Galactic Civilizations II: Lords of Fear - game review
Why worry about the fate of one planet when you can decide the fate of an entire galaxy? This question is asked time and time again by developers who decide to take the idea created by Sid Meier one step forward and move the genre mechanics with the enigmatic name "4X" (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate, hey, human learns all his life) to the plane space. This embarrassment began at the turn of 1992 and 1993 (i.e. only a year after the release of the first part of Civilization ), when Master of Orion was released, a game whose title can be boldly pronounced in one sentence with any industry sacredness.
The concept is thus far from the first youth, although, as it is in similar cases, few people actually manage to make good use of it. The recipe for a substantive (not commercial, yet) success seems to have been held by Stardock, which successfully launched a very nice title three years ago, Galactic Civilizations . Today we are facing its sequel, which uses its predecessor's gameplay system in many ways, but adds a whole host of its own innovations and ultimately takes the shape of a polished, deep and devilishly addictive game.
Going down to the basics, GalCiv2 is a turn-based strategy in which we take control of one of the 10 races-civilizations and lead it to victory over all the others. This is how it looks in a nutshell, although even the very word "victory" is understood here in several ways. We can achieve our goal by military suppression of enemies, taking over all their planets and forcing them to surrender. We can achieve a cultural success, achieved by building spectacular buildings and building space bases supported by a thriving economy, which will have an impact on the people of other nations, so that they eventually decide to come to our side. We can also bet on diplomacy, because if we manage to make alliances with the rest of the races roaming the galaxy, we will also end the scenario with a victory. The final way to conquer space is to invent the ultimate technology, the secret of immortality. As you can see, the concepts are fundamentally similar to Meierian axioms, but their implementation was carried out so efficiently that it is difficult to interpret them in the category of edgings.
GC2 belongs to this modestly represented group of games in which the main, story-driven campaign is the de facto background for a single, free-standing battle mode. The former tells the story of the title Lords of Fear, an ancient race that has been lost for millennia, which we will follow. The script is generally average and gives the impression of being thrown into the game a bit by force, as if on principle, with no intention of conveying any content. The missions themselves included in this plot-linked cycle are normal skirmishings, differing from those played individually only in more specific victory conditions or technological conditions. There is one more problem with them - we start each level from scratch, which is associated with the need to climb the development tree again. This is somewhat illogical and, in the long run, secondary.
The essence of the game is, as in Civilization, partly randomly generated games that can take us, depending on the selected size of the universe map, from one afternoon to several weeks of fun. In addition to the scale of the battle, we also have the opportunity to manually select the actors of the drama, i.e. the races present in the game, and to determine such world parameters as the density of systems / planets, the amount of resources and anomalies, or the speed of research. We can also edit the nation we have chosen, by independently changing the civilization bonuses assigned to it. Well, there is even an option to create your own race from scratch. Every true, strategic geek will spread his wings here as little as anywhere.
We start each game with one capital planet and a colonial ship, which the most sensible thing to do is to immediately send to another globe in order to expand our territory. All planets are described with one class-value, determining their usefulness for our civilization, the value of which is between 0 and 15 (although the instruction suggests that classes higher than 15 are possible). A planet of class 0 is uninhabitable, class 10 - like Earth, class 15 - is a true paradise and utopia. All the intermediate stages are easy to imagine. For us, class means the amount of space for building the installation and the possible presence of special fields-bonuses.
Managing a single planet is roughly the same as overseeing a city in Civilization . Each globe has a certain value of social (for the construction of buildings), military (spacecraft) and scientific production. It depends on us how we will stimulate these values through the appropriate economic base, taxes and budget structure (on the scale of the entire empire, we can define the method of allocating our revenues). There is a lot of thinking here, because the systems on which all this is based are not obvious and require a lot of experience. And it is impossible to build a functioning galactic state without efficiently managing individual planets.
A very important role is played by the star bases, built by special ships called Constructors. One of them can be placed almost anywhere, regardless of whether it is our territory or an area occupied by other nations. There are 4 basic types of bases: military, commercial, influential (they allow you to drag enemy planets to your side) and mining. Their operation is simple - each of them has its own zone of influence, in which our units receive specific bonuses. Simple and practical. However, the matter is complicated by manually added modules to the bases, extending and changing the way they operate.
