Have you ever heard the phrase, “one more click?”
Sid Meier’s Civilization is a series which is, unquestionably, one of gaming’s classics. Central to the strategy genre’s canon, Civilization’s formula has defined an era of turn-based clicking that has forever impacted the industry. Sid Meier himself is a giant in the gaming world, standing next to other great directors like Miyamoto, Wright, and Kojima. There are few games and few game makers that have the same luster or historical pedigree that Sid Meier’s Civilization has.
While it is indeed true, the series is remarkable, it is also true that even in spite of its ups it most certainly has its downs. For decades, the series has managed to win the hearts and minds of fans and critics alike, but there is the occasional dud. For every Civ II there is a Civ III. For every Civilization V there is a Civilization: Beyond Earth. And that, unfortunately, is where we are at today. But would you still like to take one more click?
What Is It?
Civilization: Beyond Earth is the latest in the decades long Civilization franchise. Riding off the success of Civilization V and its excellent expansions, Beyond Earth is taking the series in a new direction: out of history.
A hallmark of the franchise has been its unique blend of history and fantasy. You might be playing as Augustus Caesar of Rome or Theodora of Byzantium, all the while fighting against Gandhi or George Washington. While not exactly historically true, it was historically grounded.
Sid Meier’s franchise has always been known for its excellent use of historical data. For example, many of the units and the buildings one would develop through a tour in time would be real historical entities. You could start in the stone age or some era of prehistory, build a settlement, start to farm, then build wonders like the Pyramids. Over time your civilization would grow, you’d create more complex wonders, and (if it’s Civilization V) build a rocket a fly into space.
That trajectory, while basic, was a cornerstone of the Civilization gameplay. Moving from the ancient past to a time in the very immediate future (2050 being a common end-point) was what kept Civilization in the ecosystem of human history.
But there has always been this inkling or lingering question as to what comes next. What, exactly, happens to the Civilization that gets off Earth? When yours is victorious by culture, military, economy, or the space race what happens then?
Meier answered this somewhat with the ever-forgotten but always-excellent Alpha Centauri. It was a game running on a similar engine to Civilization II and is often considered one of the greatest games in the genre (alongside Civ). Needless to say, it has been a title which has always deserved a sequel but never really got one.
Beyond Earth, in a very real way, is that spiritual successor that Alpha Centauri should have gotten a long time ago. Sadly, it’s hardly deserving of the title.
Why Should I Care?
To be perfectly clear, Beyond Earth is an great game in its own right. Had it been released without any relationship to a the Civilization franchise it would have appeared superficially to be excellent. Well-balanced, visually appealing, great strategy with a decent amount of variety, and an addicting formula that takes hours and hours from you, Beyond Earth gets almost everything right. But what it doesn’t get right is its sense of self.
Barely ever explore, “the great mistake” is essentially a trope that just gets Civilization’s mechanic off planet Earth and out of historical time. It sends a variety of vaguely human civilizations into space to fight off alien hordes and other competing would-be empires.
There are several different ways to play the game and some of the additions are indeed very welcomed. Because you are on an alien planet, balancing humanlike tendencies are part of the ‘storyline’ and the gameplay. You have to decide if you want to balance life on the new planet (harmony), safeguard your civilization’s ancient practices (purity), or advance your technology and become some sort of master race (supremacy). These are called affinities.
From these three affinities you play a variety of paths to win the game. One such path allows earthlings left behind to establish settlements on the new planet; another is to return to Earth and establish the human race once again. Of course, there are common victory types like military but, sadly, it lacks culture.
There are several other changes in the gameplay that are either good or bad, but essentially the gameplay is the same as it was in Civilization V. But if Civilization V is so good (practically perfect) and Beyond Earth is nearly identical, what is the problem?
Beyond Earth, as strange as this sounds, is kind of boring.
There’s no real sense that you are involved in anything relevant other than an imaginary crisis which is basically never explained. The “great mistake” of Beyond Earth isn’t whatever thrust humanity into the stars; it’s that they never made it interesting or chaotic in the first place.
Why is it Worth My Time and Money?
There’s no doubt that Beyond Earth will be a value when you compare hours played to dollars spent. Many people pour hundreds of hours into these games and Beyond Earth will be no exception. A single match can take many hours and if you intend to try every game type, every civilization, and every other variable you should expect it will take many hours to complete.
The hours spent will indeed be a lot of fun. As stated earlier, Beyond Earth is basically and programmatically good. It plays well, it looks pretty, it’s fun, and it’s addicting; there’s just something missing and it comes down to its more essential character. It lacks the same charm and punch that the Civilization series is known for.
The mechanics are all practically perfect, as Civilization V was, but the charm, the humor, and the sense of a history or humanity is sorely lacking. Beyond Earth, while technically fine, is just not up to snuff when compared to either Civilization or Alpha Centauri.
Can Beyond Earth’s community improve it and modify it to such a degree that it’s significantly more clever? I certainly think it can. Even more than that, knowing how excellent the expansion packs tend to be there is a lot of hope for Beyond Earth through its overall tenure.
No matter what, it’s a game that is well worth your money and your time; it’s just hard to say whether Beyond Earth deserves to bear the title and count itself among the franchises true sequels.
But in the end, you’ll still want to take “one more click.”
Though perhaps it’s still better spent clicking away in Civilization V.