Galactic Civilizations III Early Access Review

For testing purposes only. And they really mean it.

by

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

At least it's honest. The alpha version of Galactic Civilizations III currently available on Steam is remarkably up front about what it has to offer, loading with a splash screen informing you that the current build is just for testing. Confusing the experience ahead with having fun apparently leads to nothing but "tragedy." And just in case you're a forgetful sort, a helpful blurb is permanently tacked to the top of the main game screen reminding you yet again that this alpha build is intended solely for the test-happy crowd. So if you somehow wind up enjoying yourself, apologies all around, but the fun is purely accidental.

Floating space junk worth a random number of credits. You'll see this a lot.

OK: some of these warnings are undeniably tongue-in-cheek. But they are also dead-on accurate, because the latest addition to Stardock Entertainment's long-standing 4X space sim family is awfully slender right now. Only the barest bones of the eventual space epic are visible in the current build. That means you can play solo and with others (although you need to manually set up matches right now, which makes it very tough to find opposition) with four races, including the usual milquetoast humans, the whiskery Scots-lizards known as the Drengin, the Altarian Resistance, and the newly playable Iridium Corporation, but all of the other options are grayed out. So you can't build your own ships, peruse the metaverse, or take on any individual scenarios, and even customization features are missing in action. You can't make a galaxy any bigger than "small" or "tiny" right now, difficulty can't be adjusted, and none of the victory conditions are working.

Getting into a game reveals that clicking on many features brings up nothing but "Coming Soon" icons. You can't engage in diplomacy, check out planet info when trying to govern your colonies, and so forth. You can automatically make enemy ships go boom simply by sending your own vessels at them and approving the battle, which isn't exactly challenging even while it does allow you to build an empire on demand. A new combat system is apparently being planned for inclusion once the game moves beyond alpha development, but there is no evidence of this new system in the current build. All in all, you're stuck in a developer-friendly sandbox (which, in fairness, pretty much sums up the average alpha build of a game), able to try out the basics of exploration, colonization, starship building, and tech research, but nothing more.

Everything looks very good, but also remarkably similar to the eight-year-old Gal Civ II.

Ideology is the one interesting new feature. This alignment-style tweak lets you embrace peaceful, pragmatic, and warlike philosophies (old-time D&Ders will call this trio lawful, neutral, and chaotic) that sculpt your imperial development with various bonuses. Not all of the possible options are included in the alpha, but what's here functions like an additional tech tree. Instead of techs, you pick societal options like forced labor, which increases factory production, or interplanetary sports, which boosts tourism income and unlocks starbase modules like the zero-g arena. This holds huge promise for customizing empires and adding replay value, so it will be fascinating to see how it works in the full game.

Enemy artificial intelligence comes with a room-temperature IQ at present. Your rivals are just sort of there. They colonize the odd planet, scout around various systems, and even threaten you with destruction during first contact, but they can't fight you due to the MIA combat system, and they are too lazy to even pick up all of the random space goodies strewn around their home planets. You barely notice your alien foes as you gallivant around the galaxy, colonizing planets and setting up starbases right under their noses.

A new combat system is apparently being planned for inclusion once the game moves beyond alpha development, but there is no evidence of this new system in the current build.

Repetition is another issue with the alpha. Every planet that you colonize, for instance, comes with either sentient pods that can merge with your citizens to offer enhanced intelligence at the cost of blinding agony or (more rarely) an ancient vessel trapped beneath the ice that you can free at the cost of flooding out inhabitants. Both scenarios are cool, but are derivative of at least a couple of Star Trek episodes and The Thing. The galactic goodie bags that you encounter in space are also problematic. Mysterious alien hardware grants you a 25 percent bonus to research/beam weapons/sensors/whatever, and scrounging through a debris field results in enough space junk to earn you a random number of credits. Then, a wormhole throws you across the galaxy and you do it all over again.

Everything looks and sounds good, at least, with pretty map visuals, a smooth interface, and an applaudable lack of bugs and crashes. The look and feel are surprisingly similar to the game's eight-year-old Galactic Civilizations II predecessor, with the fonts, main star map (even with the addition of a new hex-based grid), and planetary management screens carrying over many of the earlier game's iconic visuals. That said, there isn't anything here with the presentation values that would seem to demand the 64-bit operating system that the game requires, so all of that horsepower must be needed solely under the hood.

In space, no one can hear you yawn.

There's a catch, however, and it's a big one. The only option to buy the early access game right now is to pony up $99.99 for the Founder's Elite Edition that serves as a lifetime subscription for all things Galactic Civilizations III. That one price buys you this alpha, all subsequent builds including the final game, and then all of the many planned monthly downloadable content packages and full-fledged expansions. That's a lot of cash up front for a game that likely won't be finished until 2015 (the current production schedule shows beta development right into October of this year), although it could pay off in big savings for hardcore fans who would otherwise purchase all of the content as it is released. Still, you have to have a lot of faith in Stardock to put this amount of money down today, given what you're actually able to play at the present time.

