I managed to get some hands-on time with the latest build of Stardock’s Galactic Civilizations 2: Dark Avatar, and I’m happy to say that this excellent time-eater of a game is going to soon get much, much more addictive. In tried-and-true Stardock fashion, this latest expansion continues to pile on the improvements to an already great game, and smoothes out those few areas that needed a tweak or two. So what new and wonderful goodies are headed our way?
First of all, players will notice a bit of a face-lift. The graphics were spruced up, the streamlined tech tree looks great, and there are oodles of new additions to the ship editor, causing me to lose several hours before I even touched the actual game itself. And, for those who want to spend more of their time playing and less designing the perfect-looking ship, Stardock has added some spiffy ship templates.
Each race has received some special treatment, as well. Now the races are much more distinct, with special abilities unique to each. A few new races also make an appearance, although without the benefit of playing through the campaign, I’m not quite sure how they fit into the GalCiv universe. Also included is a very intuitive custom race builder, so players can field just about any species they can dream up. I didn’t play around with this feature as much, but I’m looking forward to trying it out in the full build.
Several new changes have been made to the game play, many of which will cause us GalCiv veterans to have to re-think our strategies. No longer can players simply colony-rush out of the starting gate—many planets now have environmental factors that prohibit early colonization. These planets can be colonized, but only after researching some early-to-mid game technologies, often at the expense of learning other equally important techs. In addition to the new planet types, Dark Avatar also introduces asteroid fields, mine-able locations which produce resources and ship them back to planetary colonies. The farther an asteroid is away from its target colony, the fewer resources it produces.
Dark Avatar also introduces espionage, giving players the ability to turn a little of their income toward producing spies and counterspies, which have to ability to gum up the production of a given enemy (or even ally) planet. Should all this cloak-and-dagger stuff not be seemly, the diplomatic relations screens have been improved, allowing for more options in race relations.
Like each Stardock expansion, Dark Avatar also comes with a slew of technical tweaks and balances, continuing to hone the series into one of the best strategy franchises ever to grace the PC. I’m just drooling over this title, and the beta didn’t even give me a chance to see the full-blown campaign or additional scenarios in action. Stardock is currently busy polishing up the last bits of code, but we should see this gaming gem in the next few weeks via Totalgaming.net’s online service. We’ll have a full review after we manage to pull ourselves away from that “one more turn” goodness.