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14 November 2014 @ 12:33 pm
Civilization: Beyond Earth and Civilization 5  
I was kind of hoping that Sulla would have something to say about Civilization: Beyond Earth. However when i checked his website what i found instead is that he decided to do a final review of Civilization 5, now that the (supposedly) last patch for the last expansion is out.

He did a demo game before the review, which although not as detailed as his previously documented play-throughs does highlight a lot of the issues he thinks are of concern.

http://www.garath.net/Sullla/Civ5/bnw1.html

Just to spoil things a bit, the gist of his review is generally that Civ5 has improved a lot since the initial release, but still has fundamental balancing flaws. He can see why casual players and people new to the genre enjoy it so much, in large part due to all the freebies given out early in the game, but feels that not enough effort was spense to make sure that the late game was both interesting and well balanced, especially for those who are experienced at the genre.
http://www.garath.net/Sullla/Civ5/bnwreview.html

The most interesting bit is where he links to a post for the Kickstarter for the new game project by Jon Shafer, the lead designer for Civ5. This particular post is titled "Revisiting the Design of 'Civ 5'":
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jonshafer/jon-shafers-at-the-gates/posts/404789

In it Jon Shafer brings up pretty much all the big problems that Sulla and others complained about shortly after Civ5 launched, particularly the poor diplomacy and the issues with One Unit Per Tile. It's a little mind boggling to see the lead designer admit the problems, giving almost the exact same reasons for the causes and effects in some cases, as others had been saying years earlier.

So back to Civilization: Beyond Earth. Sulla linked to a review by Tom Chick, who was also notable for being one of the few official reviewers to give Civ 5 a poor score upon release:
http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2014/10/25/occasionally-thrilling-beyond-earth-cant-quite-get-beyond-civilization-v/

His conclusion is that CBE is fundamentally very similar to Civ5. There's a lot of free goodies and small decisions to make that seem like a lot of fun, especially early on, but after awhile it gets repetitive and doesn't provide a lot of depth. Especially since the AI still isn't good at handling One Unit Per Tile so combat won't usually be a big deal for anyone moderately skilled.

I've watched a couple hours of play-through by quill18 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en2OeeY77DM) and i expect that if/when i get it i will go through some predictable stages. At first i will be amazed by the graphics and the wonder of playing a new civ type game, especially one with thematic similarities to Alpha Centauri. The multitude of starting options will seem great and i'll imagine all kinds of interesting combinations.

I'll really enjoy the first time through, probably even the first couple times through as i try out various combos and victory conditions. Especially since (supposedly) it won't be normal to unlock all the techs on every play through. Making building upgrade choices will seem awesome the first couple times and i'll eagerly try to find story threads in the narration.

Then i'll spend awhile more going through trying to get various achievements. Not trying to do anything especially ambitious, just meet any conditions viable for that particularly setup as efficiently possible and rush through to the end. And after awhile of that i'll get burned out on the game.

Which means that it's probably worth getting at some point, but maybe only when it's on sale, not at full price.

Part of the reason i think i'll avoid buying it now, besides the potential lack of strategic depths, is that there seem to be some key elements missing. The lack of detailed info and tooltips that started with Civ5 continues in CBE. It's also a little sad how limited the terrain improvements seem to be. Because of the 1UPT issues the yield is far lower than in other games, and although they're a bit more varied in Civ5 they're still not quite as cool as what we got to play with in Alpha Centauri.

(I'm starting to think that what i really want at this point is for someone to make Call to Power 3. It was impressive how many ways that series found to mix up the standard Civilization formula that the mainline Civ franchise has never picked up on.)

And from what little i've seen it falls down on two of the things i liked about Alpha Cenauri most. T Wonder completion "movies" are laughable and the characterization of the leaders is rather lackluster. Again, i've only seen a couple hours of video so maybe my opinion will change once i've had the chance to play it myself. However it seems the price of giving the player so many starting options was making the faction leaders excessively bland.

I applaud the multi-national approach to their design, but they're just not very memorable. I can still fondly remember a few details about Deirdre Skye the obsessive Green (er, so to speak,) Pravin Lal the good hearted but stuffy bureaucrat, crazy white haired professor Z guy, Morgan the non-love child of Ann Rand, and the crazy red haired religious lady. (I've totally forgotten who ran the Hive and Spartans at this point, i guess those two weren't quite as memorable as individuals?)

I think there are two or three issues here. In Alpha Centauri the factions are based on ideology and get boosts to match their personalities (or vice versa.) In CBE the player gets to choose the boosts and ideological affinities, so the factions are based on ethnicity/region instead. Civilization has always worked the same way, but in Civ they can rely on stereotypes and/or cultural keystones for characterization. The Romans wear togas and the Japanese wear samurai armor and Zulu has a headdress and a spear. If they tried that with factions in a modern themed game laughter would be the best reaction they could expect, and accusations of racism would be far more likely.

I've gotten the impression that there is some backstory to each of the faction leaders, but from what i've seen so far it isn't really coming through. I recall a rule i heard long ago about storytelling that the less detail you have to work with the wider your brush strokes have to be in order to communicate the ideas you want. Having faction leaders based on ideological stereotypes with the full weight of a faction whose artistic style and bonuses backing up those stereotypes allowed for very wide brush strokes to make up what is, from a storytelling perspective, a very limited canvas. CBE put itself in the position of using very small brush strokes and the result isn't coming through very clearly.