Warfare takes a long time. Players are cleverly blocked from rushing their opponents - to attack and take over an enemy planet, you first need to hire technology that allows this type of invasion. It takes a lot of time and consumes a valuable period of the initial build-up, which should be treated with special attention to detail and sensible decisions. Once we have the appropriate technical facilities, we can construct transport ships that will take our soldiers to their destination and enable us to make galactic conquests. Before the actual fight begins, nicely presented in the form of a simple, live animation and based on partially random factors, we will have the opportunity to influence its result in several additional ways - planting charges in the planet's core, causing destructive changes in the tides, biological weapons, etc. Everything is a matter of our sophistication.
Space combat takes place in a traditional way for this type of game and is based on the attack parameters and weapons that characterize ships. These, in turn, depend on the equipment used in them. We come to one of the coolest highlights of GC2 , the spacecraft editor, at this point. In each city equipped with a port, we can visit a shipyard where we will see a list of available vessel projects. We can edit each of them and create our own completely from scratch. The number of options included here can make you dizzy. In addition to all the types of weapons and armor invented in our laboratories, we have at our disposal a huge number of free and completely devoid of use gadgets, making only the appearance of the ship more attractive. Just like playing with Lego bricks. Do you want to make your creation look like X-Wing? No problem. Enterprise? Sure. Just look at the game's official community page to see how far the editor's tentacles extend. Using modding tools, people have already created all the star empires, federations and kingdoms known to Sci-Fi fans (projects based on Babylon 5 are in the lead, with which the game has a lot in common in terms of climate).
In all its undeniable splendor, the GC2 has two very serious shortcomings. The first is the lack of an interactive tutorial. We can learn the mechanics of the game from a series of videos available from the main menu, but it does not replace a simple training level in any way. Veterans of this type of games will surely quickly find out what is where, but younger or less experienced players can have a lot of problems. It remains to start the entertainment on extremely low difficulty settings, on which the computer opponent is devoid of any claws. It should only be added that on normal and difficult configurations, AI takes up the fight with us with the grace of interstellar Deep Blue - not cheating, but carefully observing our actions and responding to them cleverly. Do not be surprised when the computer makes a move you did not expect, that at the last moment it will overtake you that one field in the race to colonize the new world, because it has calculated the distance better.
The second biggest beet of the GC2, and in the opinion of many certainly the most important one, is the complete deprivation of the game from multiplayer. Unfortunately, the only thing we are offered here is the possibility to participate in some ranking system and upload your results to it. Nothing interesting, and it was supposed to be so beautiful. The last civilization proved so nicely that it is possible to solve the multiplayer in this type of productions in a nice way, and here, well, obviously Stardock overslept for this lecture.
Graphics and music do not play a leading role here, but they do not interfere. The user interface was very conveniently implemented, gently changing the color scheme to match the national colors of our race. We can see the image very closely, observing the architectural details of the ships designed by us, or zoom it out so far that all important objects will be replaced by aesthetic icons. That's a great thing. The only annoyance is the very slow scrolling of the screen, even at the maximum speed setting. On a different note, sometimes we get to see a pre-rendered cut-scene - we shouldn't expect any revelations, but it's usually a nice and atmospheric interlude. We can say the same about music, very predictable for a game in cosmic scenery, but well performing its role as an element emphasizing the boundless space.
GC2 appeared in our fully localized version. Only trace voice-overs in some of the videos, with Polish subtitles instead, remained unchanged. The quality of the translation and its technical implementation should be rated three with a plus. Quite often there are bugs, both programming and translation, as a result of which, all of a sudden, some of the subtitles are displayed in English. Some jokes, unfortunately formulated with average word culture, are also of questionable sort.
It is a very good game, but certainly not for everyone. It is easy to scare her at the first contact, because we are not led by the hand through a series of levels of increasing difficulty and complexity, but we are immediately thrown into deep water. The complexity of the entire economic structure, in turn, is at such a deliciously high level that without self-denial and patience, success is difficult. The gameplay elements mentioned by me in the above paragraphs are only the tip of the iceberg, a sketch on which new attractions are gradually applied. Are you able to break through it? I encourage you, because Galactic Civilizations 2 is a worthy heir to Master of Orion.
Krzysztof "Lordareon" Gonciarz