Galactic Civilizations:  The Altarian Prophecy

Review

posted 1/18/2005 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
Galactic Civilizations a great example of what dedicated designer and fan-base support can do for a game franchise. After the initial GalCiv release a few years ago, Stardock proved that it wasn’t content to simply publish one of the best 4X strategy games in recent memory. They’ve listened to fan feedback, tweaked and fiddled with an already great game to make it even better. With the release of The Altarian Prophecy, Stardock brings even more to the GalCiv table, including a full campaign, new units, technologies, and alien opponents, and a long-asked-for map and campaign editor. In short, Altarian Prophecy is exactly what an expansion pack should be.

I realize I’m gushing praise here, but I’m a Galactic Civilizations fanboy, and have been ever since the initial release. So this review is going to be unashamedly biased, and should be taken with that grain of salt. GalCiv is one of my favorite games of all time, Altarian Prophecy just piles on the goodness, and I’m one very happy gamer.

For those not in the know, Altarian Prophecy is the latest expansion for Galactic Civilizations, the 4X space-sim. Players once again take control of the human race as they rush to conquer the universe through force, diplomacy, and economic superiority. Most of the improvements in Altarian Prophecy are just little enhancements here and there. Several of the information screens have been cleaned up or streamlined, making for an even easier interface. Quite a few tweaks have been made to the gameplay itself. For instance, the powerful ‘culture bomb’ technique is now quite a bit more costly, as many of the Cultural and Military Starbase modules now cost a bit of cash in addition to the Constructor to build.

In addition to all the tweaks to gameplay, there are also a host of new technologies, Galactic Wonders, events, and units. Both Good and Evil civilizations now have access to 2 new ship types. The Good guys get the Paladin and the Sovereign, the Evil side gets the Wraith and Vamp. None of these ships are as powerful as some of the more advanced capitol ships, but each has a special ability that can influence the fleet. The Paladin and Sovereign add healing and defense to their fleet, respectively, while the Wraith and Vamp deplete enemy defense and shields. I’m not sure how effective these new ships really are, since I’m still in the “gee-whiz” stage of getting to know them. But it’s nice to have some new strategies to play with.

Speaking of new strategies, I would have liked to see some added usefulness to the planetary improvements. My biggest complaint with GalCiv was the fact that many of the improvements just weren’t worth their maintenance cost. Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed with the expansion. I was hoping that there would be a bit of adjustment to make more of them worth buying. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the sequel for that improvement.


The single-player campaign is a nice change of pace for GalCiv. This 9-mission campaign focuses on the mystery behind the Altarian people, and why they look almost exactly like Humans. The missions are a nice mix, requiring some changes in play style to meet the victory conditions. The first few missions were fairly easy, but the difficulty ramped up quickly toward the middle. One mission in particular still gives me nightmares, and I still haven’t been able to complete it in the manner suggested in the briefing, even at the lower difficulty settings. In addition, the Altarian Prophecy campaign highlights some of the new campaign features made available. Missions can now begin with allies already in place, different levels of technology achieved, and entire fleets already built. In addition, there are now more goals and triggers possible for the pregenerated missions. For example, now conquering or losing a single planet can be a victory or loss condition.

All of these features can be used in the most exciting part of the Altarian Prophecy—the mission editor. Now missions and entire campaigns can be created by the fanbase for common consumption. I fiddled a bit with the editor, but didn’t get too far because, well, I’m just not that good at designing these things. But the door is open for those more creative gamers out there to wow us all with maps and campaigns all their own. If all this isn’t enough, there are also several custom rulesets to try, each with a unique twist on the traditional GalCiv game.

With Galactic Civilizations II on the horizon, Altarian Prophecy is the perfect thing help bide the time. In fact, Stardock is offering a free mini-campaign download entitled “Prelude to War” for Altarian Prophecy owners, setting the stage for the next installment. Until the sequel arrives, however, we now have even more GalCiv goodness, adding more addictiveness and content to an already insanely addictive game.





B+
A wonderful addition to Galactic Civilizations. Altarian Prophecy has more units, technologies, events, and wonders, in addition to a much appreciated mission and campaign editor. While there’s nothing completely new here, GalCiv fans will certainly be pleased.