“Civilization: Beyond Earth w/ Rising Tide” Review
For the record, I’ve played several non-sci-fi 4X games (e.g. Endless Legends, Sorcerer King). I really liked EL (though it ran slowly on my five year old gaming laptop), and while I didn’t think SK actually followed its premise (Tim Gunn would warn it that it’s not following the challenge!), I also liked Sorcerer King.
But Civ has always declared itself a historical simulator. So it’s not sci-fi and it’s not fantasy? Gee: where do I sign…? Even in the wake of my newfound appreciation for the importance of history education, Civ does nothing for me. If I may quote TotalBiscuit: “I invented Computers in [the year 14kerfluffle], before I invented sailing ships!” Not only does Civ fail to hit the sci-fi/fantasy mark, it’s not even a great historical simulator.
My favorite “Civ game” up until the release of Civ BE:RT was Pandora: First Contact. It was everything that I’d wanted from Civ: sci-fi, aliens, robots, and black hole generators.
I wouldn’t say that Civ BE:RT is my favorite 4X game; Star Ruler 2 – Wake of the Heralds claims that honor, followed closely by Sins of a Solar Empire, Endless Space, and Gal Civ 2—which is not a 2K/Sid Meier production). I’d say Civ BE:RT is my 4th favorite 4X game.
Another of my favorite content creators admitted to peer dissonance re: movies—a phenomenon in which one’s opinion of a particular content experience changes after subsuming the opposing opinions of one’s peers. It’s related to ‘cognitive dissonance’, in which a person changes her/his thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors to resolve psychological dissonance. In the case of Civ BE:RT, a lot of gaming critics and content creators didn’t particularly care for the game in comparison to Civ V (which, at the release of Civ BE, had already released all of its DLC/expansions).
So now I have to write a mega-late review for CIV BE:RT. My pleasure.
Civilization: Beyond Earth: Rising Tide is a sci-fi 4X game from the developers of the Civ series of games (including Civ 6). And it’s better than all of those games. I will skip the usual delineation of the 4X aspects, since Civ is basically the Ascendant of the entire genre (from my perspective). What does Civ BE:RT have that makes it better than the other Civ games?
* Sci-fi aliens, robots, and planets! To paraphrase Barney from HIMYM: “Sci-Fi is always better.” Civ BE:RT is a game like any other Civ game: hex-based, turn-based strategy on the face of an entire world, facing off against other players/AI, minor players (i.e. city-states/trade stations), and creeps (i.e. barbarians/aliens). But it’s sci-fi, so it’s better.
* Health vs. Happiness. I understand the happiness mechanic in Civ games, though I’ve never thought it was particularly well-handled. (See better implementations in SoSE, ES.) It’s been replaced with a Health mechanic (a la Pandora) that basically accomplishes the same thing. But it fits the theme: like many of the research options, the ‘story’ of Civ BE:RT is one about trying to colonize an alien world. Yes, let’s assume that everyone wants to be here. And don’t eat the damn fungus without testing it for alien parasites!
* Organizations/Corporations vs. Historical Rulers. It won’t be the First Terran Empire that colonizes a distant planet, but a series of competing organizations. Many people who didn’t enjoy Civ BE:RT cited this part of the game—that they couldn’t fully engage with the game by assuming the leadership of one of these organizations. Poppycock. Each of these ‘Sponsors’ have their own interesting, futuristic histories and philosophies. And the Civ theme of having a broad variety of cultures holds true for Civ BE:RT as well! The Pan-Asian Cooperative! The People’s African Union! Franco-Iberia and Polystralia! They didn’t substitute for the right word part (Austral = ‘south’, -ia = ‘state/land of’; should’ve been ‘Polyaustralia’), but the story of these Sponsors is great! I feel that I relate to them just fine, and really identify with some of them!
* Pan-directional research. A la Star Ruler 2, a la Endless Space, the research tree in Civ BE:RT starts in the middle, and branches out in all directions. The DLC Rising Tide reformatted it to have six cardinal directions instead of three. And, since your unit upgrades depend on your Affinity, and your Affinity level depends on your research progress, you must make the strategic decision of whether to focus solely on technologies that enhance your dominant Affinity, or to branch into techs that are useful in other ways.
* Affinity. This is the most enmeshing mechanic a 2K/Sid Meier Civ game has ever introduced. Essentially, there are three possible ‘philosophies’ a Sponsoring organization can profess while competing to colonize this planet:
- Harmony: Humanity’s dominance on Terra’s ecosystem destroyed our old home. To survive and thrive among the stars, we must co-exist in harmony with the flora and fauna of this new planet.
- Purity: We are the last hope of sustaining Humanity’s genetic legacy. We must force the landscape to cater to our biology to continue the Humanity of Old Terra.
- Supremacy: Screw biology: we should’ve hybridized with cybernetics long before life on Terra became unsustainable!
Everyone with whom I’ve discussed Civ BE:RT identifies quite clearly with one of these Affinities. And early in your very first game, it’s pretty obvious which way you’ll go! Affinities provide certain bonuses as your level in them increases, and unit upgrades are, in part, directly tied to your Affinity level/type.
Rising Tide benefits:
* Exploring Better…ish. Explorers can get a late-early-game or early-mid-game research that allows them to take control of aliens at the cost of Explorer health. Keep in mind that this can kill your Explorer, so be careful if your Explorer has less than 50% health. You still get the alien if the Explorer dies in the Leashing action. RT also increases the variety of expeditions Explorers can perform, and introduced the Artifact system. A single artifact will provide small/medium food, production, or research points. However, combining three artifacts (at least one of which must be of green quality) will reward your civ with a unique benefit (e.g. double worker speed, double expedition speed, +1 distance to air units). And, using different combinations of certain artifacts will award different benefits! I’m sure there’s a guide out there that tells everyone the benefits of all possible combinations.
