canada, and Mexico
become the American Reclamation Corporation and the entire continent of Africa becomes
the African Union to name a few examples. These alliances take to the stars to begin
anew on the wild frontier of alien planets. Utilizing the core of Civ V, Beyond Earth
is a turn-based strategy featuring hexagonal tiles on a grid without unit stacking. The
terrain offers benefits in the same way its predecessor does. Mountains are impassible,
hills provide extra defense, and rivers are difficult to cross. You start the game by
picking a plot of land to build your first city, while each of the tiles offer different
bonuses, such as food, production and energy. After founding your first city, you’re able
to explore the alien landscape, searching for resource pods and artifacts for your explorers
to excavate. It’s here that one of the games’ first alterations comes to light: quests.
Players will be given quests to complete and choices to make that help dictate the evolution
of your civilization as well as providing additional buffs and bonuses. Decisions you
make during quests can allow your clinics to produce additional science or health for
your civilization for instance. Exploration leads to encounters with other civilizations
as well as alien life-forms. Diplomacy is alive and well among these new colonies allowing
you to trade with other civilizations, and you have access to all the diplomacy options
seen in Civilization V, as well as the inclusion of favors which can be cashed in on later
trades. The Alien life-forms are the game’s equivalent
to barbarians albeit a lot stronger. They are however not as aggressive and will generally
leave your units alone unless they happen to path towards a tile you’re occupying.
This changes throughout the game though based on the Affinities you choose. Also if you
go out of your way to attack an Alien or approach a nest, they will become hostile for a few
turns. Certain bonuses and abilities make it worthwhile to actively exterminate these
pests but later in the game that can become a diplomatic blunder with civilizations that
are more sympathetic to alien life. The Affinities are by far the most unique
feature to Beyond Earth. They allow you to specialize your Civilization with a specific
ideology. Players who follow the Harmony path will have players synthesizing with their
new planet and the alien life that inhabits it. Supremacy takes a page from the cyberpunk
playbook with a focus on augmentation and improvement through technology. Ultimately
supremacy players will have a civilization made of cyborgs. Finally there is the path
of Purity, which focuses on retaining humanity and destroying anything that threatens that,
such as the aliens making them the space Nazis of the game. Not only do these Affinities
grant you special units and buildings, but they also change the way that other civilizations
react with you. Think of it as being on-par with Religion or Political Doctrines from
other Civilization games. For example, if you choose Harmony, you’ll be friendly with
other civilizations that picked Harmony but at odds with those that picked Supremacy or
Purity. The technology tree is also non-linear in
this, allowing for you to choose any number of paths which allows for a lot of variety
between different civilizations. It did seem like there were a few very specialized paths
that were far superior to the others though, as you generally want to amass whatever Affinity
you’re going with quickly, as it will immediately upgrade your troops without the need to do
things manually like the past Civ games. Your research does allow you to produce new unit
types but the basic units that you have access to from the onset also evolve as your affinity
level increases. Failing to increase your affinity will leave you woefully unprepared
to fight more advanced factions. This is where the differences in Beyond Earth
end though, as everything else is simply re-skinned from Civilization V. Happiness has been replaced
with Health, Gold has been replaced with Energy, while food and production remain the same.
There are also a lot of things that don’t really make sense, such as having the technology
to colonize another planet without having anyway to unveil the map. You’ll uncover
the mystery planet much the same way as your primitive warriors will back in 4000BC like
past Civ games. The tech-tree also has some inconsistencies such as having to research
Physics, Chemistry and Computers despite the game taking place in the year 2600. All of the units function the same way as
well, with the majority of units being melee along with a few ranged, naval, and air units.
The fact that naval technology is used at all is a bit strange with hovercrafts only
being unlocked late-game. One would think the majority of units would be flying in a
time like this while the few air units in the game function exactly the same way as
jets from previous Civilization games. The world in general feels exactly like past
civ games, with no option to move on to other planets and what’s worse is that the game
seems to have lost any charm or personality that was apparent in other Civ games. Leaders
like Genghis Khan, Gandhi, and Montezuma are all replaced with overly polite, boring politicians.
In an effort to replace the clever quotes of history that were once narrated by Leonard
Nimoy, they’ve come up with their own quotes and dialogue which are hit or miss for the
most part. None of the civilizations displays any semblance
of personality or is anyway memorable. They also seem to favor peace over war and will
very rarely declare war on you which can make the game feel a bit dull. Having a few alien
civilizations would have been a great way to add some personality to the proceedings. While the AI of the civilizations does seem
a bit more robust should you go to war with them, this can be avoided for the most part.
Espionage has been completely buffed and is now nearly game breaking, as spies are now
able to stage coup-d’états and take over other civilization’s capitals without any
resistance. Should you take a capital, the AI civilizations barely seem to react and
will still not declare war on you. Espionage isn’t the only thing that’s
unbalanced either. The virtue tree is this game’s equivalent to the Social Policies
of Civ V, and one of the virtue trees is by far superior to the rest. Specializing into
Prosperity will allow you to amass as many cities as you want as quickly as possible
without falling behind on health, making it the best way to play generally, while the
other virtue trees are only worth speccing into as secondary options. If you were expecting this installment to
not have bugs, you would be sadly mistaken as the multiplayer is still barely playable.
You’ll constantly be faced with disconnects and crashes where you’ll have to re-host
the game. You could of course continue the game and have your friends rejoin you, but
that will be at the cost of the AI temporarily taking over their civilization and rerouting
all production, scientific research
and virtues. Even when playing single player, I faced the odd random crash to my desktop
which had me frequently reloading auto-saves. The game also feels a lot more tedious when
compared to past Civilization games. The world is covered in an alien gas known as miasma
which will damage your units every time you land on a corresponding tile. This can be
beneficial if you choose the Harmony Affinity but otherwise will just slow the pace of the
game down even more. Trade convoys are also essential and can make or break your economy.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if you could just leave them automated but you’ll be
constantly prompted to refresh their routes every few turns. If this wasn’t enough,
orbital units have also been included which hover in the atmosphere over your cities or
units for a set amount of turns which then must be rebuilt and replaced. The soundtrack is well done and fits the space
theme, feeling a little reminiscent to games like Xcom Enemy Unknown or Deus Ex Human Revolution
despite being composed by different composers. It’s not as expansive as the library of
licensed classical tracks featured in past titles though. Ultimately, Civilization: Beyond Earth feels
like a mod or scenario for Civilization V. It doesn’t stray away or do anything innovative
enough to warrant being a standalone title. While the non-linear tech tree, quests and
affinity system are welcomed, they allow for some unbalanced combinations. Beyond Earth
is also missing many features from past Civ games such as Corporations, Religion, and
Great People. Having more meaningful interactions with aliens would have been welcomed as well
but the game feels like it was inspired by Sid Meier watching the movie Starship Troopers.
The game is lacking in all personality and charm as even when you complete a game, you’re
not even given a score screen or a graph, you’re simply just sent back to the main
menu. Ultimately, Beyond Earth isn’t a bad game; it just fails to meet the standard set
by past Civilization titles and can feel a lot more tedious in the process. We suspect
that like its predecessor, Beyond Earth will improve immensely with the addition of expansions
but as of now, any cravings you have for space exploration might be better satiated by taking
a trip to the theater to see Interstellar.

