EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Galactic Civilizations III’s Steam debut back in March was more than a little underwhelming. The game lacked any sense of personality and it felt as if all there was to do was fly your spaceship around the galaxy. Being an Alpha build, it wasn’t fair to have high expectations but I don’t think developer Stardock did themselves any favours by throwing the game onto Steam in that state. The October update brought the game up to Beta 2 and added diplomacy and trade making the game feel like an actual game. Galactic Civilizations III is still far from complete but it is definitely worth having a second look at.
At this point, most of the major gameplay mechanics have been introduced, but not all. Only combat is missing still - though that’s a biggy. The game is rather pointless without it. What we can look at today is exploration, research, colonisation and diplomacy to get some idea of where Galactic Civilizations III is heading.
Starting at home, one thing you will immediately notice is that planets feel seriously cramped. The square building locations of Galactic Civilizations II have been replaced by hexagon-shaped tiles and their number is limited. I assume that at some point researching new technologies will open up new locations, but the potential is far lower than before.
Once you have some industry going, you can link up your planet with shipyards in the vicinity to increase production. When I say vicinity, I actually mean a rather large area as it is possible to link up planets from planets in remote sectors as well. You can even link up several planets to boost production even further. Pretty cool.
Taking the tub for a spin
Venturing outwards, your scout and survey ships will have a little more to do than they did in previous instalments. There is spacejunk to rummage through for cash and tech, asteroid fields to explore and lost ships to find and add to your fleet. A precious few relics can to be uncovered that can then be exploited for all kinds of benefits, like increased research or a sizable economic boost.
Ship movement feels a little... tired. It lacks the fluidity and energy you would expect from a strategy game anno 2014. This is especially true in the early stages when technology levels only allow for movement through a handful of sectors at a time. Once ships speed up a little it’s less of a problem, though not completely gone.
The ship designer is nothing short of impressive. I have to admit to feeling a little overwhelmed by the interface but once I got going it grew on me. Every race has over a hundred design components to play with, each can be fully scaled along the X, Y and Z axis and then rotated for good measure. I’m not sure if we should expect to see anyone recreating the Death Star any time soon but several Enterprises have already been spotted in the official Galactic Civilizations III forums, along with valiant attempts to design Battlestar Galactica.
Talking to the neighbours
Galactic Civilization’s race design really shines during diplomatic negotiations. They were always a strong suit of the franchise and the third instalment significantly ups the ante. The animations are top notch and lifelike enough that the full-screen presentation of your negotiation partner almost makes you feel like you’re Skyping with a real alien. Pretty much anything can be traded, whether it be technology (yay!), ships or colonies, and there are a number of treaty options available. I did really notice the lack of a “what will make this deal work” button as found in Civ 5. One could argue such a button isn’t needed as fine-tuning offers manually actually works better than in Civ.
Research is a little confusing. Split up into the 4 areas of Colonization, Engineering, Warfare and Governance, the “new research” window opens with a number of researchable technologies in each area. So far so good. Where it goes wrong is when technologies... branch out into sub technologies. Am I researching all of these or just one? And when I research one, do I still have access to the other two afterwards? Switching this view to the actual tech tree makes it marginally more comprehensible but once you start clicking around in that, the presentation becomes so chaotic you quickly close it again. This really needs more work.
Despite hints of a great game in the making, the proof is, as always, in the pudding. In Galactic Civilizations’ case that pudding is combat. Players will be spending a lot of time there and quite a few recent 4X games have shown that fiddling with the combat formula can have rather disastrous consequences - it ruined StarDrive for instance (they’re fixing it in StarDrive 2).
All things considered, I am fairly optimistic about how Galactic Civilizations III is shaping up, though not to the point that I would recommend buying it in Early Access. According to Stardock’s beta schedule, combat should arrive somewhere in December so we may not need to wait too long before knowing which way the coin is likely to drop.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.