* More options in research (primarily because of water-based techs)! …Enough said.
* Water cities! Different…kind of. So you can have cities in water now! And the center of the city can move around the water, spreading its territory to every adjacent hex that it has touched! …It’s not as cool as they made it sound. The downside is that each city is still limited to working the tiles within three hexes of it; your citizens don’t have the option of working every hex your city has touched on its fourteen-hex swim along a coastline. However, in RT the amount of resources (strategic, bonus, etc.) found all over the map is now massive! Special resources are everywhere! And, of the six strategic resources (geothermal, titanium, petroleum, firaxite, xenomas, and floatstone), as long as a worker builds the appropriate tile improvement within the boundary of your floating cities, you still get to collect and use them for as long as you possess that city. A citizen can’t work the tile, but your civ still gets the resources.
Personally, I try to make my floating cities float around to map out the same 7-hex diameter area that a land-based city can claim, so I can predict which tiles my citizens will be able to work. But, if a water city would be just one tile away from a strategic resource, it’s now possible to claim it.
Note that water-based cities do not automatically grow their borders using culture. Water-based cities still produce global culture (for acquiring Virtues), but you have to move the cities to increase their territory. “But Jessi! Water tiles aren’t great!” Good news! All of your land units can embark onto water without any kind of research, and your workers can build ANY tile improvement on a water tile as a land tile (one exception: no water-based Terrascapes)!
* Diplomacy now based upon Diplomatic Traits and Affinity! No one likes the diplomacy systems in Civ. No one. Civ 4, Civ 5, Civ BE, Civ 6: all terrible and highly unpredictable diplomatic systems. The RT expansion actually handles it in a pretty decent way. Now, one’s diplomatic standing with another Sponsor is based on affinities, diplomatic agreements, and Civ traits. These influences affect two scales: Friendship and Fear.
On the lower end of the impact spectrum, if you share a dominant affinity (or hybrid, see below) with another Sponsor, you get a bonus to your diplomatic standing with them.
Making diplomatic agreements with other civs will increase your standing with them, while canceling an agreement, or making an agreement with an organization they don’t like, decreases your standing. These diplomatic agreements range from ‘okay’ to ‘pretty kinda broken’! In one of my recent games, I had an agreement with the People’s African Union that gave me +2 Health per strategic resource. I lost it when we went to war—apparently, I had improved *70* strategic resource tiles, because my Health tanked after the war began!
Which agreements are available to you? That’s where your Traits come into play. Each Sponsor has a unique trait which they cannot abandon. But the other three Traits can be selected (and changed!) as you see fit. Now, for the AI sponsors, each Trait gives them a personal preference. Example: when you choose to take the Commercial (+% bonus Energy/turn) trait for your civ, you make the ‘Estate Tax’ Agreement (each tile provides +1 Energy if worked) available to other civs. If no civ adopts the Commercial trait, there won’t be an Estate Tax Agreement available to anyone. In multiplayer, this would allow you to ask another player to adopt a particular Civ Trait to make a particular Agreement available to you. In single player, or playing with AI, each trait an AI player takes creates a certain diplomatic influence weight. Ex: If an AI civ takes the Commercial trait, then they look favorably on you if your civ produces positive energy yield, and poorly upon you if your budget is negative.
As the mid game develops, and the AI players take a trait in each of the four categories (personal, domestic, political, and military), each AI player now has four criteria by which they judge you. If you want to be allied with Al Falah, then you can see which Traits they’ve taken, and make sure you land on the positive side of them.
Many buildings, all Wonders, some spy actions, and some artifacts/expeditions provide another type of currency: Diplomatic Capital. Buying agreements from other players costs you a set amount of DC up front, and some small amount of DC per turn. Having other civs buy your available agreements gives you Capital. You also use DC to buy, upgrade, and/or change your Traits, and you can use DC to buy units (kind of like using Faith to buy units in Civ 5/6) and buildings. It’s a very cool, predictable—and therefore strategic—system.
* More Affinity options! Now you can adopt hybrid Affinities! Some abilities, bonuses, and upgrades requires you to have one affinity at one level, and another at another, lower or equal level. Ex: at lvl 5 Harmony, lvl 5 Purity, unhealthiness caused by the number of cities you possess is decreased by 25%. While there are other ways to decrease unhealthiness, this particular bonus is only available at 5 Harmony/5 Purity. If you’re settling a lot of colonies, you might want part of your research strategy to include reaching 5 H/5 P ASAP.
* More world options! Other than the frequency of special resources spiraling out of control, they added lots of new planet stuff! (Some of this also came with the ‘Exoplanets’ DLC.) It really expands the variety of maps.
The “Rising Tide” expansion does everything that an expansion is supposed to do: fixed systems that were broken, expanded systems that were limited, and provided more variety to systems that were already good.
Look: in the wake of the Civ 6 release, there are lots of reasons to jump on it. If you enjoy 4X at all, and have no particular dislike for historical-themed games, then you should definitely play Civ 6. Everyone seems to love it. I will definitely break down and buy it with my holiday money.
But when “Civ: Beyond Centauri: Falling Stars” gets released, I will never play Civ 6 again! 2K! Heed my words! Make the sci-fi companion of Civ 6! Add both the orbital layer and a space layer! Do it! Distant Space Station Districts!