If you haven’t seen already, Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth was released today, and our review is on the way soon. Until we take to the stars, we’ll give you a little history lesson and talk about the previous game in the series, Civ V. In a nutshell, Civilization is about building a civilisation from the ground up, be it starting with the skills and resources of hunter gatherers and progressing past the point of modern society, or jumping into the middle of a pre-existing timeline, like American colonials.
I’ll admit now that I’m new to strategy games. And by new, I mean that I’ve plugged around one hundred hours into a few and I’m still awful at all of them. Civ V is no exception. With a complicated base game and two major expansions on top (Gods And Kings and Brave New World), I’m amazed at anyone who has devoted the time to consider themselves competent. With standard matches lasting up to and over ten hours, split into multiple sections, with different strategies for each, the number of subtleties to play is countless, and can make all the difference between a glorious victory and a resounding failure.
It would follow, then, that the best bit about Civ V would be the smug sense of satisfaction when you smear the last opposing world leader into the ground, shoot off into outer space, or win by whatever other means your strategy has led toward. Having never won a match, I wouldn’t know.
Despite my lack of victories in Civ V, I’ve still felt rewarded for my time spent on it, even if that time was just to watch my humble village metastasize into a world-consuming dystopia, or to stand bitterly in the shadow of a cultural giant. Like most competitive games, the learning curve is long and harsh, but the return is worth the investment. Discovering simple tricks, finding strategies to escape from previously impossible situations, and picking a personal style of play are what strategic games are all about.
At their core, strategy games like Civ should be slow and methodical. Each move should be part of an encompassing plan that’s ready to readjust itself for any given scenario. Whether you’re an avid tactician, or a newbie that’s learning the ropes, the range of speeds offered in Civ will suit all but the most impatient of players, letting them play out their master plans or rush through to get an idea of how not to die.
The AI. Either I have a rose-tinted view of the world, or civilisations in Civ V declare war at an alarmingly high frequency. Engaging other leaders is like an awkward dance where I’m continually treading on my partner’s toes, and their toes are also nuclear launch buttons. It seems that whether you choose to expand your horizons or plant your roots from the very beginning, other leaders will never be happy with your choices. To make matters worse, combat with other leaders generally leads to wars of attrition, either in the form of a stalemate along your respective borders, or in individual battles spreading over hundreds of in-game years.
Compound this with the enormous length of each game, and Civ V has the potential to become more terrifying than any horror game. Hours of work can be torn apart, and it can be difficult to tell exactly when your successful stint took a wrong turn. It’s exhilarating, and it’s addictive, but the urge to succeed pushes you into playing for longer than planned, completely without notice. Minor victories will fall under your belt, and you’ll begin to feel like progress is being made again, and when you finally muster the courage to click save and exit, you’ll realise that years have passed and wild animals are living in your house.
If you don’t own either Civ V or Beyond Earth, choosing one or the other is a tough choice. Beyond Earth won’t start with the benefit of expansion packs, meaning any potential balancing issues or underdeveloped features won’t be amended for while. Civ V has the boon of these expansions, and years of modders fine-tuning details that didn’t suit them and adding content where they felt it was lacking. The complete edition of Civ V is available on Steam for around £35 (or cheaper in sales), whereas Beyond Earth will set you back about £40, now that the pre-purchase sale is over.
Beyond Earth has that new car smell and is filled with new ideas, so it’s up to you whether the slight difference in price is worth it for a flashier and (hopefully) mechanically superior game. If that doesn’t take your fancy, Civilization V remains a good alternative for any strategy loving fan.