In Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, the storied strategy franchise leaves the confines of the Earth and heads for the stars. While you’ll get to play it later this month, we got a chance to check it out earlier this year. What we saw was an alpha build, and we didn’t go hands on with the game; Instead, we got a walkthrough by a member of the development team as they explained the intricacies that we’ll see in the final version.
They started by introducing us to the alien life that lives alongside your civilization. The planet’s alien life lives it’s life alongside your Civilization, but is not outwardly hostile. Instead, the aliens will react to your aggression; If you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone, but they respond to aggression in kind. Alien life itself comes in multiple forms, and at this event the developers directed special attention towards the Siege Worm, an incredibly powerful unit the size of city that, if sufficiently angered, will take an entire army to take down.
The biggest feature of Beyond Earth that they showed us, and a neat twist on the Civ formula, is the affinity system. As you play you’ll be prompted to move along one of three paths: Harmony, Purity, or Supremacy. Every technology you develop will be associated with one of the three affinities and will move you along that path determine the visual theme of your faction. For example, we were shown a well developed city that followed the Supremacy affinity; All the buildings and improvements were sharp and angular, with black and gold highlights. Even the leader portrait began taking on these qualities.
Speaking of technologies, the developers were excited to show of the new Tech Web system. The technology tree in Beyond Earth is less of a tree and more of an interlocked web. Your primary techs advance you through the web, and each of them have smaller, leaf techs that give you valuable technology but don’t lead to further advances.
Not to say that everything has changed, of course. The hex-based grid from Civ V makes a return, as do the familiar themes that permeate the series. You still take control of a civilization, advance technologies, build cites, and interact (most likely through violence) with your neighbors. What has changed, however, is some of the aesthetics. Gold, the currency used to construct units and improve cites, has been changed the energy, the most valuable resource in the future. The villager huts from the classic Civ installments have become resource pods that give their finder bonus resources, while the ruins from the more modern installments have become downed satellites and ancient alien ruins that bestow upon it’s finder a new technology or unit.
Of course, there are further tweaks to the Civ formula as well. One area that features a twist is exploration and movement. Large portions of the planet are covered in a poisonous miasma that will damage or kill any units that pass through it. Quests also make an appearance, and they allow the player to make choices that affect the future of your civilization, and also serves to further a storyline that unravels as your empire expands and time passes. Finally, we were introduced to a new type of unit: the tactical satellite.
Tactical satellites, once built, can be placed on the map and provide bonuses to the player who built them. We were given two examples of satellites that can be built: One that provides a combat bonus to friendly units that fight within it’s circle, and one that sucks up all the miasma nearby to make exploration and expansion easier.
An important thing to keep in mind is that, from what we’ve seen, Beyond Earth is not a sequel to Alpha Centauri. While AC itself was very similar to the Civ series, it had a very different feel and features that differentiated itself from the more historically oriented Civilization series. Beyond Earth doesn’t have the same feeling, and it appears to play very similarly to Civ V and the other mainline installments. Not to say that this is a bad thing; Civilization is as good as it’s ever been Beyond Earth is going to continue that tradition, but it won’t scratch that same high concept sci-fi itch that Alpha Centauri did.
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is turning out to be the next evolution of the franchise. Gone are the shackles of history as the wonder of the future enters the franchise. It looks to be a great new setting for the series while retaining the elements that make Civilization such an addictive and compelling game. Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth releases worldwide on October 24.