I have played a lot of Beyond Earth over the last six months at various events, and I’ve noticed one very important thing: This is not Civilization. Don’t be fooled by its 4x turn-based strategy skeleton. Sure, the user interface looks like Civ V with a science-fiction trimming, and familiar resources have new names like Health instead of Happiness and Energy instead of Gold. You still basically want to achieve the same goals of spreading your faction’s influence to reach a victory condition. As I played more and more Beyond Earth, I kept being hamstrung by using all the strategies that served me well for the 900+ hours I’ve invested in Civ V. They won’t work in space, apparently. At least in the first 250 turns available in the preview build I had access to. Rather than tell you how great Beyond Earth is – and it is great – I thought I’d clue you guys in so you’re not surprised when you start getting rolled by the aliens and AI when this game comes out on October 24th.
1. Don’t Kill the Aliens
The alien lifeforms you discover on the new planet are not barbarians. They will kick your ass, especially if you piss them off early on. And that’s just the regular units like the raptor bug or the airborne drones – the massive siege worms and the waterborne kraken are huge units that will take massive coordination to kill. They will continue to spawn at alien nests so it can be a good strategy to take out the nests near you (and get that fancy 25 energy reward plus science if you have the Scavenging Virtue). The aliens are basically another global faction and will get more aggressive to all human factions if you kill a bunch of their units. They are also a huge nuisance and will kill your explorers, trade units and workers, even if you have never attacked them. Aliens heal in miasma tiles (See #8), so they can usually quickly recover from any light attacks you throw at them. How you deal with the aliens will ultimately depend on the situation but it is an extremely viable solution to ignore them until you have the firepower to kill ’em all. Nuke ’em from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
2. Buildings Are Special
To a certain extent, Civilization is all about buildings. Your cities allow you to build these structures for permanent bonuses that are fairly static throughout each playthrough. In Beyond Earth though, each building has a decision associated with it that allows you to specialize your play even more. A quest decision will pop up after you build the first instance of each structure which gives some narrative background and two choices. Most are simple – do you want your Clinic to provide an extra point of health or do you want it to increase the hit points of your city – while others are more nuanced, like the Autoplant providing a production boost or an additional trade route. It’s important to realize this decision is permanent and it affects all of your buildings of this type. The number of decisions can feel overwhelming if you play at a quick pace, but the tradeoff is that you can adapt each building to your playstyle. Even buildings are special little flowers in Beyond Earth.
3. Affinity Levels Are a Big Deal
One of the unique aspects of Beyond Earth is how you can adopt one of three affinities from Purity, Harmony or Supremacy. While we’ve covered how each is a specific philosophy and has special units, buildings and win conditions at their disposal before, what I’ve discovered through play is that your unit upgrades are tied directly to leveling up your affinity. There are only a few unit types available in the game such as soldier, gunner, tank, artillery, etc. and they increase in power and hit points only from increasing your highest affinity level. This increase happens globally and instantly, so it is a huge and powerful upgrade. If, for example, you want to attack your neighbor and still have the first tier of soldiers, it’s probably best to wait until you get that tech or finish that quest to increase your affinity level. That’s why it’s also an amazingly effective strategy to cherry-pick affinity techs (see #9) so that you have the most badass units on the board at any given time. Not like I do that or anything …
4. Slower Pace
For many fans, the joy of a game like Civilization is being able to expand across a continent with a web of inter-connected cities and tile improvements like farms or mines. In Beyond Earth though, it is really difficult to expand quickly without seriously hampering your faction. Like roads did in Civ V, tile improvements like biowells or manufacturies cost a significant amount of energy to maintain. While you usually want to build the best structures you can to take advantage of strategic resources, you need to slow your roll in Beyond Earth until you’ve built up enough of an economy to support it.
Check out more from Firaxis on Beyond Earth gameplay:
5. Happiness (Health) Is a Warm Gun
The analogue to happiness is health in Beyond Earth. You accumulate a large amount of “unhealth” – or negative health – with each city you build and the population within that city, but unlike Civ there doesn’t appear to be as many early buildings available in the tech web (see #9) to compensate. While the Genetics tech does help with two health-related buildings, you have to go really deep in the tech web to get any more. The net effect is that it is very difficult to have more than 2 or 3 cities in the opening turns and strategies like early conquest are severely hampered. In Beyond Earth, you are much better off having a few highly specialized cities rather than a sprawling empire.
