Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide Hands-On Preview

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As the successor to the critically acclaimed Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Beyond Earth was both a success and a frustration. Like its predecessor, Beyond Earth swapped ancient empires and historical, nuke-happy warmongers (we’re looking at you, Gandhi) for space colonies and alien worlds. The game received praise upon release, but some found it lacking depth and complexity, especially in comparison to Civilization V. Thankfully, Beyond Earth’s first expansion pack, Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide, promises to add a number of much-needed new features and layers of strategy into the game.

Obviously, the most important addition in Rising Tide is the inclusion of aquatic gameplay. When I first landed on my new world and established a colony for the glory of the Slavic Federation, the significance of the oceans were immediately apparent. The waters around my settlement were brimming with resources to claim and sea monsters to destroy, and could instantly be traversed with my initial units (as well as Rising Tide’s new aquatic units, such as the patrol boat and submarine). However, it’s the ability to settle cities on the water that will change the gameplay of Beyond Earth the most.

Aquatic cities are built by either purchasing new city hexes or moving the entire city into watery territories, essentially turning it into a floating fortress. Certainly, water cities have their advantages. Being on the open seas means you won’t face terrain problems; your units can now move further than they could on land and energy will be easier to obtain. That said, the downsides include problems such as poor food growth and the inability to produce land units efficiently.

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Water cities and their associative benefits/disadvantages open up a lot of interesting options in your quest to conquer your new world. Do you focus on creating a land or water empire? Theoretically, you could win the game without ever touching the land. Another question that the inclusion of aqua cities raises is whether you should fully develop the land you own before moving your city, or whether you should focus on expanding your territory as quickly as possible.

Diplomacy with other civilizations has also been given a big upgrade in Rising Tide. To understand why this is so important, you have to look back at other Civilization titles, or even Beyond Earth when it was first released. Negotiating with rival AI players could sometimes be a frustrating experience when they made bizarre decisions that seemed to defy logic. This breaks the immersion that you are dealing with an intelligent, tactful human, rather than an AI whose sole aim is to be an obstacle for the player to overcome.

In Rising Tide, there is a lot more data available when you are dealing with rival players, and you can now track how much another player respects and fears you. Respect is gained through actions such as co-operating with other settlements and fear is gained by having a ridiculously big army. Additionally, each rival player has their own priorities that you can view by clicking on their settlement. If you share said priorities, they will like you more and be more open to trading and alliances.

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The inclusion of such data makes other players’ actions a lot easier to anticipate and react to, and you can now effectively tailor your actions in order to maintain your relationships with other civilizations. For example, I increased my military strength in order to make the Americans more fearful of me when they began to respect and fear me less – a decision that secured me a beneficial trading deal. The overall effect of this improved diplomacy is that negotiations between players appear to be a lot more understandable and logical when compared to previous titles.

Beyond Earth also introduced the concept of affinities, which are overarching philosophies that determine how your colony develops throughout the game. One such affinity is Harmony. Followers of the Harmony affinity alter their own DNA with traits from the local wildlife and seek to create an amiable world where humans and aliens co-exist peacefully. Opposite of that, followers of the Purity affinity want to preserve humankind and convert the planet into an Earth-like world. Each affinity really does have its own advantages and downsides, with an example being how the harmony affinity allows players to control alien units.

Rising Tide improves the affinity feature by introducing hybrid affinities, which allow you to merge two affinities together to create new specialized units and gain access to cultural benefits. A recently released featurette highlights the advantages that particular hybrid affinities provide. A harmony-purity combination, for instance, leads to healthier cities; self-healing military units and hybrid units such as the immortal. The inclusion of hybrid affinities then is another way in which Rising Tide has added a new layer of depth to the original game.

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In fact, it seems almost every aspect of Beyond Earth has been improved in this expansion pack. The tech web is now easier to navigate due to it being colour-coded, and the new artefact system allows you to cash findings in groups of three for a bigger return. Furthermore, I personally felt the civilizations and their leaders gained a lot more personality in what I played of Rising Tide. Perhaps this was a consequence of the improved diplomacy system and how other players have their own traits which you can appeal to.

Overall, my first impressions of this anticipated expansion are quite positive. The inclusion of aquatic gameplay is an enjoyable game-changer and offers new layers of strategy to take into account. Furthermore, a lot of the game’s initial mechanics have also been improved, fixed or built upon.

For those who felt that Beyond Earth was lacking in depth, Civilization: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide appears to be a great leap forward, which may be bad news for those of you who are recovering from Civilization’s infamous ‘one more turn’ syndrome…