A First Look At Galactic Civilizations III: Mercenaries

When last we left Galactic Civilizations III [official site], our very own Space General Adam Smith had looked out upon the twinkly stars of the heavens and proclaimed (paraphrasing), “It’s good, but in need of a few expansions, maybe.” And nobody defies the demands of a Space General.

Which is to say Stardock just announced the game’s first meaty expansion, Galactic Civilizations III: Mercenaries.

I’m guessing the title is pretty self-explanatory on this one. You need a ship that can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs? Or maybe want to hire another guy who can take that first guy and permanently freeze him in carbonite? Maybe we can work something out, provided you don’t mind jizz bands. Just head on down to the Galactic Bazaar.

The Galactic Bazaar (a fancy name for “gridded menu”) is where you can look through and hire mercenaries to bolster aspects of your fledgling empire, provided you have the gold and resources to afford them.

Mercenaries act sort of like Hero Units in Galactic Civilizations III. You’re not building a whole army from these soldiers of fortune. For one, they’re expensive. Early in the game, a single mercenary could bankrupt you.

But more importantly, they’re entirely unique—unique ship design, unique back story, and unique skills. For instance, you might hire a small, nimble ship that bolsters your beam weapons, then send him out at the head of an army. Want the jump on exploration? There’s a mercenary that boosts the range of your entire fleet. Or if morale’s falling in your industrial center? Hire a party barge, place it in orbit, and watch it rise.

“The mercenaries feature is kind of an obvious one in hindsight,” said Stardock’s Brad Wardell when I met with him to discuss the expansion earlier this week. “I’ve been making iterations of Galactic Civilizations since I was in my twenties, and it never occurred to me to have a ship with special abilities.”

Research, weapons, production: whatever it is, it seems like Stardock’s got a mercenary that affects it in some way. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few secret, “just for fun” units sprinkled in the mix, given I only saw a small fraction of what’s in the game.

Mercenaries are not procedurally-generated, but I was told there’s a fairly large pool which the game draws from. You’ll only see maybe twenty or thirty (I didn’t get a chance to check) mercenaries in the Bazaar every game, randomly selected.

As the game progresses these mercenaries are gradually snapped up by the competing factions, at which time they’re gone—contractually obligated to serve whatever misguided empire they signed on with. I wish there were some sort of mechanic to lure mercenaries away, maybe by offering even more money, but as it stands Wardell says contracts are ’til death do they part. The game becomes a race between “Snagging that super-powered mercenary before anyone else” and “Don’t want to run out of money too early.”

There’s an interesting caveat/side effect, though. By cherry-picking mercenaries, you tacitly reveal your strategy to your opponents. Want that guy who boosts your beam-weapons? Fine, but now everyone will know they’re likely to encounter beam weapons in the future, and may focus on countering that advantage.

Hero Units aren’t exactly a new idea. Wardell is the first to mention that when I talk to him, but he also says that “Once you play the game with these guys, it’s really hard to go back.”

I’m tempted to believe him. It seems like an important meta shake-up for the game, and the twist – that these heroes are faction-agnostic rather than a symbolic “leader” unit for each race — is pretty fascinating. I’m reminded of a similar neutral-heroes mechanic from Warcraft III.

There’s also potentially Steam Workshop support in the works, for those who want new mercenaries and don’t mind a little copyright infringement. It won’t be in the expansion at launch, but Wardell said there’s a strong chance it arrives in a later update. Looking at the Workshop’s collection of custom ships, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before you’ve got your Boba Fett/Riddick/Space Rambo in Galactic Civilizations III.

It’s not all dubious black-market deals and war profiteering in Mercenaries, though. The expansion also resurrects two playable races from Galactic Civilizations lore: The Arceans and the Torians. (And I mean officially resurrects, unlike the Steam Workshop’s knockoff-Torians and knockoff-Arceans.) Via the press release: “Play as the Arceans, an ancient race of warriors and long-time enemy of the Drengin Empire, or as the Torians, an aquatic species who are trying to escape Drengin enslavement.”

The Torians get their own campaign in the expansion too, provided you’re interested in that side of things. “The campaign for Galactic Civilizations III: Mercenaries centers on the peaceful Torian race who have long been enslaved and farmed for their meat by the cruel Drengin. To free the Torians, players will need to explore and discover mercenaries, then hire them to aid in escaping from their oppressors. Players will strive to liberate the Torians and help them rebuild their shattered civilization while staying out of reach of the Drengin.” That’s the only description I’ve got—I didn’t see any of it during my demo.

