The Galactic Civilizations II beta has been underway for some time, and I’ve had the opportunity to run the current build through its paces. As an unabashed fan of the original, I am happy to say that GalCivII is shaping up to be a great game.
For those new to the series, Galactic Civilizations II is a classic 4X space strategy sim, chronicling the rise of various races as they strive to become the supreme Civilization in the galaxy. Unlike the original, players are not limited to playing Humans. Instead, they can take control of any of the 10 galactic races, or chose to customize their own. A typical game begins with a single colony and the discovery of hyperdrive, and the race to colonize the galaxy is on.
GalCiv fans will notice quite a few changes in GalCivII. First off, the graphics have received an impressive tune-up. Moving into a 3D engine, the game looks great. Although play still takes place on a 2D plane of the galaxy, it’s now possible to zoom and spin the camera around the much-more-detailed planets, stars, and starships. Star Systems themselves have been tweaked—now planets are visible on the game map, rather than being sub-menus of a given star. Not all the graphics are in place as of yet, but with each new beta version GalCivII is looking sharper and sharper.
The planets themselves have undergone a rather striking change. No longer can a planet support unlimited planetary improvements. A planet’s numeric rating will determine not only how large a population it can hold, but also how many social structures can be built. And the improvements seem to be a lot more useful this time out. One of my biggest complaints about the original Galactic Civilizations was the feeling that most of the improvements just weren’t worth the effort to build. Now, with the limitations on improvement numbers, it’s necessary to tailor planets to particular tasks. Research-heavy planets, production facilities, and income-generating planets now must be separate entities.
For those lamenting the lack of ship customization in the original GalCiv, Galactic Civilizations II is a welcome change. Now burgeoning shipwrights can have a blast fine-tuning their fleets to their heart’s content. As technologies are researched, new ship options become available. Through an intuitive ship-design interface, players can build their armada from the hull up. There are a lot of options to the design, and it’s important to tailor the ships to react to the strengths and weaknesses of the enemies. Ships can be outfitted with varying weapon types, and each weapon has a defense that can counter it. So if the Tor are loading up on Mass Drivers, and Altairians are arming their fleets with Phasers, those caught in the middle had better play nice or be able to defend against both types of attacks. When all is said and done, the completed ships look wonderful, and each Civilization’s fleets are quite distinct.
While still early, the AI managed to thoroughly crush my newly designed fleet several times in my initial playings. Perhaps I’m a bit rusty, perhaps I was too ambitious in my difficulty settings, or maybe the AI is just that good. Regardless, I found my opponents to offer a fun challenge. In my defense, a Conquest victory was the only active winning condition in the version I played, and I usually made a Technology or Culture run in the original game. The groundwork is well-laid for the Technology and Culture paths, so I’m certain I’ll soon be back in my element in an update or two.
Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords also introduces a new, non-linear single-player campaign, in addition to the usual “take over the galaxy” sandbox mode. Following the events in The Altarian Prophecy, sequel to the original GalCiv, Dread Lords promises to weave together a series of scenarios featuring the titular galactic enemies.
One of the best aspects of the Galactic Civilizations franchise is the hand-in-hand working of the developers and the fanbase. The GalCivII team is continuing that tradition, as is shown by the open beta format they’ve used. Anyone who preordered the game had the opportunity to follow along for the entire beta testing process, adding praise and criticism where necessary. And it’s easy to see that the developers actually listen to their fans, taking feedback from the original GalCiv and the beta and making a game that players will truly enjoy.
I’ve just scraped the surface of all the new goodies available in Galactic Civilizations II. Diplomacy models have been tweaked, the Technology Tree has been revamped and given a slick new interface, and the galaxy has been filled with many new random events. All in all, Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords is bound to eat up many, many hours in my near future. Look for its release early in 2006.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.
Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.