Right now, Galactic Civilizations III is more of a billboard than an early access game. This is an ad aimed at hardcore fans who don't want to wait any longer for the next chapter in this 4X epic. You can see everything that this alpha has to offer in no more than a couple of hours. It's a very brief teaser that doesn't tease nearly enough of what the upcoming game will offer--a preaching-to-the-choir release geared solely to hold over diehards until a more meaty build can be finalized.

What's There?

Alpha 1 is very limited, with most of the game options and features unavailable at the present time.

What's to Come?

New civilizations, larger maps, customization features, scenarios, ship building, and much more remain to be added sometime in the future.

What Does it Cost?

$99.99, available via Steam, a price that includes this build and all content to be released for Galactic Civilizations III in the future, including monthly DLC and expansions.

When Will it Be Finished?

A final release date has not been announced at the present time. But based on the limited content in this alpha build and the design schedule available online, expect to see a 2015 release.

What's the Verdict?

It's impossible to come to any conclusions based on how little of Galactic Civilizations III is in this early access release. The game clearly has potential, but that's based mostly on its outstanding pedigree, not on much that is playable right now.

Discussion

63 comments
Deckard2323
Deckard2323

A long long time ago, in the 90s, they used to have those things called magazines.  And in them, they had similar write-ups like this one.  Except they were called PREVIEWS.

Boddicker
Boddicker

*sigh*


I would kill to play this on consoles, but I suppose Stardock doesn't want to mess with the patching fees.

dragoonslayer19
dragoonslayer19

I played GC 2 for hours back in the day. Man it was such a great game. I hope this one is at least just as good. I've waited for GC 3 forever!

Boddicker
Boddicker

Seriously excited for this game.  I hope my laptop can run it.

Ensabuhnur
Ensabuhnur

I've seen my share of idiotic articles on this site, but this one might take the cake.  It's an Alpha for a reason and not for review, so maybe listing it as a preview would be a better idea than this hack job alpha 'review'.  


As for the cost, It is for early backers and the concept is not new for Stardock, so the people who love the work this company does will pay for it.  



Seriously slow news week. 

Triton
Triton

Reminds me of Matrix Games that  has a couple $100 games. World in Flames, which I bought and is still a work in progress(along with the physical maps) and Command:Modern Air / Navel Operations - I think I would buy that next before this, as that one is at least finished.

hampton2003
hampton2003

as far as early access reviews go, this still feels premature. given that they clearly stated this stage would not be fun and have set a schedule for addition phases of development, you could have at least waited a few more weeks when the upcoming (may) beta 1 stage beings and the $99 price pt goes away. instead all this review does is state how limited the game currently is, again... why are you reviewing this now? its going to be in early access for probably the rest of the year. the only thing this early access review will bring up is limited features and pricing controversy.

JamisonJB
JamisonJB

we are reviewing alpha builds now? goddamn

iamllamapie
iamllamapie

$99.99 to essentially test a game? Sure you get it and all future DLC but...$99? What happened to game testers?

Vexov
Vexov

I enjoyed the previous games and expansion, but $99 for an alpha puts a red-flag up. I've seen enough games trying to hit you up for cash before the game is even out only to ditch the game right on release, basically.


I don't think they could really fail on it, but they can. All it really seems is a upgraded in graphics and as if adding an expansion, how bad can they screw up?, pretty bad.

rofeta
rofeta

What they left out on the game pricing is that the $99 isn't until the game releases.  Once the game reaches Beta it will drop to something under $49 (which is the planned release price) and that the Beta is meant to come out this month (though I wouldn't be surprised if it is pushed back).  So while there is no doubt the cost is very high at the moment it will drop to a more responsible price for the bulk of the early access.


Oh, I forgot to mention, the beta cost package won't include access to all future DLC, which is why they are charging more for this current package.

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

The comments are funny as usual, people still don't seem to get what Early Access is about and some also don't seem to get that nobody is forcing them to buy anything and that they should spend a few minutes of their time doing some research before buying something.


The high pricetag is obviously to scare away the "give me" crowd whose only purpose is to troll, stall development, request nonsensical features and give false feedback, it is not meant to be a final product (hence Early Access, who would've thought) and if you don't want to be part of the development process and don't care that much about the game then wait until it's finished, perhaps even wait for it to be featured in a sale.


There are many good Early Access games and it's nice to see them improve with each update, most developers even taking feedback into account to fix things and even add new features.

Of course there's also the occasional scam game, but they are so blatantly obvious that I have no pity for the fools that buy them, it's natural selection at work.