Wardell also mentioned in passing that the graphics are getting an ever-so-slight overhaul for Mercenaries, adding a few DirectX 11 (not 12) effects. Moodier lighting, that sort of thing. Nothing too amazing, but a bit of a change.

And people who don’t buy the expansion aren’t being completely left out in the cold. Mercenaries requires the 1.6 version of Galactic Civilizations III, and that 1.6 update is releasing to all players on the same day as the expansion. The press release makes it sound pretty boring—”Includes more detailed match results and the new Stardock game launcher”—but Wardell said substantial improvements to the AI are also packaged in that update, as he’d “feel weird” charging for an AI update.

Anyway, I’m sure our aforementioned Space General Smith will have more coherent thoughts on the expansion in the future. I don’t think it will solve all your (or Adam’s) problems, but it looks like a good start. Stardock’s pegged the expansion at $20, and both it and the update are due to launch on February 18, which is pleasingly soon.


  1. killias2 says:

    I gotta say, as a once huge fan of GalCiv 2 and Stardock, I just can’t summon the energy to care about this. Is it because Wardell is a huge asshole? Or just because GalCiv 3 looks like a painfully by-the-numbers follow up to the already largely unoriginal GalCiv 2?

    Of course, maybe it’s not Stardock at all. As a lifelong fan of 4x titles, I feel like most of my remaining enthusiasm is going to Paradox Development Studio. Despite the rebirth of 4x gaming, most of the actual releases have either been light-weight (bleh) or blatant MoO/MoM clones (as was GalCiv itself).

    All I can say for sure, is that I feel like I should care about this.. but I just absolutely cannot. Onward to the CK2 Conclave expansion!

    • phanatic62 says:

      Yep I feel the same way. I loved GalCiv I and II and felt that they were different enough to warrant playing. But I saw this game and felt… nothing. I didn’t spend much time looking into it, but I just didn’t see anything that would make me want to play this over loading up GalCiv II.

      Can anyone that has actually played III give a compelling reason to pick it up? Or at least explain how it is appreciably different from II?

    • TheOx129 says:

      I find myself in a similar situation: since getting into grand strategy games with EU2, I’ve found that traditional 4Xs don’t quite grab me the way they used to.

      On the other hand, I have been keeping an eye on Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, but I think that might be because it’s one of the precious few games set in Late Antiquity, which is a period of history I’m fascinated by. Most games dealing with Rome seem to zero in on the same few periods: Middle (i.e., Punic Wars) or Late Republic (i.e., Caesar’s Civil War), or Early Empire.

      A CK2 standalone expansion or spinoff that maybe started with the Crisis of the Third Century and ended with the rise of Islam or Charlemagne’s coronation as emperor (which sufficient mechanical adjustments to reflect migrations and such) would be a dream game. I know there’s a CK2 mod focusing on Late Antiquity (When the World Stopped Making Sense), but when I was following development early on, it seemed like the developers had their priorities totally off: *way* too much time spent satisfying Byzaboos and the like by creating elaborate event chains to restore Rome by successor states (Domain of Soissons, Julius Nepos in Dalmatia, etc.), while the rise of Islam was dismissed as something of secondary or tertiary importance at best.

      • killias2 says:

        ‘At the Gates’ looks amazing. It’s basically my Great Hope for the 4x genre, after seeing a lot of fine-but-mostly-straightforward 4x releases over the last 4-5 years.

        Also, I share your interest about the late Roman empire period. I actually just read a book that you might be interested in: In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland. Great book. It’s basically about the foundation of Islam, but it covers a lot of late Roman, Sassanian Persian, Arab, and religious history. There are some controversial claims in it, but you’ll know them when you get to them. And the rest is a strong, reliable, well written summary of the overall context. Super interesting. Now I’m reading JF Haldon on the 7th Century in the Byzantine Empire, which is basically about how the Roman Empire of Justinian became the Byzantine Empire of the 8th and 9th centuries, especially after the Arab conquests of Egypt/Israel/Syria/etc. It’s not as well written, but it’s much more of an academic book. I’m still loving it.

