Beta Impressions: GalCiv2: Twilight Of The Arnor

By Kieron Gillen on December 17th, 2007 at 8:48 am.

In my continuing attempt to purge all real-time elements from my PC playing – the gaming equivalent of a high fibre diet, probably – I’ve been spending a little time time playing the ongoing Beta of Galactic Civilization II: Twilight of the Arnor. While I’ve been meaning to return to GalCiv since Tom Francis’ brilliant GalCiv2: Dark Avatar diary (My personal favourite piece of games writing of 2007, for the record), and I figured this was a good an excuse as any. And I don’t need many excuses to make a Space Empire.

I wish I was a Super Dominator.

There wasn’t much good when I started playing. No, not the game. The game remains, from what I’ve played, one of the premier strategy games of the last few years. Me. There wasn’t much good in me.

Tales of interstellar brutality beneath the cut.

The key thing about the expansion pack is that rather than some kind of generalised new feature to explore, it’s concentrating on adding more detail to what already exists. In other words, each of the races gets their own customised tech-trees. While there’s enough familiar items for you to hang off, they’ve gone out of them to fit the actual races psychology and history. I’ve only bounced off the surface of the game playing a couple of the races so far, but Gamespy for a more general look across at the various races, I’ll point you over at this Gamespy preview.

Because I’m only going to talk about the Drengin.

The Drengin are one of the game’s better bastards, a hypermilitarised Klingon-esque animal race who enjoys slaughter and death and similar things which would raise Captain Piccard’s eyebrow. They’ve been a villainous force in previous games, with real punishing combat abilities and so on.

I’ve never played them. Believe it or not – and I know the constant meaness against poor old Walker may be evidence against it – but when it comes to games, I tend to be Mr Nice Guy. I end up as a light Jedi in KOTOR. Even in strategy games, I always lean to the friendly, diplomatic, tech-heavy, defensive-wars primarily routes. It’s just what seems decent. Clearly, I’m never going to play the Drengin. I’m not really wired that way…

I ended up doing so as I thought it’d be an easy way to note the differences between a more standard race and the alien mentalities. And – lo! it really is. For example, the normal tech victory in Vanilla Galactic Civilizations is ascending to become a higher form of life. And it is for the Drengin. But their quasi-mysticism is of a different bent than the others – it’s up the tech tree from pain amplification, a research boosting tech based around torture. Then, with the Visions of Agony, they actually explore what lies beyond the sensation of pain. This links to their entertainment systems, the Arena of Agony (upgraded to Slaughterdomes, brilliantly). The Drengin, the game explains, are a race based on the concept of reality. They don’t get a kick out of fiction. It makes no sense to them. Profoundly empathic creatures, they gain their pleasure by a restating of true and powerful emotions. Like pain. So they gather around, and watch people – not them, clearly – suffering.

You may dismiss this as fluff, but it does get you into character… especially when it effects the mechanics. For example, rather than a standard factory, Drengin build Slave pits. Great production, but they have a negative effect on your influence in your galaxy. So, as you expand, you see you cultural boundaries faltering beneath this cosmic snobbery. How dare they look down on you? So, you start playing aggressively out of this sleight.

So, yes, I find myself acting like a good Drengin, just because of what the tech-tree wires me to do. In fact, I go native.

I didn’t realise what was up until my first major offensive, against the precursor-obsessed Iconian race. I’m going about taking apart their infrastructure, invading their planets and generally acting like a rapacious monster. When I’m about to take on their homeworld, their diplomats finally approach me. They’re beat. They know they’re beat. They’ll give whatever I want – except their lands, it seems – just to end it.

So I ask for all those lovely tech and all their money. They accept. Peace! Beautiful peace! The Iconians rejoice.

My next assault ship packed full of elite assault troops is already in transit, with Genocide on their mind.

I’m laughing, very hard. In fact, the laugh crosses the boundary into cackling. Clearly, it’ll blow my reputation in the galactic senate. But – hey – it’s not as if I was planning on talking to any of them anyway.

Which part of “Drengin” didn’t they understand?

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20 Comments »

  1. simonkaye says:

    That sounds really excellent. GalCiv has actually eclipsed the Total War series in my affections over the last six months or so. It’s about the humour and the killer AI and the levels of management. The new tech trees should make things pretty interesting – I wonder, do they provide unique weapon technologies to different races, which interact in different ways? Rather than this missile/mass driver/laser thing?

  2. No Picnic says:

    “Slavery gets a lot of bad press but has a lot going on for it.”

    You disturb me.

  3. Bob Arctor says:

    Hmm, I didn’t get on with the Galciv demo, but it does sound good. However I’ve still got CivIV and a degree to get through. Gah.

    Sounds like being the Hive on SMAC. Good times with Planet Busters.

    GalcivII with expansions > SMAC ?

  4. Piratepete says:

    I have just started playing game after reading the excellent Tom Francis diary and I am now totally hooked.

    My first game of any significance saw me adopt Ian M Banks ‘The Culture’ as a custom race with the usual points in espionage (re Contact), research based and manufacturing based bonuses. What I didn’t realise that by the end of that game, not only would I have come from behind (as it where) , but I would also win a spectacular victory in a style worthy of the Culture itself.

    The colony rush finished and I found myself with a paltry 4 planets two 10+ and two about level 6 so i had a two manufacturing economics planet and two research planets. I had an economic resource near my manufacturing planets and a research resource by my research planets, so i plonked a couple of starbases on them, but did nothing else with them.