15 thoughts on “Analog Reviews: Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

  1. Great review, but I think I'll hold off until we get an EP or 2.

    I barely play V as is, so yeah.

    Interstellar was AMAZING!

  2. Pretty much hit the nail of the head with this one. I was really hoping itd be good enough to do a long running series for my channel, but I barley managed to do 5 episodes before quitting it out of sheer apathy.

  3. "and alien life have been unmolested by man for far too long" -funny. Thanks Nathan, another great review from you guys, you told me everything I needed to know about this one. I knew so very little about it, and have not followed it's development much, but I had very high expectations as a fan of both Alpha Centauri and Civ.
    It very much strikes me as a total conversion mod for Civ 5, like that mod for Civ 4 that let you settle star systems.  It's good to have a trustworthy go-to opinion for this stuff.

    And Josh, not a bad cover of the Civ 4 theme, hehehehe. I love that song….

  4. Warning Wall of text, sorry if I sound rather mean but there were some holes in your reasoning why you didn't like the game. You did make some good points though. Don't take this personally but these are my reactions throughout the entire thing. Keep in mind that a few basic mistakes you make ruined the review and I hope you can learn from this.
    Before this entire thing let me state one simple fact, this is a civ game, in the civ series, so it will be like civ games in the civ series and not like Alpha Centauri, if you want Alpha Centauri then either play Alpha Centauri or ask for Alpha Centauri 2! This would be like saying this game should have been more like spore, both are placed in space, but they are two completely different things that should never be compared The next time you do a review don't compare apples to oranges. Sorry that this is rather harsh, but you need to understand that if you are going to review games and be very reliable and accurate. If you don't care about the second part, then don't call it a review. Call it a opinion or first reaction! Bare with me here, you do make some good points. I know I have probably pissed off half the people who started reading this.
    You didn't mention how it take a bit for colonist to turn into cities, however that isn't a game breaking thing, it would have been good to add.
    You also didn't bring up the new starting system at all, which is a rather original thing that you ignored.
    Not to mention you never talked about the end game at all.
    4:52 I really likes that addition. It not only, due to it's stile, adds some unit uniqueness based on affinity, but doesn't require you to shuffle all of your guys around to upgrade them. Not to mention the special perks only make each unit more unique.
    5:15 Was there miasma (spelling probably butchered) in civ 5? What about the other unique resources? what was marble, uranium, and stone changed into? Where are the horses? I see what you mean, but I feel that may have been quite a overstatement there.
    5:29 because these people just spent trillions to actually send the space  ships, they obviously have even more trillions to send a satellite to map everything out for you! I mean it is not like a struggling earth would be having financial issues. Not to mention they would really want to get rid of exploration, because nobody likes the thrill of discovery and everyone would want to see everything so they could all charge for the best spot all at once. While were at it, why don't we get rid of fog or war! I mean they are advanced, so they would be able to see everything and not have to have people sitting around to see it. (sarcasm aside from now on, I promise)
    5:37 accounting for the different gravity and stuff? There is new chemical stuff there to be fair. I dunno, you do have a point here. They may have just wanted to more technologies and had a hard time coming up with tech to stop you from building airplanes at the beginning.
    5:52 yes because having something over CONSTANTLY would make perfect sense, because it would take energy to constantly keep it above air. Why would we use the more energy efficient and less headache inducing boats when we could use hovercraft! (I lied about the sarcasm)
    6:13 yes, there would be plenty of other colonizable planets when they even had to put their people in cryosleep to get to that planet in the first place! Think about it. (here is you sarcasm hint!)
    6:18 you do have a point here. While their choice of game limits this, I feel like they may need to fire some people because they could just add new leader who would still kinda have the charm of civ 5. They tried to step out of there comfort zone with this one, but I think this shows they relied on history to set up their units and leaders way to much.
    6:56 That would make it kinda boring, but it does kinda fit with the theme. At least early game.
