Fifteen minutes with Civilization: Beyond Earth is simply not enough. Firaxis showed a very brief introduction to their next strategy game to me in one of 2K's demon booths. As an experienced demo booth attendee, I can say quite comfortably that it felt shorter than most I've seen. Perhaps that's so because of two reasons in tandem: one being that Civilization as a franchise is impossible to truly convey even a shred of the full experience in a short, hands-off preview, and second because it was literally the shortest demo I've seen at E3.
I'm not sure why Firaxis chose to show such a brief introduction to Civilization: Beyond Earth, but nevertheless that was what I received. It should be surprising then to hear that I was relatively disappointed with what I was shown. First, I don't believe they did enough to show why Beyond Earth was a significant evolution of the Civilization brand and second because I don't think they accurately represented an actual gameplay experience for the game.
Again, I have to reiterate that much of my issue likely stems from the fact that I was shown just fifteen minutes of Civilization: Beyond Earth.
Those fifteen minutes were spent providing a shallow introduction to some of the core features meant to separate Beyond Earth from its predecessors. Those include environmental hazards like an encroaching Miasma that damages units within it and an indigenous life faction that will grow more aggressive towards hostile players as the game progresses. Other features introduced include a rather bare-bones quest system, perhaps similar in nature to City-State requests in Civilization V and an all new "tech-web" that's rather a mesh between Final Fantasy X's sphere grid and Civilization V's tech tree.
The largest feature addition, or perhaps it only seemed that way due to the fact that most of the demo was spent detailing it, was Civilization: Beyond Earth's "Affinities". Each civilization in the game will be associated with one of these three Affinities, either Supremacy, Purity or Harmony. Each of these are distinct both in philosophy and in gameplay focus. Supremacy, naturally, seems to have a more combat-focused direction. What's significant is that this Affinity ties into virtually all aspects of the game. Certain luxuries are required for Supremacy special units, and certain techs (and sub-tech researches) provide bonuses to specific Affinities. Should the demo have lasted longer, I'd be curious to see whether Affinities truly add to the experience or actually limit the player's choices overall.
Beyond those feature introductions, however, Civilization: Beyond Earth played remarkably similar to Civilization V. That hex grid was still in full effect, combat units still animated well and certain units could attack from range -- only land units could capture cities. Certain civilizations were still jerks and will withhold things the player wants, and there are still several resources required to progress in the direction the player really would like to: Firaxite, Float Stone, and energy. Wonders are still there, workers still do all the work and cities are still surrounded by farms (though they definitely look like farms from the future).
What had the most positive results with me as a big Civilization V fan, and again this is as much a result of the limited demo as anything, was the setting itself. Even if the game itself is just Civilization in space, I prefer that. Space is an amazing setting, and while I also adore the history lessons the series has provided, I long for the unknown. I can't wait to meet aliens unlike anything else. I want to populate entire new planets.
So bring on the Siege Worms, bring on the Space Marines, and absolutely bring on the same ol' Civilization V features renamed to make sense and look cool in space. I'll eagerly look forward to every minute of it. Next time though, please provide more than just 15 of those minutes. I want to see why Firaxis truly believes this is the direction the franchise has to go in right now. That means either focusing in on one feature per small gameplay demo, or something much, much longer and larger in scale.
That probably just means waiting for Civilization: Beyond Earth's launch, planned for PC in Q3 later this year.