Civilization: Beyond Earth in the test - great moment with drawbacks

Author: Michael Graf
Date: 2014-10-23 14:00:00
Civilization: Beyond Earth saws in the test on our leisure time, but not on the genre throne of Civilization 5. Because despite the exciting innovations, it misses too many opportunities and misses too much fine-tuning.

Normally that's not our way, but now we have to get unfair. We don't compare Civilization: Beyond Earth with Civilization 5 , but with the Civilization 5 Collection including the expansions Gods & Kings and Brave New World . And as is well known, they first cut the Hexfeld rough diamond to what it is today: the best civilization since the second, a source of great stories ("This Ghandi again with his atomic bombs!") And our undisputed strategy game reference.

No, it is not fair that Beyond Earth has to compete with this exceptional title that has matured for four years. But it's the market reality. The Civ 5 Collection is available for around 30 euros, Beyond Earth costs 50 - where can you get more play, more polish, more fun for the money? Since you've probably already checked the rating, we'd rather answer right away: with Civ 5, of course.

Beyond Earth transplanted its game principle to a foreign planet and enriched it with promising innovations, but it does not (yet) achieve the diversity and game mechanic elegance of the template. So Beyofwek is jgak ... oh, pardon, now our dark circles have sunk down to the keyboard again while typing, because we played Beyond Earth all night after all. Because it may be worse than Civ 5, but it is by no means a bad game.

Not an Alpha Centauri

And so that would be ticked off right away: No, Civilization: Beyond Earth is not a new Alpha Centauri either. Because this first civilization in space, this milestone of the global strategy, offered a lot of what Beyond Earth is now missing, from the unit and government kit to the planetary council and terraforming to the memorable factions and the Grütz graphic - stop, at least we don't miss the latter , Beyond Earth is based on the chic Civ 5 engine, its terrain is also divided into hex fields, each of which only fits one unit.

Beyond Earth just feels like Civilization 5 in space. Or better: optionally on a jungle, desert or mushroom planet; however, the graphics set does not have a playful effect. In return, many of the options known from Civ 5 are also included in the game setup, for example we can distribute the raw materials fairly or make the factions happy with profitable "legendary" starting positions.

Speaking of which: the parties themselves are interchangeable. It is true that we create a desired people from one of eight nationalities, to whom we also assign three of 15 additional bonuses, which theoretically allows 1,000 combinations. However, many advantages only affect the start of the game - industrial production increased by two points hardly affects large empires. In addition to useful bonuses à la “Start with a construction team”, there are also less helpful bonuses, such as starting with a soldier that we quickly earned with a free construction team.

The nationalities do not have their own special units - standard since Civilization 3 - or buildings, which is why the sophisticated races of the Civilization 5 Collection feel much more individual. There, thanks to the fundamentally different skills, it really makes a strategic difference whether we lead the Shoshone or the Inca. In Beyond Earth, on the other hand, it almost doesn't matter whether it is Polystyrene, Franco-Iberia or whatever is on our flag, the parties are initially faceless.

From the affinity ...

Mind you: initially. One of the great strengths of Beyond Earth is that we continue to individualize our self-made people in the course of a game, thanks in part to the affinities. In a way, they determine our attitude, but unlike the ideologies of Civilization 5, they not only affect the late phase of a game, but also significantly determine our style of play.

So we tend to supremacy, purity, or harmony; each affinity gets three to four individual units, eight buildings and various special abilities.

In addition to the affinity's own special units, Beyond Earth offers seven standard troop types from troops to aircraft carriers. That doesn't sound like much at first, but when we move up the affinity level, we can upgrade any type of troop in up to three levels for free. We choose one of two alternative advantages that are exclusive to our affinity.

For example, harmony friends give their tier 3 tanks more general combat power or 10 percent more defense per unused movement point, while dominance vehicles enjoy a combat bonus next to friendly units or do more damage to wounded opponents.

... to individuality

Adding all basic and upgrade troop types together, Beyond Earth has 94 combat units, 20 more than in the original Civ 5 and only 18 less than in the Collection. Of course, you can't command all of them, because the affinity upgrades are mutually exclusive and cannot be reversed.

In return, the ideological armament enables us to adapt our units and thus our combat tactics - a nice idea that gives our group more face. Individual promotions à la Civ 5 are no longer available; Troops gain experience and level up, but then we are only allowed to heal them or increase their combat strength slightly. Firaxis, like all great figures from Civ 5, also retired the Great Generals.

