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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.

Impression: Civilization: Beyond Earth

I think I am beginning to understand those old-school gamers who were miffed by EA’s Dungeon Keeper app. Because, you see, with Beyond Earth I thought I was buying Alpha Centauri and ended up with a full-price Civ 5 mod instead.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

That is not an entirely fair comparison, of course. I knew this wasn’t going to be Alpha Centauri. But… you know… I kinda wished it was. Alpha Centauri consumed a solid chunk of my adolescent mindspace, where it resides to this day. Like… like a mind worm. That will need to be nerve stapled to be removed. And don’t even get me started on those real-world quotations used when researching new tech – I walked into my college courses years later with the equivalent of AP credit from being inspired by Plato and Aristotle half a dozen years before they were required reading.

Anyway. Back to Civ 5 Beyond Earth.

You know, it’s actually extra unfair that I keep belaboring this Civ 5 point because I didn’t start playing Civ 5 until about two months ago. I have a total of 24 hours /played in Civ 5 actually. By contrast, I have 16 hours in Beyond Earth as of this morning. It came out three days ago. So there is that.

What I already like about the game are the barbarians aliens. There are multiple kinds roaming about, including ranged and flying units, and even some “endgame” aliens right from the start. While it feels a bit unfair to stumble across a Siege Worm with an Explorer on Turn 3, I enjoy that extra level of randomness insofar as it gives you some interesting decisions. Such as A) run screaming, B) decide you didn’t want to build a city over there anyway, and/or C) New Random World.

Another thing I like – thus far – is the tech web:

*Rubs chin*

*Rubs chin*

The basic gist is that instead of needing to research lame things like Pottery and Horseback Riding on your road to thermonuclear weapons, you can make a beeline to wherever you want. Each tech “branch” has tech “leaves,” which I thought was a pretty clever way to keep the web itself relatively clean. Still, there is a lot of convoluted nonsense in there with some techs granting bonuses to buildings on the other side of the tree and the rather unfortunate necessity to research certain techs to “unlock” strategic resources. I know Civ 5 had something similar, but it’s extra important in Beyond Earth because your Affinity special units “reserve” a certain amount of said resource, and you never really know how much you’ll have until unlock the ability to see it. Combine that with Civ 5’s “we still don’t like you building cities” M.O. and you could be frustratingly locked into a different Affinity or just use standard units forever.

Speaking of forever, my Civ 5 experience in pressing End Turn about a thousand times before anything of consequence occurs has carried over into Beyond Earth. I have completed one game thus far, where I decided to go for the Supremacy victory instead of “just roll over the insane enemy Civs” victory. After grinding up Supremacy to the prerequisite level, I had to spend 30 turns building an Emancipation gate. Then I needed to… send 1,000 Attack worth of units through the gate. And you can only send one unit per turn. I get that this would probably be completely compelling in a multiplayer match or something, but Jesus.

Worth it.

Worth it.

My second game was on a bigger map that ended up being an Archipelago-ish area. Which could be interesting… except, whoops, you need to spend ~17 turns researching the ability to Embark your land units. Remember when I told you that high-level aliens are everywhere right from the start? That also includes the seas. You can’t even escort a colony expansion until you research Gunboats in such a scenario, and one Gunboat can eat about two hits from the standard sea alien. It was literally turn 98 before my 2nd city came up to speed. I might have been able to push for a much earlier expansion but, again, Sid Meier apparently hates cities these days so I wanted the few he would deign to grant me to be near some strategic resource.

Want to know how that game ended? I came into it deciding to go Harmony and channel my inner Deirdre this time around. After unlocking the ability to see Xenomass, I check out the map and… huh. There is pretty much just one free node anywhere near me. Which makes sense, in a way, given that it spawns on land and this particular world is mostly water. Still, it was discouraging enough for me to just abandon the effort altogether. No doubt I could have switched strategies to something else – there were alternative avenues of (eventual) victory – but I wanted a Xeno Titan. Oh well.

There is more to say about Beyond Earth and it’s inevitable parade of expansions that will socket in more Civ 5 mechanics, but these are my impressions at 2am after playing 16 hours across three days. If you liked Civ 5, you’ll probably like this game. If you liked Alpha Centauri, you probably won’t. I am not quite sure what I ultimately feel like right now, but I do know that I would like to try it again.

[Civ5] Starting to See

Okay, okay. I’m starting to see why everyone is all “one… more… turn” when it comes to Civ 5.

