Cardboard Throne

Much as with the base game before it, I believe I’m done with Beyond Earth for now.

This is not to suggest that I believe Beyond Earth to be a bad Civ game. There are quite a few issues – some imbalances, some questionable design philosophies, etc – as pointed out in various Reddit threads dedicated to the game. However, it absolutely captures that whole addictive “I pressed End Turn for six hours in a row” part of the Civ experience. Even now, I’m getting the urge to boot it back up.

What is stopping me is the realization that what I like about the game and what the game actually does are two separate things.

It's all downhill from here.

It’s all downhill from here.

My favorite part of a Civ match is the beginning, when your strategy is largely formless, reactive, as you cast your eyes about an unknown and hostile world. “Okay, let’s scout out that island.” “Ooo, a city here would capture three strategic resources!” This feeling lasts maybe the first 100 turns, beyond which everything becomes a formality, a known, an inevitability. Yes, perhaps disaster strikes, perhaps you lose a city, perhaps an enemy Civ suddenly wins with a surprise victory condition. Nevertheless, you still know what you have to or should be doing at that point – it all just becomes the mechanical action of carrying it out.

All for what? The personal satisfaction of grinding the patience of a machine to dust? If Firaxis changed the Retire button to a No Longer Delay the Inevitable button, I would win the same amount of times with at least some in-game acknowledgment of the hours poured into the equivalent of a roguelike. Do I really need to conquer those last two capitals before the game is officially over? The game was arguably decided hours ago when I stopped exploring and building cities.

This sort of reminds me of when I used to be really into RTS games like Command & Conquer and Starcraft, up until I understood the concept of Actions Per Minute. Suddenly, the game I was hitherto playing was no longer. I could not unlearn how horribly inefficient my “build six Protoss Carriers” strategies were, nor how much better I could have been playing. The three aspects of gameplay were (still) entertaining – building bases, ordering units around, micromanaging one unit’s abilities specifically – but I both understood that I was incapable of engaging in more than one of them at a time, and not particularly motivated to try to get better. If you had time to turtle up to spam endgame units, you probably had time to win much earlier. Which means I was doing… what, exactly?

There is nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying a game outside of its intended purpose, but if the box brings more joy to the cat than the toy it contained, maybe you should just have bought a box instead. Or go find a better toy.

Like I said though, if Civ and Beyond Earth is your type of game, more power to you. I used to think it was mine. But now that I see myself sitting upon a virtual throne of cardboard boxes, I am not quite sure what to think. Other than maybe I should go play something else.

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Posted on October 30, 2014, in Impressions, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’m with you on this. The exploration side of these games, uncovering the map, discovering the resources is enjoyable. The grand scheme is fun to develop. I will win the game in each of the approved win types. Then I’ll probably just play the first 2 hours of dozens of games until the next shiny.

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  2. Civ V is most fun (for me) when trying to win a culture victory or early domination victory. Culture victories have a lot of interplay and racing to build wonders. Early domination games are surprisingly difficult, but they are too easy in the later stages. Science victories, on the other hand, were just too easy as you could do it entirely independently of whatever the other civs were doing.

    I did once have a ridiculous game as Austria where I won a diplomatic victory by just buying up every city state.

    Speaking of diplomacy, is it any less annoying in BE than in Civ V? Random denunciations, constant gold demands from friends, extremely long lasting warmonger penalties…just so annoying.

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    • For all intents and purposes, there is no real diplomacy in Beyond Earth. The faction leaders have no personality that I could tell, which makes sense in the context of the more open Affinity system(s), but it also makes them largely interchangeable. They definitely seem more passive in any case (I haven’t played on the top difficulty though), and don’t seem to care much when you constantly turn down their insane demands.

      Some of this will likely be fixed in patches and DLC. But I’m with the people on Reddit who are saying that the AI has got to be priority #1 in whatever Civ game follows this one. It’s comically bad and looking worse each year it goes on.

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