Mixing several affinities is possible, by the way, but at first it doesn't make sense because the best units are unlocked the fastest through specialization. However, it is worthwhile for all factions to reach the third level of dominance, because then the maintenance costs for roads are eliminated. Which main affinity you choose should depend on the starting conditions and resources.

Those who have abundant Firaxite deposits within reach should tend to predominate because they need the crystals for their special robots. Those who have to fight a lot against aliens tend to be in the best of hands with harmony, because the destroyed alien nests can be used as raw material. And if you start right next to strong human opponents and have floating stones, the easiest way to shut yourself up as a purity man is.

Applied values

On the one hand, we increase our affinity level through certain research projects that we select in the new and very confusing technology network. Or we earn affinity points through quests, because Beyond Earth regularly gives us sometimes simple, sometimes multi-level tasks. For example, we should erect a certain building or dig up an alien ruin with an explorer (reminiscent of the archaeologists from Civ 5: Brave New World).

In addition, we can choose one of two alternative special abilities for each (!) Of the total of 60 buildings: Should our thorium reactors spit out even more energy (i.e. money) or should we also increase industrial production?

Should ultrasonic fences keep aliens even further away from our cities or ensure that the critters keep their clutches from trade convoys? This bonus choice also contributes to the individualization of our group, in general the quests are a good and motivating idea because they always reward us additionally.

The same applies to the new values: If we accumulate culture points, we can use them to unlock bonuses as usual. There are a total of 60 of them, spread over four »talent trees« and three levels. Now the comparatively low value bonuses usually have a less noticeable effect than the very influential social and ideological policies of Civ 5.

Those who choose several values of a talent tree or a level, however, also benefit from sometimes serious synergy bonuses - it is worthwhile to specifically specialize rich. This stimulates experimentation: should we rather focus on growth or science, the military or trade? This also contributes to the individualization of one's own parliamentary group.

The opponents wobble

Thanks to the affinities, quests and values, the peoples stand out from one another and gain in profile as the game progresses. Variety and replayability benefit enormously from this, even if the effects could be even stronger. For example, the general combat behavior hardly changes despite the affinity's own upgrades and special units. In order to conquer a city, for example, we first bomb it with artillery, as in Civ 5, and then move in with melee fighters.

It makes little difference whether they are purity tank soldiers or harmony aliens. But that's criticism on a high level, while Civilization 5 offered the most diverse and individual races in series history, Beyond Earth offers the most customizable. The "shoot first, then take" basic tactic is also mastered by the AI inside out, even if the computer opponents do not always attack and defend consistently even at the high levels of difficulty.

For example, they advance with one part of their army but withdraw another for no apparent reason. This makes wars too easy for experienced players at times. Beyond Earth compensates for this by giving the enemies massive production bonuses at high demands, so that we usually compete against superior troops. That makes conflicts exciting again, AI fickleness or not.

The high-tech units also contribute to the fascination of war, in the late phase of a game, for example, Harmonie supporters breed huge xeno-titans across the map, while dominators bombard their opponents with four-legged artillery 'Mechs. In addition, at some point all affinities will be allowed to build hovering tanks and guns, which makes the games more flexible - after all, you can attack from the sea at any time without first having to go into the water and then back on land.

Circle, spy, act

The new satellites from Beyond Earth play a rather subordinate role. With them we can bomb enemies and strengthen our troops or even teleport them, but the orbital helpers are usually shot down quickly over enemy territory. We therefore prefer to use them at home, for example we are noticeably increasing the energy yield of our cities with solar collector satellites - the resulting cash bonus is almost too high.

The new and well thought-out espionage system remains an addition rather than an essential part of the game. We are allowed to send agents to foreign cities in order to increase the level of intrigue there and to carry out ever worse secret actions. However, the level increases so slowly that it can take umpteen rounds to reach the really painful attacks. On the one hand, this is fair because you can take countermeasures and deploy your own counter-espionage agents, but it makes the matter - as in Civ 5 - quite tough.

Much more important is the trading system based on Civ 5, with convoys and cargo ships we set up goods routes with our own and foreign cities. Because every city is allowed to have two to three routes, that is already too lucrative; the production of newly founded cities, for example, can easily be multiplied by a few with a few trade convoys. And with a few ship connections to distant cities, we can easily extract 50 energy points in income - per round.

