The name of the game in the Civilization series has always been "conquest".
While players build up their burgeoning society through research, farming, road-building and architectural endeavour, the core goal in each of Sid Meier’s great strategy games has been ultimately to subjugate the competition or leave them behind once the dust off to Alpha Centauri has been completed.
Sid Meier’s Civilization Beyond Earth doesn’t tinker really with this end goal. What it does do is toss players into an alien environment with a skills and a vastly different set of requirements for survival. They’ll still build units, cities, farms, and roads and conduct research, but the world around them will have a lot more of an immediate effect on how they progress.
The environment in Beyond Earth is hostile. Not only is it filled with pockets of "miasma gas"– which peel health of any unit that ends a turn in them – it’s also dotted with alien hives that produce copious amounts of hostile xenomorphs. If the player’s city sits in close proximity to the hive, players will experience waves of attacks until it’s destroyed. This is an alien world – and it doesn’t like you.
Oribits and affinities
There are two big tweaks to the structure of the traditional Civilization template. The first is the addition of orbital platforms. Players can launch satellites to augment ground operations based on the amount of orbital coverage they have – and this is dictated by the size of their cities. Not only does this provide them with a useful tactical advantage, it also can lead them into conflict with the AI because as their cities grow, their coverage begins to overlap with their neighbours. This will prompt the AI to issue ultimatums and attack because the player is essential taking their aerial turf.
Second, political and governmental structures have been replaced with Affinity. This is a philosophical and political aesthetic that not only provides a governmental framework for each race, it also dictates what sort of units and buildings the player can construct.
There are three Affinities to choose from: Harmony, Purity and Supremacy. Harmony dictates that human society adapts and becomes a part of the alien world around it. Supremacy adheres to the ideology that humankind should evolve through technology and cybernetic augmentation. Purity does what it says on the tin – it rejects both other Affinity in the interests of maintaining the human state of evolution.
Depending on which Affinity players adopt for their society, the structures and units they build will take on a certain visual aesthetic. Supremacy cities will be filled with gleaming pillars of metal and glass, while Harmony structures take on a more organic and otherworldly appearance. Units, too, will copy the look and feel of their surroundings and, over time, will be endowed with abilities unique to each Affinity.
At high levels, for example, Harmony civilisations can summon up giant worms and bi-pedal beasts to squash their enemies while Purity societies can construct giant floating towers bristling to the nines with guns.
The politics and philosophies contained in Beyond Earth are great new additions from a mechanical and structural standpoint, but more than any game in this series, they strip away the polite veneer of diplomacy. Beyond Earth feels positively Darwinian and that’s fitting in a way; on a hostile alien world, only the strong survive and only the brutal thrive.
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