6. Outpost, You’ll be a City Soon
You don’t found cities right away. Instead, a colonist will put down an outpost which takes 9 turns to grow into a fully-fledged city. You can increase the speed of outpost growth by sending a trade route (see #10) to it, or by choosing a cultural virtue in the prosperity tree. Outposts should be defended with a military unit because they don’t have any natural defenses on their own, and are therefore vulnerable to attacks from aliens and other factions. But the cool thing is that your opponent’s outposts are just as vulnerable, and you can slow down their expansion by taking out an outpost before it grows. In older versions of Beyond Earth I played before E3, attacking an outpost didn’t require a declaration of war, but I think that’s been changed. You can grab a virtue in the Might tree which replaces an enemy outpost with your own though, you sneaky devil.
7. Satellite of Love
Launching orbital units into space is pretty dang effective. The satellites vary in purpose and they almost always change the way you play once they are launched, but their use doesn’t really get important until the mid-game. Early on, you may get a Solar Collector from exploring a resource pod (think Ancient Ruins from Civ V), but otherwise most of the orbital units you’ll build are pretty deep in the tech web. One of the most useful is the Miasmic Repulsor which will clear the green poisonous gas in a two-tile radius over 10 turns, but I personally love the Orbital Laser which allows you to bombard any unit within two tiles. It’s great on defense, but can also be placed in a choke point with devastating effect. Also, rocktopus. ‘Nuff said.
Check out more from Firaxis on Beyond Earth gameplay:
8. Miasma, Mylanta!
Green gas is usually bad news, and that’s no different in Beyond Earth. Miasma is a terrain feature that can be overlaid atop any tile, and it will damage any unit of yours that ends its turn there. The 10 HP damage might not seem like a lot for most military units, but it can screw up your plans to invade that nearby city if there’s miasma in between. Workers and Explorers are susceptible to the green mess, too, and you can lose support units without even knowing it sometimes. There are techs and cultural virtues that make these units immune, and the Harmony affinity eventually turns the negatives of the miasma into a positive (+5 HP to healing) so there are ways to deal, but you should otherwise avoid the poison green gas.
9. What a Tangled Web of Tech We Weave
In Civ, you generally discover technology in a line. You go from less powerful to more powerful, even if there’s some branching along the way. But in Beyond Earth you have a lot more directions you can progress your faction towards, and the choices you make have a huge impact on your game. Say you want to cherry-pick the techs which are associated with an affinity? You can totally do that and have a specialized civilization much earlier. Want to make a sprint to the happiness/health techs to support more cities? You can do that, too. You can make a beeline towards techs that take advantage of strategic resources nearby or to concentrate on orbital units or whatever. It’s all balanced out with not progressing in other areas, but the tech web is incredibly versatile.
10. Just One More Trade Route
The second expansion to Civ V introduced trade routes as ways to exchange gold or other resources between two cities. You had a finite number of routes available for your whole civ, but in Beyond Earth that limit is tied to each individual city. You have to build a trade depot to open up trade, and there are techs/virtues/buildings which allow for more. I’m not sure if this system is better or not because the UI is not good at displaying how many routes are being used or available. Routes between the independent stations you discover (think nerfed city states) can be lucrative if you have a lasting relationship with them, but you have to protect your trade units against attacks from the aliens. That can be super tough, especially if you have an alien nest nearby. The ultrasonic fence building allows you to make trade units immune from aliens and I highly suggest you grab that if you’re concentrating on trade.
In general, Civilization: Beyond Earth is an interesting take on the series. It is not only very different from Civ V, but it is also departs heavily from the other sci-fi turn in the series Alpha Centauri. I’ve played through 4 runs to 250 turns but there is still a lot I have left to uncover. I’m withholding final judgment until I get a review code, but Beyond Earth has my attention.