Civilization: Only Very Slightly Beyond Earth, more like. While perfectly serviceable, Firaxis’ sci-fi themed strategy spin-off proved far too reluctant to step out of Civ V’s shadow for my tastes, and I haven’t been at all tempted to go back. Conventional wisdom had it that an add-on might add the verve and variety it needs, but it turns out there’s a 2.0 update planned which may (or may not) get Beyond Earth back into orbit.
Details on exactly what the update will do, but Firaxis revealed it – and most importantly their reasons for doing it – at a GDC talk last week, as reported on by Polygon. Lead devs David McDonough and Will Miller bandied around terms such as “a little bit of lack of ambition,” “pulled our punches a little bit”, and “conservative”, all of which ring true and which they partially ascribe to reverence to Civs past and partially to not having a widespread beta test with which to gather player feedback.
Particularly singled out as a misstep is the game’s diplomacy system, which I did find to be pretty thin. As McDonough and Miller point out, the Civ games benefit from the leaders of rival civilizations having famous names and faces – Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth and so forth. Those mean something to players even before they start playing, and in turn lead to reasons to like or hate them, and as the talk cited, giggles such as Ghandhi lobbing a nuke at you. Beyond Earth’s leaders, by contrast, were created specifically for the game, but the devs decided to let players’ imaginations flesh out their personalities rather than do much to make them characterful.
I think it’s true that rival civs in BE seemed like one-dimensional pop-up faces who were randomly friendly or aggressive, and often seemed irritating as a result. Diplomacy “just fell flat”, admit the devs. I’m not sure what the fix is there – there’s reference to more backstory and dialogue having been written but not used – but I’ll certainly be fascinated to see whether Beyond Earth 2.0, due within ‘the next few months’ really can add more personality to what was a disappointingly dry game.
Also mentioned as being underwhelming and possibly in for a tweak was Beyond Earth’s wonders, which similarly lacked the resonance of having real world analogues and not too much in the way of punchy supporting fiction.
Of course, diplomacy, dialogue and big buildings were just a few of CBE’s shortcomings. I’d really like to see the fiddly, muted quest system overhauled, more alien variety, more planet types, more meaningful ways to win. But it’s not fair to ask quite so much of what sounds like a free update. If they can get CBE back on its feet with a patch, maybe there’ll be scope to really set a fire under it with a later expansion pack after all.
We’ll see how substantial the update is, but in theory this is a wonderful thing to do, and one they didn’t have to, given the history of add-on packs. If they can turn this ship around with something they give out for free, then more power to their elbow.
I really wish I’d been at that talk (well, I wish I’d been at GDC), by the way. It sounds as though it was pretty candid, and there was probably more to glean about Beyond Earth’s future.