Galactic Civilizations 3: Prepare for Extermination
No one can hear you scream.
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Galactic Civilizations II rightfully deserves its place next to Civilization and Alpha Centauri as one of the best 4X strategy games of all time. It's been almost nine years since it was released, and after getting some hands-on time with the Galactic Civilizations III beta, I can see that Stardock has been hard at work to ensure that the new game deserves its moniker. The developer has beefed up the terrain of the galaxy, provided interesting strategic options, revamped the ship designer, added unique resources, and implemented more advanced options for managing your colonies.
Of course, it wouldn't be a 4X game without a healthy dose of exploration, and that's where you notice the greatest improvements. The varied maps feature vast numbers of anomalies, colonizable planets, black holes, and valuable resources ripe for extraction. These regions form a perfect environment to exploit for a tactical advantage, varying play and opening up options for both defenders and attackers.
The ship designer has also received a complete overhaul, and is no longer merely cosmetic. Your changes actually affect how heavy the ship is, how much it costs to produce, what it can carry, and how well-armed it is. If you really dig into the editor, you can squeeze a lot of extra performance out of your designs for the same cost. The editor also includes robust cosmetic options, and many of the parts of a ship can be fully animated. While not in the beta currently, lighting and other advanced animation and modeling features are planned, all of which can make your ships the intergalactic dreadnoughts you know they should be.
As your empire spreads on the backs of your customized spacecraft, you'll have the opportunity to decide the path of your empire with moral choices. Each time you land on a new planet, you have a choice to make. Most deal with the local wild life, odd geological conditions, or ancient ruins. Over time, you'll have to push your empire in one of three directions: Pragmatism, Benevolence, or Malevolence. Each path serves as its own kind of tech tree, providing bonuses that support your play style. Some races naturally tend towards one style or another, and they all have their own separate, unique technology trees to complement their ideologies.
When you've founded a new colony and are trying to manage its development, you'll notice a number of new additions. The most obvious is the switch to hexes over the series' traditional squares. In gameplay terms, that means that structures that afford bonuses to specific kinds of adjacent buildings can enhance more structures at a time. There's also a greater variety in the planets you find, each boasting different layout for its resource tiles and a distinct look. Wealth, research, and industrial manufacturing specialization also got a facelift. Now, resource allocation is handled with an allocation wheel, with numbers that change in real time to help you decide which approach is best when laying out a plan for your empire's economic development. You also have the option to change your manufacturing output from planetary improvement to starship production and vice versa.
Extermination is the last of the four X's, and it's currently the only path to victory in the Galactic Civilizations III beta; diplomacy, trade, and minor civilizations haven't been implemented. Stardock also plans to add a cinematic camera to battles so you can get a front-row view of the destruction, but for now, battles are fairly dry affairs.
Galactic Civilizations III is still rather rough, but it's potential shines through. More tactical play, more strategic and economic options, and even micro-scale planning are all helpful and built around solid mechanics. Only time will tell if it can live up to the fantastic games that came before it.