by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
In The Beginning...
First there was Galactic Civilizations. Pretty much your run-of-the-mill space empires, turn-based game. You got to play the human civilization and vie with 5 other major civilizations, with a half-dozen or so minor civilizations which were there to add a little color. Most games were the the basic "corner start" campaign: each player starts with one planet near a corner of the map, and then everyone colonizes like crazy until they bump into each others' borders. That's when the game really started. The storyline was that the other civilizations had been out there, moving about the galaxy using some Ancient technology which nobody understood, until they bumped into the itty-bitty Terrans, allowing us to become another minor player on the cosmic scene. But then 40 years later we uppity humans decided to improve on the Ancient transportation system by creating a hyperdrive that allows ships to travel anywhere. (Just shows you what clever monkeys can accomplish!) Like most space empire games, there was a technology tree waiting to be researched, and shipbuilding was limited to which ship technologies had been successfully researched. Add some planetary development and empire management and you had the basic game. What made GalCiv unique was the introduction of civilization morality: how you as a leader decided to handle the events that frequently occurred determined if your empire was overall "Good" or "Evil". And whichever one you were influenced your relations with other empires, which technologies became available for research, and how your own population behaved.
Then came Galactic Civilizations: Altarian Prophecy. Add two more major civilizations, a couple more minor civilizations, a campaign that developed the designers' storyline for their universe, 10 scenarios with custom maps, 4 additional ship classes (some reserved for certain good/evil empires), more techs to research, slightly better graphics, and several editors so you could create your own maps, campaigns, and scenarios. ["...And a partridge in a pear tree."] You once again had a choice of either following the Stardock vision of the future universe (something about the human-looking Altarians running into the Terran humans spelled D-O-O-M for all the other nasty alien empires, which meant GANG UP ON THE HUMANS!). Or you could play your own campaign by choosing your computer opponents, the opponents' level of competence, and whether they tended towards evil or good. Overall, not much new stuff; just more of the same.
Then along came Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords. You could design your own race! No more "You must be the human!" And you could design your own ships! Not just determine what systems went inside, but you could shape the look of every ship that you built. (However, no matter how they were shaped or how they looked or how much they massed, two ships with the same systems still performed identically.) And with unique ship designs, there was a combat display that actually let you see that very same uniquely designed vessel slugging it out with anything the universe threw at it. Cool! As if that wasn't enough, Stardock also threw in a truly unique planetary management system: you didn't simply build a queue of structures, you had to actually place them on the planet surface. (And how dismaying when you ran out of room because there weren't enough suitable locations on a planet to build the Galactic Stock Exchange or whatever.) Once again, you could play through Stardock's scenarios and campaigns (which had the really nasty Dregin Empire beating the snot out of everyone) or go your own route by picking and choosing opponents and determining their competence and alignment.
"I Have Seen The Future And It Doesn't Look Good."
Soon, you will be able to see the next installment, billed as "More than an expansion, more like a sequel." But not quite enough to be Galactic Civilizations III. Stardock's future vision has those truly nasty Dregin in total control of the galaxy. Now the question on every Dregin's mind is, "What do we do with all of those pitiful inferior races?" If you belong to the major Dregin clan, the Korath, the answer is simple: "Kill 'em all! Who wants that trash around anyway?" Unfortunately for the Korath, the Dregin government (with the backing of about half of the Dregin people think the answer should be, "Use them as slaves!" Hey, why bother to conquer them if you can't make a profit? This, of course, will result in a civil war between the legitimate government and the Korath. (Think Iraq on a galactic scale.) YOU get to play the part of the government's top military leader, trying to put the Korath into their proper place. Which left-handedly means that you will be fighting to preserve the lives -- if not the well-being of all the other races. Hence the title, "Dark Avatar".