Civilization Beyond Earth: 200 Turns On The Final Frontier

A whole new world. A new fantastic point of view.

…I’m so sorry.

However, I am pleased to report that sci-fi strategy game Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is not simply Civ V with green face paint on. It has the same hexes and it does have much of the same infrastructure as its historical-themed predecessor, but its transformation into something alien goes far more than miasma-coated skindeep. The essential framework of Civ remains, but the final frontier – for the 200 turns with beta code I’ve spent there – requires a very different sort of thinking.

Most pointedly, an alien is not a barbarian. Where, back on Earth, centuries ago, I fought against roaming angry, hairy dudes, now I’m up against house-sized, poison-lobbing manticores and clouds of massive green insects, spawned at a faintly traumatic rate from the nests that litter the surface of the world you’re attempting to colonise. In Beyond Earth, simply getting your first colony established is a challenge; getting a second colony up and running is a BFD.

To some degree I’m over the hump once I have got to the point of colony 2, and have clambered up a few tech tree branches, but much depends on how the alien nests are placed. In my first five games of CBE, there was a clutch of nests basically right next door to my starting settlement. Getting an Explorer past them was a suicide mission most of the time – although they wouldn’t always attack – and my resource and population-light colony just couldn’t crank out enough soldiers to get rid of the small, regenerating swarm in a timely fashion.

My settlement itself wasn’t in enormous danger, although a massive worm-thing which arrived at about turn 50 did a number on the improvements I’d built around it, but all I could really do was survive. Trading with other civilizations or micro-nations wasn’t yet viable because the scaly bastards camped outside my door would kill all my envoys – at least until I’d picked a particular bit of research – and to build a Pioneer for a second colony was risking tons of spending and waiting on something that might well get nobbled too.

This is the frontier of frontiers. This isn’t Earth. Making any progress in an alien world should be tough. Small wins, tiny progress: I’m attempting the hitherto impossible, after all.

There’s also a creeping anxiety that maybe I shouldn’t be killing these aliens at all. While they’re aggressive – particularly if I send units too close to their nests – they were here first. Here I am – as well as potential chums or rivals from the likes of Franco-Iberia and the Pan-Asian Co-operative (which sounds like a specialist UK supermarket) – building farms and mines and reactors all over their world.

With my preview build limited to 200 turns, I don’t yet know if there will be later consequences or options, but right now I’m being reminded of another Civilization spin-off, Colonization. That offered the choice to work with or butcher the Native American population as my colonies expanded, and while I’m not going to be trading sugar with pissed-off giant alien insects, I wonder if demolishing the resources they live off so I can lay down roads and generators is the right thing to do. We shall, much later on, see.

The business of survival, interwoven with a vague agonising about whether I should expunge or work around the chitinous natives, means I spend little time courting or challenging the other human factions who have arrived here. I haven’t yet chosen to be warlike, so I quickly agree to offers of open borders and unspecific co-operation, doing my best to keep everyone sweet. This is familiar fare: Kavitha Thakur of the Kavithan Protectorate wants me to join their war on Samatar Jam Barre of The African Union. I politely decline.

Some Relationships cool to Neutral rather than friendly as I try to be all things to all nations, but no shots are fired. Hopefully that means everyone’s as busy as I am with the business of simply surviving. It’s slow and difficult work, but I send out pioneers to establish new settlements, I reluctantly beat back the aliens who block the path, and my settlements are gradually blessed with new buildings and improvements.

Then, as the land becomes too full, I settle that little bit too close to a Pan-Asian Co-Operative city. I thought it would be fine – everyone’s chummy around here. Then their leader, Daoming Sochua, declares war. I’m overcome by horror. I’m simply not ready for this.

The PAC are frighteningly militarised. Where I’d been fighting a war of attrition against the aliens with a small handful of regularly-murdered Marines and Combat Rovers, they’d clearly squandered nothing, and had quietly amassed an army of missile wielding rovers, which have appeared almost instantaneously at my doorstep.

After two harrowing turns in which my inability to defend myself is incontestably demonstrated, The Kavithans decide to join in, though I have never once provoked them. The ARC also decide to join in, though I have never once provoked them either. They’ve scented blood – they’re nowhere near my fight against the PAC, but I do have other settlements near them and they now know there’s almost nothing to protect them. Open goals. Evil in their hearts, all this time.