Stepn2myworld
Stepn2myworld

I'd just as well save my $99 to clean house during a Steam/GOG/Gamersgate/Amazon/ sale before I give to an established developer with a respected IP for early access.

zerohournow
zerohournow

I dont understand these early access reviews of games that are barely playable, let alone why people would pay above market price to beta test something.

vicsrealms
vicsrealms

As much as I enjoyed GA2, there is no way I am going to put $99 dollars down on a game that is in beta mode.  In fact we get enough of those on release date most of the time that I have started waiting for Steam sales for 95% of my game purchases these days.  This early access stuff is getting silly.

GOGOHeadray
GOGOHeadray

I enjoyed Gal2 but 99 bucks is way to steep for me. See you at retail release lls

Gruug
Gruug

I like early access as but $99.99 is way to steep. Usually, early access gives indies a chance to get their game off the ground. This one already has a reputation and shouldn't need such...but that price is way out of line.

nurnberg
nurnberg

If Steam wants my respect, they need to ban that early access thing.  It makes the whole platform look bad.

ggsimmonds
ggsimmonds

What was the point of this "review?"

drysprocket
drysprocket

haha $99.99! I literally choked on my water when reading that. Well, add it to the list of games I'll never support for pulling this pay alpha shit.

yeah_28
yeah_28

I love GalCivs and Im very excited for the new game but I also have no desire to pay for things upfront so early. The game will probably be amazing though.

mike4487
mike4487

First this isn't even a 40% completed game.


Second why are they reviewing a "alpha"  this is early release and is fully admitted to not being fun at all.  The game has several things borrowed from Galactic Civilizations 2 and is bare bones.


100 bucks is a ton of money for this but it's merely for the die hard people that want to help have input into developing the game (and naming stars and other perks).  It's not even a game release at this point and as previously mentioned, all expansions and DLC will be free (for Galactic Civilizations 2 that would have included Dread Lords and Twilight of Arnor).


They have potential to make a great game but at this point people will jump to destroy anything even if it was admitted to be extremely early release and not fun at all.

bigdrew172
bigdrew172

I'm not sure I'll ever completely understand paying to play games in alpha... I remember when people would volunteer or even GET paid to do it. *goes back to rocking chair*  But why would you pay $100 for this privilege?  

drysprocket
drysprocket

@Ensabuhnur  If people are paying money for it- it should be reviewed. Especially in this case. Everyone is so caught up on this being a "game." It's a financial transaction, which I think is cause for a review. 

There are a lot of suckers out there, and I'm glad GS is at least giving them the information before making a foolish purchase.

JamisonJB
JamisonJB

@iamllamapie stardock has their own QA department. the reason for the alpha early access is to give the galciv fans play time, and provide feedback.

rofeta
rofeta

Should have put this in as well, aside from the pricing plans this is a pretty accurate review.  It's a very early alpha with a lot of game components missing and only currently available at a steep price.


Buyers be aware.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@bloody-hell  "The high pricetag is obviously to scare away the "give me" crowd"

Yeah, must be their plan. No chance it has anything to do with being a money grab. it MUST be to scare away people. These guys are true gentlemen.

Vexov
Vexov

@bloody-hell  Sorry, I vomited, and seeing how you got a big mouth that likes to flap.... you probably need to go wash it out now. :D

Stepn2myworld
Stepn2myworld

@zerohournow  I would not pay at market, below market or well-below market to play an early access game.

MXVIII
MXVIII

@Gruug  Its actually not a bad deal, if it has three expansions and a bunch of DLC like the previous instalment. 

BamaGoatt
BamaGoatt

@nurnberg  I do agree with you if you are talking about the $100 pricetag that is ridiculous. 

BamaGoatt
BamaGoatt

@nurnberg  I disagree but some games should include proper info as to what is playable. I have been interested in space engineers but with the limited info on it not going to throw $20 out to buy it without more info.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@ggsimmonds  

Of course, you might be arguing semantics, which in that case, you may want to know that this argument would fall on deaf ears over at GameSpot.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@ggsimmonds  

This is a reminder that some game-makers are already putting a price tag on their products even before they are convincingly usable.

hystavito
hystavito

@drysprocket  It's quite ridiculous, but maybe they are actually being more ethical than others with such a high price.  At that price, only true believers :) will buy it, people who are serious fans that want to support them despite the state the game is in.


On the other side, we see early access games that are asking reasonable prices, which draws more buyers.  That means more buyers who did not know what they were getting into, more buyers who have done less homework and are expecting more from the game.


I don't know, I can't decide 100% on this, but I wonder if maybe a ridiculous price is actually more appropriate when a game is in a very early state.  However, I would like to see substantially more reward added for buying in so early at such a high price, similar to the higher tiers in a crowdfunded project.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@mike4487  I think they're reviewing it like any "game" you can buy. So I think the review is even more warranted than most, especially since reviews in their nature, are to help you decide on buying something.

yeah_28
yeah_28

@bigdrew172 they pay $100 for many other things

does no one read the whole thing? in fact, its great you can only get this through the 100$ option, that way nobody pays for just an alpha version, like you said, and only those really looking forward to the game get this as a small bonus..

