All of the affinities have the same level based progression system, and there are plenty of opportunities for progression through techs or mission rewards. As you gain more points, you’ll be able to alter your units to better represent your philosophy and maximize their strengths. For example, space hippies will eventually find that Harmony allows them to recruit some of the local aliens to fight alongside them for a very well rounded and powerful squad.
Outside of unique troops, affinities are also the driving point in the narrative of Civilization: Beyond Earth. Each of the three affinities has their own “unique” win condition. Unlock enough points, and you’ll be able to build your final wonder that brings the story of your colony to a close and asserts your dominance over the planet around you.
The reason I put “unique” in quotes is that while they offer a unique narrative, they’re not all that different. This is one of the massive flaws here, and it’s one that can’t be overlooked. Sure, each of the planetary wonders offers a bit of gameplay variation during the 30 turns it takes for them to finish powering up, but it’s really more of the same. Harmony looks to reach the Transcedence victory which allows them to meld mind with the entire planet and Supremacy works towards Emancipation who want to return to Earth and demonstrate the power of their new cybernetics. The Purity affinity builds The Promised Land, and brings all of the people stranded on Earth to their new home planet.
With only five victory conditions in the game right now, you would really hope for more variation in how it ends. Outside of the affinity conditions, we still have Contact, which is your standard science based victory where you build a beacon that allows you to reach out to other extraterrestrial life, and you have the standard destroy all other civilizations. Four out of the five possible victory conditions just feel too similar in practice, and it really ends up feeling like I’m missing part of the experience.
I can hope that these are eventually addressed through DLC, but that’s not something I should be thinking about around the launch window. Going through some of the files, people have already found mentions of religion buried in the game, which makes sense considering this is the Civilization V engine at play. I’m not sure how it or the other victory conditions we’ve grown accustom to (cultural, peace, and economic, respectively) could be implemented here, but the game is worse off for not having touched them.
Visually, Civilization: Beyond Earth isn’t the most impressive title we’ve come across, but it does do a great job of pulling off the space age aesthetics. Each planet does offer a slightly new feel, and the color pallet makes sure you know that you’re not home anymore. Yellow and blue ground giving way to green miasma just gives it a perfect futuristic feel.
From the audio side, this may be one of the best soundtracks of the year. It’s very understated and never draws attention to itself, but feels like the perfect type of music to have on in the background for just about anything. It’s probably going to make its way into my rotation of music for when I really need to buckle down on a project.
Even with the aforementioned glaring flaws, Civilization: Beyond Earth is a fantastic game. It still has a sort of gameplay that keeps you coming back for just one turn. I took my rig over to a buddy’s house to play through some multiplayer thinking we’d just go for an hour or two, but before we realized it, it was four in the morning and his girlfriend had long since passed out on the couch (Sorry Leigh!) There’s just something to be said for a game that can pull that off. It’s not exactly Civilization V in space, and while that may be a good or bad thing in your personal opinion, it’s definitely a game worth checking out.
This review is based on the PC version, which was provided to us for review purposes.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is decidedly deserving of carrying the weight of the franchise in a new direction, but it’s simply lacking enough variety for it to become the new standard bearer.