Monday, November 24, 2014

Civ: Beyond Earth, Chuckit!

Hello! Thanks for dropping by. My apologies for a dry spell between posts—I have been insanely busy with a Secret Project the last few weeks. Finding time to ruminate on things (in what I hope you find to be an entertaining or enlightening manner) can be tough when deadlines are shouting and stomping their feet. Anyway, read on for this week’s edition of my blog on gaming, politics, and the finer things in life.

Gaming: Over the last few years, my biggest personal time-waster has been Civilization. Today I’m going to reflect on Civilization: Beyond Earth (hereafter abbreviated Civ:BE). I buy each new entry in the Civilization series pretty much without question, and I’m a sucker for the downloadable content and the expansion packs too. When the game starts feeling a little stale, I go cruising for interesting mods. So overall, I play a LOT of Civ, and I do crazy things like “make sure I play as every country,” and “make sure I win in each possible victory type,” and sometimes even “make sure I win every possible victory with each country.”

Civilization: Beyond Earth takes the skeleton of Civilization 5 and continues on from where Civ 5 leaves off (if you win through the space race, anyway). Your “nation” is now a fledgling colony established on an extrasolar planet. You have a whole new world to tame, filled with strange new types of terrain and dangerous aliens (they replace the barbarians who trouble you in the early turns of the Civ 5 game). If you’re a longtime fan of the Civ franchise, this may sound familiar—conceptually, Civ:BE is very much like Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri game from 1999.

Since there are dozens of real reviews you can find online, I’m just going to point out some things I like and don’t like about the new Civ:BE. First, the positives:

  • Pretty. The graphics and animations are really nice. I love watching my worker units build stuff. And I freaked a little the first time I saw the parts of a siege worm that are normally underground.
  • Quests. Civ:BE introduces a robust little quest system. The quests let you decide which bonuses your key buildings provide and provide you with fun little opportunities for making storytelling decisions about your colony. (I did hit a buggy quest with Cultural Burden, though. The FAIL icon mocked me throughout the game.)
  • New Resources. It feels like there is something interesting going on in almost every tile. The resources are very alien-planet mysterious and pay off huge with the right tile improvements.
  • Explorers. Civ:BE basically combines the Scout and Archaeologist units from Civ 5 into one piece. I love these little guys. There’s a mod out to make them more useful in the late game, but I haven’t tried it out yet.
  • Victory Steps. Six types of victory are possible, and each (other than conquer the world) comes with a quest chain of techs to develop, things to build, and special events that happen while you’re driving for the win. It adds a lot of great SF narrative to the endgame.

And a couple of things I am not so crazy about:

  • No Luxury Goods. All special resources appear to be strategic. I miss the luxury goods from Civ 5. First off, it was always handy to manage happiness by getting your hands on new luxuries. Second, the luxury goods drove a *lot* of trade with NPC leaders. I feel like there is nothing I want from the Civ:BE NPC leaders.
  • Technobabble. It’s a sci-fi theme, so of course a lot of the technologies, buildings, and wonders are things we haven’t invented yet. But I found a lot of the names and descriptions pretty unconvincing. What’s the difference between a cytonursery and a xenonursery? A node bank and a network? I don’t know what I’m building, I just know it’s +2 Science.
  • Tough Aliens. It’s a bad strategy to fight the aliens. They’re a LOT tougher than your early units and they outnumber you. I guess it’s okay for the game to tell players chasing the Harmony alignment to make nice with ET, but I wish that some game conditions made it a good choice to interact differently with the aliens. I don’t like it when you need to play something the same way each time.

There are a number of other changes as compared to Civ 5 that I could dwell on—for example, the new “orbital layer” on the map, customizing your faction right at the start, more espionage options, no Great People—but those are things I don’t really like or dislike, they’re just different.

Anyway, Civilization: Beyond Earth is overall a very handsome game, and introduces things I would like to see in the civ franchise going forward. I think I would like it better if it took the interesting new twists on gameplay (quests, for instance) and used them to build a “classic” Civ game with historical nations and buildings—I feel a lot more engaged by building Libraries and Knights and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But, I suppose that would make it Civ 6. In the meantime, I’ll play the heck out of Beyond Earth for a while.

The Finer Things: Chuckit! and playing fetch with my dogs. The Chuckit! is basically an atl-atl for tennis balls. It is amazing how much more leverage you get on a throw. I think I can throw a tennis ball 70 or 80 yards with the Chuckit!, which is a problem since I have a 30-yard back yard. Oh, and if you do really want to heave the ball, make sure the dog is looking when you throw it. More than once Boomer looked away just at the instant I flung the ball 70 yards down the beach, and he had no idea the ball was no longer with me. Led to some long walks to get the ball and throw it again when he was looking.