Note: these are a random grab-bag of completely unsolicited reviews. Anything I mention I have purchased or used at full price. Recommendations are not meant to take the place of your active investigation. This post will likely have nothing to do about politics.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth
Developed by Firaxis Games and released on October 24, 2014, Civilization Beyond Earth was billed as the spiritual successor to a game I loved when I was younger: Alpha Centauri. Briefly, the setup is that several factions leave Earth and travel to a new planet.
Civilization Beyond Earth has a great deal of promise, but the game as released feels more like a demo than a fully realized game. While the plot is similar to Alpha Centauri (which is not a bad thing at all), the game feels like a clone of Civilization V.
If you are unfamiliar with the Civilization series up to this point, they are turn-based strategy games that allow the player to pick a historical figure and build a nation from the beginning of time through the not-too-distant future. The games have never been about the history per se (when you have problems with Gandhi launching pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Augustus, you aren’t that close to a historical simulation). The real fun of the games was progressing through technology and attempting to either race to a science victory or dominate the competition.
Civilization V was, arguably, the best iteration of the Civilization series. It maximized what the series did well while optimizing the way the game ran. From a stability perspective, I was very happy with it. Civilization V always gave me a few good hours of gameplay but I was never hooked enough to really be interested enough to reload a previous save on another day.
Civilization: Beyond Earth simply feels too much like an expansion pack to the science victory of Civilization V. While Beyond Earth does allow for interesting initial perks or foci, and does allow for branching and customization with affinities, I have yet to find myself truly caring about or defining my “nation.” I think the reason behind this is that in Civilization V I didn’t have to. If I was playing as the Romans, I know enough in terms of historical context to know who the Romans were. Therefore the mighty Roman sieges of Washington DC, while ridiculous, played enough on my imagination so as not to break immersion. Beyond Earth simply has yet to define for me why the blue colored people have issues with the red colored people.
I don’t mean to be too negative. Despite the fact that most of the gameplay mechanics are the same, the game developers clearly knew what worked in Civilization V. and decided not to take too much of a risk in Beyond Earth. The systems all work and the learning curve is not steep. Add to that the fact that the game is very appealing visually. Though I haven’t pushed to the maximum settings, I have yet to experience a real slowdown even into the late game.
In sum, future expansions, which will likely come in the form of DLC (I’ll spare you the rant about the utter obnoxious nature of DLC for now) could increase customization and provide a greater degree of diversity in gameplay. There is some replay value here but it starts to die off after a few playthroughs.
In sum, Civilization: Beyond Earth is a spiritual successor to Civilization V. I would like to see improvements to the game in order to appreciate it as a worthy successor to Alpha Centauri.
Rating: 6.5⁄10 with room to improve.
Europa Universalis IV: Art of War Expansion
Europa Universalis IV is one of the best grand strategy games ever produced. While there are some bugs and flaws with the game, the epic nature of the gameplay spanning the entire globe from the years leading up to the fall of Constantinople up through the Age of Exploration and into the Revolutionary Era, is immense and entertaining.
As an aside, any parent who has a kid who is interested at all in history should buy this game. Your kid won’t even know he or she is learning. Europa Universalis IV has a steep learning curve as you must manage all the facets of whichever nation on the planet you choose, from military to economy to trade to internal religious conflict.
Though Europa Universalis IV bills itself as a history simulator, the game quickly diverts from our recognized historical timeline. I welcome this. Each game will not proceed in the same way and it makes for a fun and dynamic game every time you play.
This background aside, the reason I am taking the time to write a review is that on October 30, 2014, Paradox Interactive released an expansion to Europa Universalis IV called “The Art of War.” Previous expansions “Wealth of Nations” and “Conquest of Paradise” had been appreciated and provided solid advancements to the game. However, “Art of War” clearly listened to the concerns about the game and undertook to overhaul certain mechanics that enhanced an already impressive game.
In particular, the added customization of vassals, as well as a complete change to the revolts system made the game both more accessible and immersive. As a fan of customization, any additions where I get more freedom to take actions that any King in my position would be free to take, I appreciate it. Paradox attempts to stay faithful to its desire to have Europa Universalis IV be a historical simulator. I appreciate that, but my inner tyrant would much rather more of the reins of power be turned over to me. For example, rather than merely being able to choose between government types, I would appreciate the ability to define my ruling style in depth (one of the very effective features of the Hearts of Iron series also from Paradox).
Any gripes I may have with Europa Universalis IV are miniscule next to how much I love the game. If you don’t mind the fact that playing the game will make your afternoon disappear, you should definitely get a copy of the game.
Rating: 9.0/10 (Not perfect because there needs to be motivation to continue to improve.)