    6:59 This idea is good in theory, but do you really think they would be able to just waltz on a planet with tons of advanced alien civilizations? Where would they colonize! Not to mention if it is a coexisting alien who traveled there with them, would they have the same tech? If no then time to add a entire new techtree and super advanced weapons that for some reason don't do that much damage. If yes then why? Wouldn't that seem kinda strange. They might of been able to get away with it rather well, but then again where would they have come from and why?
    7:11 this is a bad problem that will probably be fixed later. Not to mention, you can at least not do this off the bat. Also you can defend yourself. It isn't like it would be that hard to find out you were being spied on and not having a spy in your capital seems rather silly. However yes, they aI reaction does need heavy improvement. It isn't like fresh release civ 5 was all that great when it was initially released.
    7:30 defer to statement above. Also you didn't mention the perks, those were really nice additions to reward you for sticking to something. Also don't they still have the city penalties with science and culture?
    7:58 This is a problem that has been around for a long time that they have never addressed properly. They really need to sit down and fix this,
    8:44 where you playing civ for a fast paced thing? You sir may be in the wrong game series. I can understand the want for some speed and I can see how constantly having to avoid it can get rather annoying, but it is still unique and changes combat quite a bit and is a rather original concept.
    9:05 you really should be able to automate them >.> at least have a quick button.
    9:15 keeps a use for exploration kits, gives you temp bonuses that you may not constantly want up there and may want something else, and makes for a nice quest reward item. I can understand the annoyance about replacing them, but what else could they do to limit them?
    9:30 they may add more music in later version, may not. Either way, I can see where you are coming from.
    9:45 New resources, new textures, new policy tree, entirely different concept and everything for tech tree, new starting system you didn't mention, new barbarians that react in a new way, new quest system, new environment things, completely new unit set up and perk system, unique perk system with buildings that makes every civ more different, new affinity system that brings the idea of ideologies but in a new and exciting way, and finally new end game stuff that gets rid of the annoying culture victory that was easy to forget and makes it overall extremely balanced! Nope not original at all, just a mod, because every mod can make all of these "little" changes! (If you can't tell I am being sarcastic, then don't here is you hint)
    9:48 yup, not original with this short list of original ideas, not to mention, why would going down different tech trees be unbalanced, (you know what this means at this point) Just because someone thought it was a good idea in civ 5 to avoid military entirely and then go to war, doesn't mean it is unbalanced. While it will most certainly not be perfect, I don't think it is as bad as you make it out to be.
    9:58 where would you have a chance to start religions? Think about it. I think you said corporations on accident. They do need great people, just because you are in the future, doesn't mean people cant still be great and awesome.
    10:05 back to the intelligent alien civ thing again are we? Defer back to that……
    10:12 they don't have the history to lean back on for charm, they are outside their comfort zone. Though yes, I don't know why they don't have a score graph, that makes little sense.
    10:28 except you are comparing it to civ titles WITH all of their DLC thus making your entire review flawed to it's core.
    You really didn't mention everything in your review making it very lack luster. Honestly you need to try and look at a more distant perspective when you review, you don't seem to judge things fairly. Your review felt like comparing sonic to mario, or a game in alpha vs it's previous game, a full release. You compare this game to alpha centauri a LOT, but the problem is that is a COMPLETELY different game. Civ is not alpha centauri. Please include everything in your future reviews and stop comparing the beginning of something to the end, it isn't a fair judging. Based on everything I have heard and seen, I would give this civ game at least a 7.5/10 and that is being pessimistic and reading many negative reviews. Every negative review seems to unfairly judge this game, and I think people may miss this awesome game do to this. At least you mentioned it should improve with DLC like the previous games.

  5. Thanks for the great review.
    Think i will hold off on this just like i did with CIV4. Wait until some DLC comes out that makes the game good! And it MUST fix multiplayer, only reason why i touch civ games..

  6. Between this and V, it really feels like Civilization has fallen far… Civ IV, Alpha Centauri, and Call to Power are all still amazing games, but ever since Civilization Revolution, it feels like the series has tripped, fallen, and just can't get up.

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