Civilization: Beyond Earth is closing in on release, and for many fans of the series it is time to start weighing up the purchase. It is just over two months until Firaxis launch the latest title, so to speak, and the new direction of the Civilization series, Alpha Centauri aside, is the major point of conversation for interested potential players.
For anyone unaware of the leap taken by Firaxis, Civilization: Beyond Earth delivers the Civilization series to a sci-fi oriented future in which the player dons the role of expedition leader for their chosen faction in a search for humanity’s new home. None of this so far is new information to the public so if you’re looking for the basics on Beyond Earth then you probably want to click here before reading on.
We’ve had gameplay and screenshots from E3 and Gamescom this year, but there are still a lot of questions – questions that Firaxis are now trying to answer. The first question, was dealt with on a stream presented by Firaxis’ Pete Murray on their Twitch channel. The title ‘They’re Not Barbarians!’ answers the question ‘Are aliens just Beyond Earth’s barbarians?’ dealt with in the stream.
Pete Murray offers two playthrough samples, dealing with the aliens first as if they were the barbarians we all know and love from previous titles, before playing a second time with a more cautious mindset.
First time around Murray walks over the aliens. He plays with the same intent as if they were barbarians – killing them and destroying their nests, as well as shooting Sea Dragons on sight when they enter proximity with Cidadela, his Brazilian faction’s first outpost on the alien planet. In response the aliens for all intents and purposes act just as barbarians would do – openly seeking combat with the player units. Whilst this playthrough tackles Wolf Beatles and Sea Dragons, Murray talks about Raptors that target non-combat units and trade routes, and we’ve all heard about the Siege Worm. The point Murray stresses here is that the aliens are acting like barbarians purely based on the player’s actions – giving as good as they get. At one stage Murray highlights the change in colour of the indicator on the alien units – meaning they are more willing to show aggression. This is particularly interesting because it sees the aliens act this way to all humans, rather than just the hostile faction.
In contrast, second time around Murray seeks out the aliens to show off the AI in a more peaceful scenario. Upon sighting the player, the alien unit moves towards the player due to their proximity to the alien nest and attacks the player. The difference to barbarians is then revealed as Murray backs his unit away from the nest, resulting in the aliens returning to their nest – ‘They’re Not Barbarians!’ indeed. The key to this approach, it would appear, is caution. Whilst there are rewards to the hostile approach against the aliens, the resulting impact is having to constantly fight them. This peaceful, cautious approach leaves Murray free to build up his colony without the overwhelming threat of aliens.
Through the first, hostile, military based playthrough we get a good look into the Virtues system as Murray delves into the Might Virtue tree – the equivalent to Civ 5’s Honor Social Policy tree. As well as Might we see Prosperity, Knowledge and Industry trees and Murray briefly describes the synergy system in place that means there is less risk in exploring multiple Virtue trees. Along with a change of attitude towards aliens, the second playthrough sees progression through the Knowledge Virtues, which focus around science and culture. Within this Virtue tree, Murray elects an interesting virtue called Field Research, which gives the player 50 Science points for completing Expeditions with Explorer units.
Whilst his first, aggressive, play style saw advancements in military technology, his lack of hostility in the second playthrough allows the colony to be built up and the Tech Web, the successor of the Tech Tree in previous Civ titles, offers technologic advancements, such as the Ultrasonic Fence, that can keep the aliens at bay if hostility ever occurs. One other early tech of notice which Murray highlights is the Ecology branch and in particular the Alien Biology sub-tech that can clear poisonous Miasma tiles. Murray rounds off this cautious play-style by reiterating that the decision not to engage the aliens in combat has enabled his colony to grow. By turn 20 the focus is very much on tile improvements and continuing to unlock technologies and different virtues to further the colony’s growth.
It is hard to ignore the similarities to Civ 5 – and ultimately raises the question of whether the similarities are a good or a bad thing. Personally I couldn’t care less – similarities mean it will be easier to play the game thanks to experience with the previous Civ games. One quest decision Murray faces sees the creation of New Babylon, an outpost that function in a similar manner to a City State. With the explorer unit, at first sight nothing more than a scout, Murray displays the Expedition action they can utilize on certain tiles – such as a crashed satellite. Murray compares this action to archaeology in Civ 5 – but promises better rewards from this turn-consuming action. The only brand new gameplay feature that stood out was the Orbital Layer, and even then this was glossed over in the stream.
For anyone hoping this stream would make their mind on whether or not to purchase Beyond Earth, I would imagine they are very much still undecided. Everything on display was something we’d seen in a previous Civ jazzed up to fit the new setting. As I’ve said, this is not necessarily a bad thing for the game but it does not do itself any favours. There seems to be a very refined balance of new things that are remarkably similar to old things which will attract players of the older titles rather than grab the attention of anyone previously uninterested.
There is a lot more still to see for this game, and with more streams promised by Pete Murray I can safely say I will be glued to each and every one of them. If you can’t watch the Firaxis streams you can be sure to find all the emerging details here on VGU, with Civilization: Beyond Earth available on October 24.