After I wrote the post on Wednesday, I sat down to what ended up being an unintentional marathon gaming session. On reflection though, I am not even entirely sure why. I mean, yeah, “one more turn.” But that was sort of because A) I did nothing of any meaning the last four turns, and B) something was actually occurring. I suddenly sat up in my chair, pointed at the screen, and said “No you fucking didn’t!”

He totally did.

He totally did.

Whoops, that’s actually a screenshot I took because I had no idea what was going on. Good on the Civ team for going the extra, multicultural mile there, but I’ve been playing against these computers for nearly 4000 years and I still couldn’t tell you who Harun al-Rashid or Haile Selassie are, where Addis Ababa is located, how a trade route even gets plundered, or why I should really care when I can make another Caravan in 2 turns.

It is sort of funny because I ended up in the same position I remember being in way back in Civ 2: running out of things to build and just clicking End Turn until the next technology is unlocked. Pretty early in the game my capital ended up being a Wonder Farm, pumping out colossus statues and Big Bens every 5 turns until that well went dry. Then I seemed to have missed the religion boat entirely, at least until the Missionaries started pouring in from the North, giving my cities ecclesiastical whiplash every few turns.

And then… goddamn Brazil ruined everything. Or more specifically my hopes of a cultural victory.

Fine.

There was blood.

There was blood.

It’s funny how a little unprovoked continental warfare suddenly increases your average Decisions-Per-Turn. I wasn’t able to muster enough forces to crush the last city – 107 Defense power, what? – but that’s fine. I got the time… until nukes.

Just a few more turns…

Civ Mistake

As you may know, I have an embargo of sorts on buying brand new games. Not only are new games more expensive, but there rarely is any benefit to buying it early – assuming you are physically capable of waiting for a week or two, you will have a lot more information about whether a given game lives up to your expectations or not. And even if you’re sure that it will be everything you dream it to be, it’s possible the game will be a bug-ridden, unplayable mess those first few days/weeks. Remember Fallout: New Vegas? Or basically any Bethesda game, I suppose.

So anyway, I pre-purchased Civilization: Beyond Earth.

In my defense, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was a seminal classic that still occupies a lot of my mindspace decades after the fact. Those quotes, man, those quotes. I still have a .TXT file on my computer that is full of profound nuggets of wisdom, many of which were transcribed from that game. Sure, most are real-world quotes that the game simply appropriated, but this was the means by which I was introduced to them for the first time. It sort of reminds me of how much Magic: the Gathering expanded my vocabulary and the fact that I experienced Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven for the first time in that bizarre intestinal parasite level in Earthworm Jim 2.

In any case, Beyond Earth was selling for $12.50 off on GreenManGaming. So… savings!

After re-watching some of the coverage for the game, it occurred to me that it looks a lot like Civ 5, which I have owned for months without ever having booted it up. And now that I have booted it up, I am beginning to sweat my decision a bit. Because, so far, my experience with Civ 5 is mirroring my experience with Crusader Kings 2 – namely as games that other people seem to enjoy way more than it seems likely or even possible.

Full disclosure: aside from Alpha Centauri, the only other Civ game I have played was Civ 2… on the Super Nintendo. I played the hell out of it and Alpha Centauri both, but these games aren’t my wheelhouse per se.

I did a sort of beginner’s match in Civ 5 and just started a second game on normal difficulty/Civ spread. With things approaching 1000 AD, I am sort of wondering when the fun starts. The problem from my perspective is that I don’t seem to actually be making any decisions very often. I’m perfectly fine playing the “long game” in strategy titles, but I’m not particularly fine with spam-clicking Next Turn for 200 years. Moving a War Chariot around looking for Barbarians isn’t exactly cutting it.

What I cannot quite figure out is whether this whether this is a sign of A) me doing something wrong, B) Civ 5 being a departure from prior games, or C) my own evolving tastes. I mean, I think it used to be that having a dozen cities was par for the course in older Civ titles, yes? Now I’m in the Classical age and just founded my 3rd city after some hemming and hawing. The beginner match I played was basically me rolling over my opponents militarily – with numerous interesting decisions to make each turn – but the warnings I kept getting every time I annexed a city and the penalties are leading me to believe that offensive units are only useful against Barbarians and Gandhi.

So, Civ 5 fans, am I doing it wrong? If it matters, I have all the DLC loaded already.