        In games, have you played Attila and the DLC campaigns (Last Roman, about Belasarius and Justinian’s reconquest of North Africa/Italy; Age of Charlemagne, a smaller campaign about the post-Roman Empire in the 8th century)? They share a lot of typical TW problems, but I’ve had a lot more fun with the grouping than with Rome 2. And there are -some- genuinely interesting mechanics, such as migration. Still, I’d prefer a real Paradox treatment of the period.

      • killias2 says:

        Also, in a case of pure footnotery, I’d like to point out Great Invasions: link to matrixgames.com

        I’m sure it’s bad, but it’s basically an awkward cousin of the PDS games that takes place during the Dark Ages. Of particular note, the creator Philippe Thibaut was also the creator of the board game Europa Universalis, co-creator of Europa Universalis the video game (alongside Johan Andersson), and was also the founder of AGEOD, which is a historical/strategy game developer of its own note and which was briefly owned by Paradox a few years back (leading to the largely abandoned March of the Eagles project).

        I wouldn’t seriously try to get it or play it, but, again, it’s just an interesting footnote to the discussion.

    • Procrastination Giant says:

      I’m pretty much in the same boat. As someone who played a TON of GalCiv 2 back in the day i feel like i should care about this, but i simply can’t muster up any interest. And it’s definitely not related to Stardock or Brad himself (i tend to try to take a “seperate the art from the artist” approach to these things).

      It’s just… GalCiv 3 still sounds like nothing but a lesser (albeit prettier) version of GalCiv 2, and based on what i’ve read about this expansion so far it doesn’t exactly change that.

      So for now i’ll just stick with Distant Worlds and hope that Stellaris turns out to be as good as all the dev diaries make it sound. And if it isn’t on release, then it will be after a year or two. (And until then… well… Distant Worlds!)

      • killias2 says:

        I own Distant Worlds, but I still haven’t given it the real shot it deserves. Stellaris, on the other hand, just might be my most anticipated game right now. Reading the Developer Diaries literally gives me goosebumps, haha.

        • BannerThief says:

          Distant Worlds is absolutely fantastic, albeit somewhat hard to get into with its steep learning curve. My advice would be to turn automation on on everything that you don’t understand and focus on a few mechanics (upgrades, colonization, etc.) until you get your sealegs (spacelegs?).

          For me, I’ve been trying to get into Aurora 4X, and that game makes Distant Worlds look like a streamlined AAA experience by comparison. It’s maddening.

          • killias2 says:

            I’ve seen a -little bit- about Aurora, but I still don’t really know the central appeal of it. Any thoughts on that front?

            I actually played a short, mostly automated game of DW and somehow managed to dominate the galaxy without really doing anything, haha. I really need to revisit it though, at least before Stellaris.

          • mike2R says:

            It’s a great time to get into Aurora (if its your thing, which it certainly won’t be for everyone). It has recently been picked up by some popular YouTube Let’s Players (Quill18, Enter Elysium and Arumba) which not only means that there are now some very well done LPs around to help with the basics, but there are a ton of new players who’ve started within the last month or so.

            The Aurora subreddit has gone from a couple of posts a months to positively lively, and after the old creaking forums and wiki collapsed under the weight of traffic, they’ve been moved to a new host and are working much better.

            Why would you get into it? It’s deep as all hell, has the best shipbuilding mechanics of any space strategy game, and actually starts you off in the right place for a space 4X – making your first steps of Earth and into the solar system.

            Why wouldn’t you? Its a spreadsheet game, and they really aren’t for everyone. Its also an idiosyncratic personal hobby game from the lone developer, and the player has to be prepared to work around that.

        • Procrastination Giant says:

          Yeah, do give Distant Worlds another shot at some point! Contrary to what most people might recommend i’d actually say that the best way to get into it (For those already used to Paradox-esque complexity, etc) is to jump into fully manual (prewarp) play right away and downscale from there/automate things that don’t interest you once you understand how the game ticks. I bounced off of the game pretty hard the first time i tried it and wasn’t able to really see the appeal until i tried fully manual play.

          There’s a pretty comprehensive (albeit a bit… scatterbrained) guide to fully manual play that covers most of the basics somewhere on the official forums (Just google “Distant Worlds Guide to Guides Mk II” and take a look at Timotheus’ guide at the bottom).

      • Cronstintein says:

        I’m pretty much in the same boat. I had hoped they’d do more with GalCiv3 but it looks like a complete retread.

        I’ve got my 4x hopes pinned on Solaris and I’m playing Star Ruler 2 in the meantime (which I consider sadly underrated).

