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Review – Galactic Civilizations II

posted on March 7th, 2006 by golden jew
Oh, the Space UN.  What retarded resolution are we going to vote on this month?

Along this level of depth is the feature of your civilization choosing an “alignment.” This occurs through a variety of events (some random, some triggered upon colonizing a planet). In each event, you are presented with a leadership dilemma, and have a good, neutral, and evil option. Typically, the good option imposes the most penalties, the neutral has minimal costs/bonuses, and the evil option usually is a benefit (although often at the cost of your population). Once you research the appropriate technology, you can pick your alignment. The direction you “lean” affects the cost of choosing your path (if you have been evil, going good will bankrupt the treasury). Each alignment opens up different bonuses and technologies, adding more replayability. Plus, some of the decisions are quite funny—in one situation, your citizens on a planet have contracted a horrible plague. But the juice from the plague boils is considered an alien delicacy. Do you—A) spend money to find a cure, and ignore this odd phenomena B) Sell the juice, but use the profits to finance the cure, or C) Maximize your profits from the juice? It’s hard being an intergalactic leader.

Ship design is a marvel. There are several base “hulls” depending on the size of the ship provided by the game. Each hull is coated in hardpoints, and I mean COATED. These hardpoints then can be used to attach your standard array of weapons, shields, engines, etc, BUT, for the designer geek, you also can attach any number of the dozens of “extras” included. Extras cost no space, and make your ship look awesome. Think legos. The extras themselves have more hardpoints on them, so you can add wings with missiles under them, or structure upon structure to make some really neat stuff. I usually hate this sort of thing, but I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time customizing my ships. Further, you can save designs, and they carry over game to game (becoming available when you have the right techs). Really a great feature.

The standard screen. Colored lines are trade routes. Ships, planets, stars, and starbases all shown on screen.

Ship combat is automated, which annoys me. There are three types of weapons, and three corresponding defenses. Beams and deflectors, missiles and point defense, and mass drivers and armor. Initially, I was really down on this setup. I was very much a fan of MOO2, which had “classes” of weapons, but then each system was customizable, and defenses were armor + shields. In GC2, the “optimum” defense works best against a given weapon (see the pairings above), and the other two defenses operate at an extreme disadvantage. This creates an interesting rock paper scissors dynamic, where you want to build specialized ships, and combine them into well rounded fleets. It also forces you into tech tree decisions. If you run up specific trees, you pidgeon hole yourself. Conversely, if you spread out research, you limit your overall damage potential. It makes for interesting decisions and the need to customize based on your opponents tech.

And like I said, it sucks that the battles are totally automated. You get to watch the fight, but the computer dukes it out for you (the methodology is “most lethal,” “easiest to destroy,” ship is targeted first). Further, some of the fights I’ve watched were kind of bizarre, with ships wandering around and firing at awkward angles. Still, the fights were pretty otherwise, with ships shields (if they have them) flashing when hit by deflectors, and so on. Overall, if ship combat was more like say, Homeworld, the game would be a BEYOND awesome. But I recognize that the resources to implement that kind of “mini RTS” inside of what is already a very detailed strategy game.

My newest creation, the Annhilator. May it slay my foes, rape their women, and enslave their children. Or at least win in automatically resolved combat.

By far, the single, most absurd, huge, glaring deficiency in the game: no multiplayer. Apparently it is intended for an upcoming expansion. The AI is quite good, so the absence isn’t as bad as it could be. But come on. In this day and age it’s amazing to me that a developer would make a game without any multiplayer capabilities. Even MOO2 was a multiplayer game, and it was released in the late 90’s! There is an interesting essay on the GC2 forums by one of the developers, giving the rationale behind the decision: essentially, multiplayer devours a huge part of a game’s budget, and only benefits a small portion of the population. Grudgingly, I have to accept this: although I love the CONCEPT of multiplayer turn based games, the truth is they tend to suck: typically, there are stretches of the game where you just want to keep clicking turns by. In a multiplayer game, there’s always someone who has some empire maintenance to do, thus forcing everyone else to wait, and making the game less fun. So there is something to be said for a robust single player experience. Still. No multiplayer? Come on.

In conclusion: GC2 delivers. Excellent planetary system, the universe is great. The graphics are a pleasure and the sound is very mood setting. Ship design raises the bar for the genre as a whole. The only thing truly missing is multiplayer. If you are a fan of this genre, buy this game. You will not be disappointed.

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2 Comments

  1. Dan said on May 18, 2006:

    I just bought this game. And all I have to say is this: it is fucking great, once you figure out what the hell is going on.

  2. Golden Jew said on May 18, 2006:

    It does have a bit of a learning curve, but most of these games do.

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