Because we have to pay less attention to the budget as a result, the playful requirement decreases even at the high levels. Okay, after all, trade routes want to be scouted first and freed from enemies, harmful miasmas and aliens. We also have to manually renew them every 20 laps, which can be extremely annoying for large empires.

Aliens everywhere - or not

Wait, while we just mentioned the aliens: Because Beyond Earth distributes the native monster nests completely randomly, we may start next to none - or next to five. And if you have more drooling creatures around you than a film stand at the erotic fair, you can get real problems in the early phase. If the aliens are not attacked, they will remain peaceful and will not cross city limits, but will still defend their breeding grounds and "accidentally" crumble trade convoys, construction crews and settlers when they trudge around.

In order to be able to expand, we have to smoke the critters out of necessity. But then they get aggressive, and when things go really bad (almost always), huge alien worms also move in, which mash farms and mines like our sandcastles. Obviously, that would be an exciting challenge - if it weren't so random: Players who start in largely nest-free areas have a much easier game, that's unfair.

On top of that, Firaxis could have made so much more out of the creatures (which could not be switched off), even their own natives like the Indian tribes of Colonization. So the locals are just clawed extras who even have to clean harmony followers from the menu at some point. There is no alternative to the alien genocide - freely after A. Merkel - for expansion.

A start like chewing gum

Speaking of expansion: In Beyond Earth, it runs as leisurely as in Civ 5, we shouldn't build more than four to six of our own cities, naturally cleverly placed near raw material sources, otherwise our nation will sink into chaos. Because overpopulation lowers, no, not the satisfaction value, but the new health value, which works just like the citizen's well-being in Civ 5.

While positive values bring bonuses to our group, negative values painfully reduce our cultural, research and industrial production. So we have to counteract this by building health-promoting buildings (clinics & Co.) and assuming corresponding values. However, health-promoting raw materials are nil. By the way, new cities always start in Beyond Earth as a weak outpost that doesn't produce anything and has to develop into a fully-fledged city for several rounds.

But it is then also significantly more productive from the start than in Civ 5 - among other things, because we can immediately boost food and industrial production with trade routes. Since games can still play tough at the beginning, we also recommend that you set the game speed to "fast". This reduces the total number of laps from 500 to 350, but researches it faster. But no matter what game speed you set, you always have to wait - at least without an SSD hard drive. Because the loading times can take a long time, as in Civ 5.

Win five times

There are a total of five conditions for victory, in addition to the military ("Conquer all capitals") and a peaceful technological one ("Contact the disappeared natives"), there is also a scientific path to triumph for each affinity. Beyond Earth does not envisage cultural or diplomatic victories - nevertheless, we have "unemployed" cities often converted their industrial production into cultural production in order to unlock new values more quickly.

Diplomacy does not allow either victories or planet-wide resolutions à la Alpha Centauri, but it is largely understandable because Beyond Earth lists exactly why an opponent can suffer us and why not. Different affinities, for example, promote rivalries, whereas trade routes promote friendships - this is how we can literally breed friends. The AI even remembers if we have made and kept a promise like “We will not settle near you” - or not.

We only find a new mechanism exciting in theory: Sometimes rivals offer us a favor in exchange for raw materials that we can claim later. It's just stupid that it rarely yields anything useful, because even our friends are skimpy on resources. That doesn't seem very well thought out to us.

The path to facial meltdown

But many aspects of Beyond Earth are not fully thought out. For example, the neutral stations, which are by no means as elaborated and individual as the city-states of Civ 5, but merely block valuable urban building space as passive trading partners. Or the lamest wonders of the world in series history, most of which grant marginal bonuses. Or the factions and the aliens, from which Firaxis could have got so much more.

One of the strengths of Beyond Earth is the atmosphere, the beginning of the game feels like the colonization of a new world should feel: We end up alone in the middle of the wilderness, the human opponents only follow little by little and initially do not play a major role because we are mainly dealing with the hostile environment, with swaths of mismas and alien nests.

So we dare our first clumsy steps, found cities, carve living space out of jungles and deserts, the aliens are gradually becoming less important, the human rivals more important, trade grows just like espionage, after all the first wars are raging - and in the later phase of In the game, we hover over seas, teleport and bomb troops and try our best to melt the faces of our opponents with the thickest possible high-tech guns.

From humble beginnings we lead our nation to rule over the new world. That is the core stimulus, the motivation engine of Beyond Earth. Yes, it's Civ 5 in space - but it's still a Civilization. And no matter how unfairly you can compare that, at some point the circles under the eyes plop down on the tastaiijehehr