If you’ve played 1999’s best 4X strategy game, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, that idea will sound familiar. (Fun fact: Alpha Centauri wasn’t called Civilization because Firaxis and publisher EA didn’t own the rights to the name. Firaxis regained the rights to Civilization when it was bought by 2K, but the rights to the Alpha Centauri name remain at EA.) But David McDonough, Beyond Earth’s co-lead designer, says this isn’t a retread of that classic. “This game is not an Alpha Centauri sequel or prequel. It’s its own idea, its own experience, based on the idea of the future of mankind on an alien world,” he explains. While some old hands at Firaxis have worked on both games, Alpha Centauri designer Brian Reynolds has no involvement in Beyond Earth.
Though it’s built on the hex-based engine and structure of Civilization 5, Beyond Earth is not an expansion pack, but a full-fledged game that’s designed to be familiar to fans but also make fundamental changes to the way you play and win. The biggest, McDonough believes, is the switch from the traditional, linear tech tree that drives other Civilization games forward through established history to a more open-ended “Tech web” system.
“We’re huge fans of sci-fi from every part of pop culture and history, so we went to that and imagined a web where you start in the middle, surrounded by techs that are relatively recognizable based on conventional technology, and you go outward into any frontier you can imagine,” says McDonough. He points to options like advanced AI and cybernetics, or genetic manipulation that allows you to meld human and alien DNA. Because of the non-linear choices you and your competitors will make based on your needs and overall strategy, and the intentional lack of technology trading, no faction will be able to unlock all the technologies in a single playthrough, and by the end of a game each faction should look and function very differently.
Furthering the differences that will develop between future humanity’s factions are several philosophical “Affinities” (Supremacy, Wealth, Purity, and Harmony). They’ll allow you to determine how humanity evolves on this new world and unlock Affinity-exclusive units, while other competing colonies might go in another direction entirely.
Those differences in ideology are intended to inspire conflict and tension between factions, and almost inevitably, war. Beyond Earth will use the same one-unit-per-tile combat system we’ve seen in Civ 5, but its upgrade system is intended to be deeper and more flexible due to a multi-tiered tree system and - again - to allow you to control its evolution rather than simply progress from spearmen to muskets to riflemen. Options may be conventional boosts to attack power or healing ability (those were the early examples given, anyway) but they carry with them different effects based on the Affinity they’re associated with. Choosing more aggressive upgrades changes your army to reflect that with the jagged, sharp edges of the Supremacy Affinity, whereas others will give your units a more rounded, organic look of the Harmony line. But potentially the most exciting new aspect of combat is the satellite layer, where you can build and launch orbital weapons stations that
bombard enemy troops or support stations that buff your own soldiers in a certain area, much like Civ 5’s great generals.
At the same time you’re competing with the other colonial powers on this planet, you’ll also be up against the native life you find there – much of it initially hostile. “Civ 5’s barbarians are really more like a speed bump or an early-game punching bag for you to kind of get your military chops before you’re ready to get into a real war. In this game, they’re completely different. It’s really a whole other opponent that plays completely asymmetrically to any of the human players,” says McDonough. He promises that the indigenous aliens, while not sentient, will react intelligently and with some coordination to what you’re doing on their world, and how you interact with them can range from all-out hostility to befriending, domesticating, and breeding them for your own use. (The description is reminiscent of Sid Meier’s Colonization’s Native American tribes that inhabit the new world, and can either be foug
ht or befriended and assimilated.) You can expect them to be a major obstacle to the free land-grab expansion we’re accustomed to in Civilization games.
The other major change is in how you start, and how Beyond Earth intends to make itself highly replayable. Instead of simply picking a nation and starting with a settler and a couple of scouts or warriors, your starting conditions and bonuses will depend on your choice of which of the eight Earth organizations sponsored your expedition, what types of colonists you brought with you, the ship that transports you there, and the cargo you packed. McDonough stresses that those leaders don’t define your culture like they do in past Civ games, but provide a wide variety of starting points. Even the leader’s models which you see during diplomacy will change based on the Affinity choices you make along the way.
Naturally, where you’re going will depend on your choices, too. Beyond Earth will include five different victory conditions, including the usual Domination (aka conquer everybody) and making contact with a sentient alien race. From the sound of it, there’s more than enough content here to keep this new spin on the old formula interesting and addictive. Though it doesn’t appear to focus as much on characterization and inter-species diplomacy as its inspiration, its new ideas and open-endedness make it a promising attempt at recapturing the appeal of “just one more turn” strategy on another world.
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How often have you abandoned earth to save Humanity only to find a bunch of other people followed you to screw you over, ONTD?