First, the bad news. Instead of November, fans of Galactic Civilizations II will now have to wait until 2007 for the upcoming Dark Avatar expansion to the excellent turn-based space strategy game. The good news is the reason for the delay. Galactic Civilizations II challenged you to conquer a galaxy full of alien species, either as an alien yourself or as the human faction. The sheer fact that you could do so in so many different ways, from economically to militarily, made Galactic Civilizations II a very satisfying game that appealed to strategy fans. With the Dark Avatar expansion, Stardock had always planned on introducing new features, but it didn't realize just how many it would ultimately add.
As Stardock CEO Brad Wardell explained to us, Stardock's plans fell apart after the company solicited fans for features they wanted to see in the expansion. The designers got so many good ideas that Wardell said they "didn't want to wait for a sequel to add in some of the stuff." As a result, the expansion has been pushed back from November to February to accommodate many of the new features.
This new Dark Avatar expansion will now let you not only choose your own opponents, but design them as well. In fact, you can create a stable of new races to play with or against, and the customization options are more than skin deep. You can give each new race its custom ship designs, select a distinct personality for the faction, tweak its special abilities and bonuses, mess around with its political system, and more.
Even more interesting are the new mega events, which are potentially game-destabilizing events designed to keep you on your toes. Wardell noted that the best players had come up with rigid formulas to win, and the idea of mega events is to occasionally turn the game on its side and shake things up. An example of a mega event could be a religious revolution that shatters all the empires into halves, so a lot of rebellious factions suddenly appear. Or it could be a galactic plague that decimates the galaxy.
Espionage is another major new introduction. Basically, now you'll be able to recruit spies and send them on missions to sabotage enemy planets. The problem is that spies have an escalating cost, as each new spy costs even more than the previous one, so you'll be able to produce only a limited number of spies in each game. If you lose a spy on a mission, he can't be easily replaced, so you'll have to carefully hoard your agents.
The expansion will also address many of the gameplay loopholes that players are exploiting in the current game. The strategy of rushing out and colonizing planets at the beginning of the game is going to be dealt a big hit with the introduction of hazardous environments. In the current game, players colonize every planet they can get their hands on, no matter how puny, while the artificial intelligence is more picky, so the result is that the players have a huge economic advantage. That will be gone in Dark Avatar, and hazardous environments will mean that many planets are off limits until players can research the appropriate technology to settle on them.
The addition of asteroid fields also adds a lot more strategy to the game. Asteroid fields can provide resources, but the problem is that each field can supply only a single planet. The farther away a planet is from the asteroid field, the smaller the percent of resources that arrive. So which planet do you supply? Do you select the resource-poor one or direct the resources to a production planet? And now you've got to protect the asteroid fields and trade lanes, because an enemy might suddenly cut you off from your resource base.
All these new features certainly sound cool, so fans will probably understand the delay of the expansion's release. Stardock plans to release the expansion separately, but it will also release a gold package that bundles the core game and the expansion so that newcomers can join in the fun, too.