I miss shooting angry alien insects. I also realise that I spent too much time shooting angry alien insects, then worrying about whether I should be shooting angry insects. I chose poorly. I chose a mixed approach – peace to my fellow humans, tempered aggression towards aliens, and a research path that was a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever sounded cool. Out on this distant world, I can’t afford to be so vague and speculative. This is a hostile place, and a priceless goal for all who settle here, and I need to be far more determined and resolute than I ever was on Earth.

There are many familiar things here, and many unfamiliar things too, but what I haven’t been able to have is complacence. Where Earth – where Civilization – was primarily about expansion, this is much more about survival. It requires more caution, more adaptation to a fast-changing playing field, and much more understanding than I currently have. New technology awaits me if I can make it far enough; hell, victory even awaits me at some point. If I want any of that, I simply can’t rely on the old ways.

To come out of character – though I’m not entirely sure I was ever in it – this isn’t Alpha Centauri, but equally it’s not Civilization V. There might be many familiar streets here, but the layout is all out different. What I’ve played has lacked the relative immediacy and the early small triumphs of a traditional Civ game, and there were times (specifically where pushing past the early flocks of aliens seemed an endless and brutal task) when I worried it might not be for me, but those factors have been approached by a more palpable sense of struggle, giving me some measure of the pioneering spirit this game and its theme is all about.

All that said, I’m still not entirely sure what manner of creature this wants to be. Particularly, through all I’ve done there have also been some simmering sub-plots, about progenitor races and augmented humans. Told through sporadic pop-up text usually involving quick choice of response – each with a different resource bonus – they’ve yet to draw me much into the fiction, but I wonder if far greater consequences await me later.

All told, I’m keen to see what happens past turn 200, and what happens if and when I can be in ascendancy rather than simply scrabbling in the dirt.

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth will be released on October 24th. We’ll do all we can to offer you a verdict on it on or before that date.

47 Comments

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Staring teeth tag, please.

  2. hantheman says:

    Sounds ace! Here’s hoping the AI is up to scratch

    • Shadow says:

      If Alec’s war against the PAC is any indication, things are looking good on that front.

    • MattM says:

      That’s my biggest question. I like civ V, but it would be so much better if the AI could play the mid and end game with a sense of purpose and skill.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    Will be interesting to give this a go. It doesn’t seem like it’s retreating SMAC’s steps (which is in a way good, since trying to remake SMAC would probably just disappoint). It’s interesting they’re going for speculative future-factions based on geography rather than ideology – one of the things I really liked about SMAC was how each faction had its own character that went down to how they played, with the Believers having weak but fiercely loyal troops, while the Morganites had big cities but couldn’t expand too much for fear of working-class rebellion, despite everyone having the same basic stuff. No doubt they have similar plans for ideology, but it’s not clear to me that, say, Francespain has such an obviously radically different character in terms of social policy to The Asians. It’s also clear that they didn’t think much of the red-brown palette of SMAC, which is a decision I grudgingly respect. Also give me some Plato or Taoist poetry or I’ma start flipping tables here.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Are the tables flipped yet?

    • Rizlar says:

      I think it’s this video: link to youtube.com that shows how ideology is approached in the game. The video itself might be a bit spoilery and the audio de-syncs which makes it a pain in the arse to follow, so it may be summarised as: starting civilisation dictates certain bonuses, but specialising in tech dictates what direction and ideology your faction takes. It seems to be all about your choices as a player shaping your ideology and how that influences your civilisation.

      Think it’s this video: link to youtube.com which shows the starting civilisations and other starting choices, explains how they could potentially interact with later specialisations. Again, it’s probably a bit spoilery but I couldn’t resist watching them.

      • Gap Gen says:

        My point was mainly how it works in terms of fiction. The University and The Gaians are very clear statements about what the faction is about, whereas it’s less clear from geographical regions what the ideology should be, unless you’re entering the racial stereotype territory (although TBH SMAC did have an Asian person raising hordes of faceless drones). Doesn’t mean that it won’t have an interesting backstory, just that SMAC was deliberately thematically clear as to what it was doing, whereas it’s not clear that Africa or Francespain have such clear meanings divorced from their original geography.

        • Rizlar says:

          Fair enough, I haven’t played Alpha Centauri. But from what you were saying about the Believers and Morganites, it sounded a lot more like this ‘affinity system’ in Beyond Earth than the starting civs.

          • Tssha says:

            That would, in fact, be inaccurate. Thematically and mechanically, the factions of Alpha Centauri are quite distinct from the affinities of C: BE.

            And in any case, we all know the arc of AC was the Harmony victory. It was, after all, known as Transcendence.

            Well, it was transcend, or be wiped out by a semi-conscious planet. Obviously, awakening the planet was the better choice.