    Due to some random building choices i had made, and thought wise to sort, out I found myself out of money, and low on the rankings of the most powerful Civs. As i was in such a poor position i began to rule myself out of the game and just played it on to learn the game a bit better. So in the spirit of knowing I had lost I built a small fleet of what i thought were impressive (looking anyway) ship and went to tickle the Korx dominion. One mid space combat later and I was shipless, there attack vessels having 12 att on mass drivers ripping through my shields and decimating my 2 att lasers.

    Frantic diplomacy and if i do say so myself, some royal sucking up, prevented invasion of the prosaically named Custom Homeworld, and the destruction of the Culture. So I made a couple of those weak ships in orbit of each planet. just as any form of defence.

    Peace returned to the galaxy for a few years, I built my starbases up, sorted my money out to the point where I realised although I was the weakest Civ, all of a sudden I was doing 45% of the galactic research and had max miniturisation phasors and some decent anti mass drivers shields, i also had about 20k credits in the bank.

    It was at that point that this small fat prize entered the radar of the Korx, and they invaded, heading towards my system was a couple of fleets and 2 decidedly large ominous looking ships.

    In a panic I decided I needed to defend. So I took the old ship design, removed the Ion drives, added warp, added a number of phasors, decided my valiant pilots didn’t need shield, and started banging out phasor bees at one a turn.

    By the time they arrived I upgraded all the old ships to phasor bees and had 5 spare in a fleet ready to intercept. I realised there engines weren’t too good but knew they must have some decent weapons as they couldn’t have sat around twiddling there thumbs all this time.

    I was wrong. The phasor bees ripped through the Dorx like a scalpel through alien flesh. One fleet fell then another, but the whole lot were wiped out by the frigates.

    At this point I had just finished researching huge ships, so I drew up plans for ‘Don’t mess’ ( after Don’t f**k with the Culture if you have read the novels). I also made a warp transport for my shock troops to invade their planets.

    literally a month after watching all my small ships go into the shipyard for a major refit, this, well, this thing a monstroity of impossible gantries, odd looking pods and 5 phasors hoved into earths orbit. It wasn’t pretty but by hell was it effective. Bought with my treasure chest it didn’t even enter the combat screen against the frigate, it just chewed em up.

    One by one the Dorx planets fell as the ‘Don’t mess’ sundered everything they could throw at me, followed by warp transports that couldn’t be made quick enough takijng the planets easily in its wake, don’t mess was followed by ‘Don’t f**k’ and nothing stood in the way of these behemoths. In a coup de grace I formed a star federation with the other races (who were by now shitting themselves and throwing bags of cash at me), and by the time the last planet fell I was on for a diplomacy victory.

    I think it was the sheer joy of coming back from nowhere, this little defenceless corner of the galaxy, backward poor and shipless, was provoked and just went to town on the big boys, and showed them the true nature of galactic power.

    I love this game to bits. No really I do. I haven’t even met the Dread Lords yet.

  5. Jim Rossignol says:

    “Super Dominator”

  6. Piratepete says:

    I liked my wifes ship name she came up with this morning

    Galactic charm offensive

    hehe

  7. Piratepete says:

    is it customary to burst into fits of muhahaha whilst playing?

    Can’t wait for the expansion

  8. Tim says:

    Absolutely, evil cackles abound! I’m going to play this right now!

  9. MisterBritish says:

    I’d missed that blog before; utterly fantastic.

    I read his brilliant HL2 gnome thing too, and I want more of the funny. Is there anything similar written by PCG/RPS that I might have missed?

  10. Bob Arctor says:

    Wow. I now have to get it to come up with stupidly long ship names after the Culture.

    So many good games. So little time.

  11. Vexor says:

    The Tom Francis diary sold this game to me. Superb game, if only I could find my copy!

  12. Pidesco says:

    That Tom Francis thing is amazing.

  13. The_B says:

    Mister British: You could do what I do and breadrumb your way through most of the Future gaming writers via their blogrolls. There’s some excellent stuff within most of them.

    Not that I condone cyber-stalking in any way. Oh no. ¬_¬

    (Also Tom should totally start putting adverts just on that post. He’d be raking in the extra dough… :P )

  14. David says:

    The best thing about GalCiv2? Definitely the way that the game keeps on maturing; I hate to say it, but it makes me think that it’s the kind of thing CCP would have come up with if they’d made a single-player game. Definitely a title worth of respect.

  15. Feet says:

    I am so going to get the hang of this game with this expansion pack. Mark me. Mainly cause I love TBS games and I love Stardock for being brave and shipping with no anti-piracy gubbins. Plus, ofcourse, it helps that it’s an awesome fun game.

    Just a shame that there’s no MP to go with the awesome SP and SP AI. I appreciate that the game is better as a focused SP game, but nevertheless Civ4 MP has proved how good TBS MP can be if done right.

  16. Funkula says:

    Never got that into GalCiv 2 before now. It just couldn’t displace Alpha Centauri (with its major faction differences and superior tech tree) or MoO2 (with its tactical combat and again superior tech tree) from their TBS pedestals. Sounds like this expansion addresses those issues aside from tactical combat. I’ll definitely have to give it another go.

  17. Piratepete says:

    Doh and I’ve just discovered I was playing vanilla galciv 2 and not Dark Avatar. Silly Boy

  18. Paul Moloney says:

    That Tom Francis diary is great, alright, and I’m tempted to try the game myself even if space strategy is not exactly my forte.

    P.

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