It's classic 'just one more turn' but now in spaaaaace. Aimed at turn based strategy specialists the Civ franchise is now here with its second(ish) full sci-fi Civilisation title, Civilization: Beyond Earth. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri was a hit back in 1999 with a strong storyline and a brilliant sci-fi experience that gave the player reason to pick up their favourite Frank Herbert or Arthur C. Clarke novels. Civilization: Beyond Earth's plot has the player colonizing new worlds, backed by an organisation acting as sponsor, and competing against other organisations for planetary dominance.
This puts different objectives into the players hands depending on the type of organisation that fronts up the capital for the expedition. These organisations include Arc, who are all about the covert ops; Brazilia, who are front line focused and offer up melee combat bonuses; Franco-Iberia are the tech organisation; Kavithan Protectorate, these guys are the real colonizers; Pan Asian Cooperative, terraforming and cultural wonders are where these guys are at; African Union, farming and agricultural expansion will help this organisation establish itself; Polystralia, mercantile and trade benefits are this organization's strong points; and finally the Slavic Federation, this organisation has its advances in the planet orbit layer of Beyond Earth. More on this new aspect of the game shortly. To add to that you can also manually select some further traits to help you identify with your particular organisation.
A new map level has been added to Civilization Beyond Earth that represents the planet's orbit that you will be colonizing. You can switch between the orbital layer and the main land map as you require but the orbital map offers up additional strategies in the form of launching satellites. These satellites are focused for a preset time over a particular map region, where they can provide benefits to a set number of tiles for a predefined period of time before the satellite ceases to function. This additional strategy will greatly influence later stages of the game, so it will be in your interest to get to grips with this as soon as you can.
Affinities are a new core feature to the Civ: Beyond Earth experience and they represent the player's technological development path. There are three types of Affinities and in specific cases researching a new tech will provide a certain type of Affinity point bonus to the player. Gaining levels in a particular Affinity will in turn influence the direction of your overall unit development. Ahh simple Civ. But seriously, the game holds your hand for a reasonable amount of the time, so don't panic.
Once a tech has been researched any troop upgrades are unlocked and rolled out across all your units, so you won't have a bunch of cavemen accidentally running around when the rest of your army is armed with the latest T2000 Plasma Soakers (There are no cavemen in the game, facts Ed). In case you're concerned, the auto unit upgrade doesn't cost any resource, you just get a civ-wide unit upgrade. This research system means you do not focus on developing specific units but instead the tech unlocked provides improvements based on the balance of the three Affinity types you have progressed along. So make sure you progress along the right path for your play style.
The Affinities are Harmony, Purity and Supremacy. Harmony is more along the Gaia approach from Alpha Centauri. Travel this path and your units will soon find benefits like being impervious to the poisonous environment of the world you are trying to colonize. Excitingly this will also unlock native units for you to command. That means alien beasties in your unit roster. Following on with the Avatar similarity, if you want to force humanity down everyone's throats then Purity is your path. Keep it human and you will see tough attack and defence options opening up down the tech tree.
Due to this web tech development approach there is no tech trade between the different colonist factions as you establish your civilization. The further along an Affinity path you travel the more advanced the tech but the more it pushes you from other techs ever being available.
The final path is the Supremacy Affinity, which is where the real sci-fi stuff is, like AI, cybernetics and robots. This is the path for believers in the Skynet doctrine. As with most turn-based, tech-unlocking strategy titles the tech tree is not linear and will often require you to have progressed along various Affinity paths before being available to you. On top of that, Beyond Earth's tech now have branching sub tiers, known as leaf tech. This means once you unlock the stem tech you have associated tech on offer if you wish to specialise further in that field.
With various Civ victory conditions you can easily find yourself holed up in a quiet corner of the map, working your way towards a passive victory. And as the AI in Beyond Earth is not bent on mindless declarations of war it's possible that you can find yourself pushing the next turn button a little too fast only to find yourself at the end of the game having not really encountered much in the way of strategy.
Beyond Earth has a couple of other new features, the first of which is Quests. These can be just selecting a new buildings bonus through to stepping on a new tile for the first time and being asked to explore somewhere for a particular reason. This helps to bring additional life to the world as you settle and learn to survive. The other feature is labelled Health. Similar to the way food resource would restrict population growth in previous Civ titles, Health will restrict your cities development. Build health improvement structures and your cities will flourish, ignore it and you wont have a large enough population to support your tech growth race against your rivals.
Beyond Earth takes Civilization V's core game structure and manages what Civilization games always do. They have added just enough new (re-skinning the gameplay, story, graphics and base tactics) without letting the game become too unfamiliar. Once again I am sure many of us will find ourselves muttering 'one more turn' under our breath as the sun comes up over our own beautiful world.