0196B: One Night Beyond Earth

So after our regular Sunday Houses of the Blooded Game, I spent the night trying out Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth thanks to a free-to-play Steam offer that was valid for the weekend. I've been on the fence about purchasing this game for some time now, despite Steam deals that slashed up to 40% off the price. I figured that if I waited long enough, I'd get an offer over 50% that might be more cost-effective for me. Since I've only played through a single game and predictably lost, this isn't a formal review but really just my first thoughts on this game.

The game felt very strange and yet also familiar all throughout. The basic mechanics are familiar enough and you have a lot of the classic mechanics like worker units building improvements on your tiles and the need to gather strategic resources to expand your building options. But then you have new elements like this being an alien planet, the presence of the poisonous miasma and other things.

Instead of the usual races, the game allows you to follow one of three possible affinities that involve different approaches to adapting to this new planet. I liked this concept in theory, but in practice it wasn't immediately apparent how the "races" differed from one another. You all have the same basic units more or less and the special ones only emerge much later in the game. They all sort of evolve based on your affinity choices, but fundamentally they're the same guys. So you don't necessarily feel all that unique until you get much further down your affinity path. But it's still a novel concept - do you want to remain 100% human or are you willing to adapt to the new planet more significantly, thus potentially becoming more alien yourself?

One of the biggest changes thus far involves the Tech Web, which replaces the old linear progression of technology in the older Civilization games. Since we're not tracking the development of science through time, the game no longer requires a strict progression from topic to topic. You're free to explore almost any path in the web as long as you've already research the one or two prerequisite technologies leading there. And different technologies also have sub-branches of specialization that provide other benefits and typically more affinity-related bonuses as well. At first the web was a little overwhelming and I'm pretty sure I wasn't all that efficient in my paths of research, but later on I started to figure out what I needed to do.

My biggest gripe involves changes to how military units work and the decision to remove stacking of units as an option. I kind of get the strategic nuances of this shift, it's still annoying since it's a pretty major shift versus older Civilization tactics. The fact that your own units can end up acting as an obstacle preventing your units from getting past a mountain pass style bottleneck is really frustrating and I don't get the mechanic. And of course it means military conquest of cities is a lot harder. And defending cities relies a lot more on your defensive improvements combined with a number of troops camping outside.

The game also had to tweak Cultural expansion in a manner that it still allows you to expand your borders, but it no longer has a chance to convert enemy cities to your cause. I suppose that makes sense since the different affinity paths that you take result in very different views of what humanity should be like. Still, it's a little frustrating since the game pretty much requires that you maintain a standing army regardless of your affinity path or your intended victory condition (there are five) as opposed to solely playing a defensive technology game (which I've done a lot in the past, admittedly).

Still, it was only my first time to play and I admit that a lot of my concerns are more related to what has changed versus prior Civilization games as opposed to just weighing this game solely on its own merits. It's a pretty different experience and I'll probably grow to appreciate what makes the game unique with more playthroughs. But that can wait for a later time - I don't think I'm all that ready to buy the game just yet so I'll hold out for another Steam sale.