          • Shadow says:

            To be honest, the SMAC factions were single-minded stereotypes. Well-developed and all, but one-dimensional nonetheless. CivBE’s factions might be harder to discern at a glance, sure, but I don’t think being unable to instantly tell what a faction is all about (i.e. space capitalists, space hippies, space scientists, space religious nuts) is necessarily bad. CivBE’s ultimately do have a theme, as evidenced by their unique ability, but they also give the impression there’s more depth to them than what’s readily apparent.

        • MrUnimport says:

          I find Polystralia especially baffling.

    • Phantasma says:

      Came here to lay into the same thing.

      I’d imagine in a very globalised future the prerequisites for leaving your life, your society, your whole planet behind, would be joining up with a faction, who you share a certain philosophy or lifestyle with… and not just boarding the colony ship with the most convenient commute time from your flat.

      How meaningful can the sole notion of a national state as a cultural bracket be, when the borders of your antetype are lightyears away.

      This and a few other strange design decisions make me wonder, how well Firaxis thought this all through.
      I hope the gameplay will fare better.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        I’m going to take a wild guess that you grew up in the US where they have that pilgrim fathers myth.

        • Phantasma says:

          Yep, that was pretty wild indeed :-).

          Then maybe i just lack the right sense of national pride (living in a small country full of naysayers might have something to do with it), because i would not automatically board the “Tu Felix Austria” rocket, just because my fellow neighbours built it.

          On reflection, it would be hilarious.

      • wengart says:

        I imagine it would realistically be much like the colonization of the new world. People from Nation A go to the place and see themselves as people of that nation. Given sufficient time and distance they begin to develop their own identity independent of their point of orgiin.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Yes! That poetry! SMAC introduced me to Li Po (or Li Bao or one of those various transliterations) and he is lovely.

  4. Commander Gun says:

    “Trading with other civilizations or micro-nations wasn’t yet viable”

    I missed that there were micro-nations in this game as well. I assume they are basically the same as city-states in Civ V?

    • wondermoth says:

      I’ve watched a couple of the Firaxis live streams, and have yet to see anything that resembled a city state. I might be wrong.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        There are smaller human outposts from somewhat failed colonization.

        A big difference between them and city states is that outposts are not eternal. If they do not receive goods from trading partners they can stagnate and die off.

  5. Premium User Badge

    AliasRY says:

    “After two harrowing turns in which my inability to defend myself is incontestably demonstrated, The Kavithans decide to join in, though I have never once provoked them. The ARC also decide to join in, though I have never once provoked them either. They’ve scented blood – they’re nowhere near my fight against the PAC, but I do have other settlements near them and they now know there’s almost nothing to protect them. Open goals. Evil in their hearts, all this time. ”

    And this is why I can’t get into Civ games anymore. I loved playing CIv 4, but somewhere along the line my tastes in games changed. Both you and the AI in Civ games plays to win, but I just want to faff around. I want a more living breathing world, more simulation than anything else, where the AI civs and nations living and breathing and not just trying to win the game. I look around, and I see a barren wasteland for the type of game I want. The Last Federation had some of the right ideas, but that’s not really 4x. Paradox games are restricted in scope by their time-spans, history and perceptions of history.

    • Ryuuga says:

      This! I tend to find war tiresome and uninteresting in every Civ game I’ve played yet. I want to build a wonderful place and see it prosper, build wonders, see wonders. I want to trade, research, maybe favor a friendly or interesting fellow nation. Or follow the plot, as in SMAC. The plot things outlined above seem really intriguing!

      Thus I always end up lowering the difficulty until the other nations are not really a threat, and I can get on with just building the hugest empire possible. Though at some point that does lose steam, generally basically when you are done exploring and expanding, and I’ve got most of the wonders built.

      • Quiffle says:

        A combination of more appropriate map settings and better diplomacy on the players would address the issues people are bringing up here. There’s also the option of playing one of the many fantastic city building games out there where combat isn’t much of a factor!

    • Rizlar says:

      Yes! Except I’m still pretty curious about Beyond Earth. Played a lot of Civ 5 too, but never with a view to win, it still allowed a fair amount of space for just faffing around. And then if I stuck with a game I’d end up with a cultural victory more often than not anyway….

      But CBE looks pretty exciting. The first turns of Civ 5 were always the most interesting for me, when you are trying to survive and adapt to the environment. The way the aliens work in CBE seems designed to extend this unpredictable environment throughout the game. Who knows how it will turn out overall, I will wait for reviews before thinking about buying it anyway, but I hope it doesn’t turn out more competitive than meditative.