        • Misaniovent says:

          It’s not even a complete retread. Major features are completely missing. Espionage isn’t even in in the basic form that it was when GCII was first released.

    • Phantasma says:

      Jup, count me in (or rather out) as well.

      Gal Civ 2 was a nice little game back in the days, but beside the horrible art direction (which didn’t change either) the underlying game never was terribly strong, some of the systems outright absurd. And as far as my research around launch went, it seemed not much changed in the sequel except fancier graphics and a few tweaks here and there.

      *Everything* i’ve read about Stellaris so far just gives me the chills and leaves me irrepressibly excited. Anything i read about GC3 is met with a disinterested shrug. Hero units? That give you a few buffs? Really? How very original.

      Though I don’t have anything personal against Brad Wardell but after years of Stardock forum lurking, i feel a bit of a disconnect.
      For someone as brash and cocky like him i would expect that his games would have become a bit better by now. Put the money where the mouth is and all that.
      And his written lore and stories have always been *very* deep in bad fan fiction territory.
      Hm, maybe i don’t like him that much after all.

      • killias2 says:

        “Hero units? That give you a few buffs? Really? How very original.”

        Haha, yes yes, exactly this. Stellaris is basically mixing together Victoria, Crusader Kings, and Europa Universalis and throwing it into a space 4x. Jesus Christ, it uses POPS! POPS! Alongside Crusader Kings’ vassal mechanics, Victoria’s POP system is one of Paradox’s singular mechanical achievements. And they’re bringing it.. to the space 4x genre.

        Victoria’s POP system… in a game where you can raise alien creatures to sentience, see fallen space empires devoured by dynamic newcomers, deal with widespread robot rebellions born of social strife and moral carelessness,… and I’m supposed to be excited about hero units.

        • teije says:

          This thread basically sums up my thoughts exactly. Stellaris is looking awesome, GCIII is meh, been there done that.

          Now I just hope Stellaris isn’t crushed under the weight of all of our high expectations!

  2. Misaniovent says:

    I have been a fan of Stardock for a long time. GCII is one of my favorite games of all time and is, I think, one of the best strategy games of all time. I even bought the $100 founder’s edition. This game is a tremendous disappointment and this expansion is a disappointment as well.

    GCII is feature-packed, with espionage, amazing faction differentiation, robust unit management, and a great research tree. GCIII is barren in comparison, and if this is their first expansion then I don’t see that changing. Even worse is that Stardock, a company that specializes in tools that improve the Windows UI, completely failed to give GCII a usable UI. Not only is the UI flat-out worse than it was in GCII, it’s buggier. Indeed, the entire game is buggier.

    Unit and empire management isn’t a chore. It’s torture. I would recommend GCII to anyone and GCIII to no one. It’s a shame and a tremendous disappointment for me.

    Endless Space II cannot come soon enough.

  3. Andy_Panthro says:

    The only space 4X I’ve ever cared about is MOO2.

    I did try GalCiv2, because everyone said how good it was. I didn’t like it at all. Not really sure why, but there was nothing about it to get me interested. I’m sure it’s very mechanically sound, but it seemed a bit bland and uninteresting, and the customisation of the ships just looked awkward.

    GalCiv3 seems very similar to GalCiv2, so I guess I’ll pass on this one too.

  4. Eschatos says:

    Maybe an expansion will move Galciv 3 from ok to great, but I doubt mercenaries will do it. The whole giving away strategies based on merc bonuses idea seems like complete horseshit, though. If you can see one warship, you can see them all.

  5. Unsheep says:

    There are two genres of games that really make me look forwards to the weekend, spending hours and hours playing them: racing sims and 4X space strategy. Galactic Civilizations is a cool epic series. Nice detailed coverage by RPS.

  6. Machinations says:

    Its amusing to see them embrace multiplayer after treating it as a type of especially infectious syphilius in the past.

    However, what I have seen is a re-skin of GC2, with little if any innovation. I was banned from their Steam forums for making this rather obvious observation, which further soured me on Stardock, who once had pretentions of being much more, having as I recall their own Steam style client.

    Anywhoo, I had to comment on this “I’ve been making iterations of Galactic Civilizations since I was in my twenties, and it never occurred to me to have a ship with special abilities.”

    Really? REALLY? Hire some people with more imagination; see Kael and Fallen Enchantress.