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Friday, October 24, 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth - First Impressions

So yeah, this is being done all over the Internet today. There are Twitch streams, and YouTube play-throughs and blog posts galore. Self-proclaimed experts are coming out of the woodwork selling the best ways to play and beat Civilization: Beyond Earth (CivBE.) This post will likely be not much different that those others, except I'll not claim to be an expert. I wouldn't be so bold as to tell others how they should play their game. These are just my thoughts on the game. That doesn't make them special. It just makes them personal. And personally, I'm in love... with a Sid Meier's game... again. Surprise!

Okay, not so much of a surprise. It's not like I haven't been looking forward to this launch all year. So when the encryption was released on my Steam pre-load, I immediately launched (pun intended.) It was 12 minutes after midnight EDT, and ten minutes later I'd decided on who I was going to be on my very first game of CivBE.

Yes, the intro video was well done and touching. Yes, the graphics were awesome. And yes, it was both familiar and totally new at the same time. It was like I'd just put on a new pair of dancing shoes and they were already broken in. So after staring at the awesome graphics for about 60 seconds, which was all I could sit still for, I got to work. XD

[caption id="attachment_3895" align="aligncenter" width="800"]First CivBE Landing Site First CivBE Landing Site[/caption]

Two hundred and fifty turns later I'd managed to carve myself out a nice chunk of a new Terran type world, with five cities and space for a sixth.

[caption id="attachment_3902" align="aligncenter" width="800"]250 Turns into first CivBE game. 250 Turns into first CivBE game.[/caption]

But enough of pretty pictures and things. You want to read about the guts of the game I'm sure. Since you're interested, I am going to assume you know a little about Civ5 and how it works. If not, I hope this isn't to jargon heavy.

The one thing I am most impressed with in CivBE is the quest system. Unlike Civ5, where you were left alone to make all the decisions without any encouragement to do one thing or another by the game, that is not the case in CivBE. In CivBE, you have quests. Quests to go recover resource pods pre-dropped from orbit. Quests to uncover alien tombs and then explore them. Quests to decide if your civilization should do one thing or another. That last is the type of quest with which I am most impressed. For example, you can build a defense known as an Ultrasonic Fence. This keeps all aliens at least two tiles from the city its built-in. Shortly after building your first Ultrasonic Fence, you will get a decision quest. It basically asks if you would like to enhance the technology behind the building to either increase its effects one tile (three total) or allow it to be miniaturized so that aliens will not attack your trade convoys and explorers. One you decide, all of those buildings you build from then on will have the same characteristic.

From what I can tell, many if not most if not all buildings have a similar customization feature. Because of this simple mechanic, the game has literally hundreds of possible tweaks to each civilization. The formula of "n choose r" = C(n,r) = n!/(r!(n-r)!) This comes up with the total number of possible combinations of 'n' buildings and 'r' choices. In this case, there are only two choices per building so r = 2. If there are 25 buildings with choice quests tied to them, that's 300 possible combinations. If there are 50 such choice quests, that's 1225 possible tweaks to any given civilization. Would that make a difference in competitive games? I absolutely think it will!

What leads me to draw that conclusion is the health system. There is no happiness in CivBE like there was in Civ5. Firaxis has replaced it with health, and it works not at all the same. Basically, the more population you have the more negative health pressure you have on your civilization. This is mitigated by certain buildings, choice quests and technologies. But unlike happiness, it will not lead to revolt. What it does is decrease the overall efficiency of your civilization. If your health total is negative, you don't generate as mush science and culture as you would if the population was completely healthy. It also makes them less vigilant, and gives your opponents a better chance to pull off covert operation. But your opponent must take advantage of the Intrigue weakness, it is not punitively leveled against you by the game by having your city simply revolt and join a rival colony. I like that very much. I want my opponent to beat me because she played well, not because I played badly.

The other thing I am thoroughly enjoying trying to get my brain around is the new technology web. Rather than a linear progression as in Civs past, the technology of CivBE is, well, webified. Here's what I mean.

[caption id="attachment_3903" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Technology Web at Turn 250 Technology Web at Turn 250[/caption]

This is not the entire web. I have positioned the center of the web slightly left of center screen, so the far left side of the web is not visible. But what I wanted to show everyone is visible. In my first game of CivBE, I want to become the master of aliens. I want to fuse our human genome with the alien genome and produce hybrids. Think Phase IV on a planet far, far away: adapt or die! So after unlocking the interior ring of the technology web, I started marching my efforts off to the right. My goal is to reach Artificial Evolution. Then I want to figure out how to tame the alien wildlife and build a defensive buffer between myself and my fellow humans. It's not that I don't like them, but I know what they did to the last planet we had to leave. ;-) In Civ5, you were required to progress era by era. You had to discover practically every technology in an era to proceed to the next. You were FORCED to play linearly, and that always rankled me. Now I can simply ignore robotics and computers and engineering to concentrate on what really matters: deoxyribonucleic acid. That's the future. That's where I want to go in my first game of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

And that's a pretty good summary of the difference between this installment of the series and previous installments. By playing through humanities past, we were always constrained by that past. In terms of game play, the game dictated play, and there was little out-of-the-box thinking. Everyone knew if you wanted to win with Otto von Bismarck you had to do x, y and z - in that order. And frankly, computer algorithms are simply like that, and to one extent or another games all fall victim to that fact. But in CivBE, Firaxis has made an incredibly viable attempt to mitigate the linearity inherit in algorithms. It's still there, but when the number of lines you can progress down exceed the human ability to explore them all (and yes, I know that's a huge assumption on my part about the ability of gamers,) it seems from the human perspective you have all the freedom you could want. That's the strength of CivBE. That's why I believe it'll be more popular than any Civilization game before it. And to that point, here's the midnight release player count from last night.

And as of this moment, there are currently 83,320 players "in-game" according to Steam. That's well above the estimated 50k players needed to break into the Raptr Top 20 according to my prediction in Raptr Most Played PC Games: September 2014. That's a hit folks.


  1. The secrets of DNA? How human will your people end up being? Waiting for the price to start dropping a bit. Reinstalled steam yesterday, trying to be patient.... trying.... must... not weaken....

  2. I tried to resist an failed. You are a stronger person than I. :roll: As for how human will my people end up being, that's a matter of debate, but we plan on leaving all the faded and ripped genes behind us. Those are so 1970s! ;)

  3. Not to mention acid wash and tie dye. Your genes may never be quite the same again... :)

  4. I played and finished my first CivBE session yesterday after ~10 hours. Like you said, in a way it feels like being at home in a new place right from the start. :) It took a bit getting used to the new alien terrain and I think it sad units auto-upgrade, it gives the impression of way less unit diversity on the field. But I absolutely love love love the tech web and the decision quests :D

  5. I finished up this evening as well, in about the same amount of time. That's well planned. I didn't win, but I also didn't get wiped. I never lost a city. Never even went to war. Was only denounced once. Had I understood what I was doing with the tech web from the beginning, I'd have had a chance. But as it was I got no points toward any victory condition. LOL. Have fun!


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