    • Superpat says:

      I’d really like to see a civ game where every city is an independent agent, like the feudal lords in ck2, where city states are simply cities that have not yet joined a nation or have instead severed these ties. It would allow for a truly dynamic 4x game I believe.

      Also, has the site brought out a review for Endless Legends or am I just blind?

    • AngoraFish says:

      Please somebody make this game.

  6. Jeroen D Stout says:

    “The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.”
    — Sister Miriam Godwinson, “A Blessed Struggle”

    • Tssha says:

      “As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism.

      Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart, he dreams himself your master.”
      — Commissioner Pravin Lal, U.N. Declaration of Rights

    • Kollega says:

      “Greetings, inferior beings of Polaris. Does your life lack a sense of purpose? Do you constantly worry about finding steady income? Do you like killing stuff? Then join the Imperial Army and aid me in my humble quest for galactic domination! Here you’ll travel to new places, meet interesting people, and execute them in the name of… ME.

      Somewhere in this galaxy is the filthy Lombax Secret, responsible for the Cragmite defeat! As an official Tachyon Trooper your job will be to ravage every planet untill it is found! Leave no stone unturned! No rebel spared! Exterminate anyone who stands in your way! All for a tidy salary and competitive benefits package.”

      – Emperor Percival Tachyon, some game that no-one has ever heard about

      • MacTheGeek says:

        “I’m not even supposed to BE here today!”

        — Subcontractor Gad Zooks, hired at the last minute to examine and possibly retrofit a small exhaust port on the Empire’s newest and biggest space station

    • Arglebargle says:

      “You could see them in there. You could hear them. It was a thing of terrible beauty.”

  7. Philopoemen says:

    I wonder how this will compare (other than much higher production values) with Slitherine’s Pandora: First Contact, which has just had its first DLC pop out.

    Similar premise (both are homages to SMAC), with the aliens in Pandora being a major stumbling block.

    Given I’m in Oz, I’m debating whether CBE is worth the $90 buy-in

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Really? It must have been changed then since Pandora was released on Steam… before that they were just an annoyance after the early game…

  8. Laurentius says:

    Firaxis game, Alec Meer, huge coverage, of course. This game is not even out for a whole month, where is WIT for Endless:Legend (you know the game that have ads all over your site ) ? Is Mr Smith slacking already ?

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      My Smith is working on the Endless Legend WIT right now!

    • jalf says:

      You’re literally saying that RPS should give special treatment to games they run adverts for?

      That seems… kind of problematic.

      • Bobka says:

        I read it more as, “Are you so enthralled by big-name franchises that even the ads on your own site aren’t enough to remind you that there are other games out there?”

        Not that I’m endorsing the criticism, mind; RPS should write what it wants about whatever games it wants. But it doesn’t seem to be a suggestion of collusion with advertisers.

  9. BlueTemplar says:

    Hmm, looks like that “alien aggression” might need to be somewhat toned down?

  10. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    This does sound pretty promising. As a huge fan of Alpha Centauri, I appreciate them not just trying to put out a prettied-up remake but going for some new ideas. After all, I can play AC anytime.

    If people are looking for in-depth reviews of Pandora – or space 4X games in general – try spacesector.com.

  11. Dominare says:

    So I’m getting the impression that the game is also slower paced overall? In a standard speed game of civ 5, turn 200 is often the beginning of the final push to victory and most games rarely last beyond 250 or so…

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Not necessarily : getting stuck fighting barbarians/mind worms has an effect like that.

  12. strangeloup says:

    Is a samatar jam barre something you can buy at the Pan-Asian Co-operative?

    I might be hungry.

  13. uh20 says:

    In standard Civ games luck in the first rounds is exponentially more powerful than luck in the late game. the more powerful alien “camps” definitely seem to be promoting luck over strategy. While Civ V was in my opinion already well balanced between luck and skill.

    in other news: FIX MULTIPLAYER!

  14. buxcador says:

    I only want to know a single thing, and that is a deal-breaker:

    Do time between turns takes ages to be processed?

    I was fan to all CIV games, from the first to the V, but on latest versions, the time between turns was too large, even with an i7 with lot of memory and top video cards.

    I tried everything to make it faster, even replacing the off-the-shell dll and other libraries used in CIV with newer, faster ones, but it did little improvement. The game was unplayable.

    I have up to 8 threads (4 cores), but CIV wastes all of them.

    That made me abandon the CIV saga, and I will not return until that’s fixed.