JamisonJB
JamisonJB

@drysprocket People need to learn to read the steam page. The page clearly states the game is Alpha and NOT intended to be fully functional. Stardock makes every attempt to point this out. A alpha is a game that doesn't have all it's assets in, nor are the features locked. When have you ever seen a alpha build ever get a review? A review (verus preview), as far as I know, are meant for finished products (gold master). 


Stupidity is not an excuse.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@JamisonJB @iamllamapie  So, why are they charging money then? If they care about their game, and want feedback from the community, why not do it for free....as has been done since the dawn of PC gaming, what's the reasoning here? Right. Money-grab.

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

@drysprocket Well, the game will get cheaper at some point during or after development, so you might want to reconsider your money grab theory, especially when it's a well received developer that already has some good games to show for.

People buy 60+ EUR games that can only be played online and require monthly payments in order to keep playing them so they end up investing hundreds of EUR, so if you are a fan of the series and want to participate in its development the current 90 EUR pricetag won't be a hindrance, otherwise wait until it's at an affordable price.

It also strengthens my theory about the "give me" crowd if price is the first thing to complain about - it helped keep them away during the earlier phases of Planetary Annihilations*, Prison Architects' and other games' development and I was glad to financially back the developers during these early phases and see the game mature with each update in a "give me " crowd free zone because most people that pay above average and understand Early Access are easier to get along with and have mature discussions with than "I bought this game for 5 EUR and I demand features X, Y and Z tomorrow" kids.

It also helps developers because they don't have to wade through piles of "my game crashed, fix it" bug reports but get more detailed, actually usable ones.

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

@Vexov I'm sorry that reading and thinking makes you vomit, might want to get that checked by a doctor, just in case.

Not sure why I should wash my mouth after typing some text, but I'd recommend that to you after vomiting.

Vexov
Vexov

@MXVIII @Gruug  Not a bad deal, but only if it doesn't turn out to be a massive let down like even AAA games have been. 

drysprocket
drysprocket

@hystavito  That could be, but for me, the lesser of two evils still makes it evil. And though their game doesn't affect me directly, this practice is a cancer for the industry...and I can't believe how fast it's spreading.

So I'm just gonna play it safe and never go near any game that does this. 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@drysprocket @mike4487

I agree with drysprocket.

Some game-makers are making use of the early-access program to seek funding for products which haven't achieved their own design goals yet.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@yeah_28  Oh, so it only takes advantage of it's hardcore fans...why didn't someone say so!

drysprocket
drysprocket

@Zloth2  Hey, it's your money. And though the success of this game alone doesn't mean much, just remember that you're contributing to a trend that is bad for gamers in almost all cases. 

Even if for the sake of argument, this is one of those exceptions....I would implore you to think about the long term consequences this has for all of us. The future of games looks more dire when we take away our power as the consumer and demand results first. 


Zloth2
Zloth2

@drysprocket That's undefendable if you don't pay attention to that whole "plus all other dlc/expansions to the series" clause and  pretend it's just alpha only.

Gal Civ 2 had three expansions which, if I remember right, were $35 each.  If Gal Civ 3 does the same then $99 is a good price.  If it does more (or if we get high inflation) then it's a great deal.  If it flops then it's a bad deal but, IMHO, worth the risk.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@JamisonJB @drysprocket  The bigger question is- when has an Alpha ever cost $99? This is undefendable. And as I'm trying to point out; a free Alpha would not be reviewed, but if people are paying for it, so of course it should be reviewed. Just like any other review for a purchasable item.

Unless you work for Stardock, what's the issue here? GS is looking out for the consumer. They don't always do so, but when they do, they get props from me.

Vexov
Vexov

@bloody-hell @Vexov  its virtual vomit, and you ended up catching some with your large flapping virtual mouth. 


Way to spin reality into it, i guess you the serious kind and thats why you decided to let everyone know they actually have a choice in buying the game.... as if they didn't know. xD

BamaGoatt
BamaGoatt

@drysprocket  technically with dlc you can say every game is an early beta unfinished game just saying.

drysprocket
drysprocket

@yeah_28

If the price didn't speak for itself enough, I did actually just read a review for it (article we're in) and I believe it and you just said that the ONLY way to "try the game" it is to cough up 100 bones.

I try not to judge too quickly, but all of the needed evidence is in for this one. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make- should we pay the money on chance that it's not a ripoff?

yeah_28
yeah_28

@drysprocket @yeah_28I dont know if it "takes advantage", just like you don't know, and nobody else knows, so i guess that's why nobody said so. You would think people would at least try the game and its expansions or read reviews before judging, oh wait, its the internet...