While I’ve been engaging on a big push with the majority of my forces against the despicable Drengin Empire, it seems those sneaky Altarians have been lying in wait to trap us on two fronts. The mighty Terran Alliance is in danger of being stretched too thinly across our borders and although I started this empire out firmly on the path of peaceful exploration, somewhere during my time with Galactic Civilizations III I became more Admiral Cain than Admiral Adama.
Galactic Civilizations III is the third entry from Stardock in the Galactic Civilizations series of turn-based space empire games that date back to 2003. The latest iteration is very firmly seated in the realms of empire building that will be familiar to all fans of the 4X genre - employing the gameplay mechanics of Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. It is the turn based nature of Galactic Civilizations III, however, that separates it from thematically similar games such as Sins of a Solar Empire, which employs more of a real-time strategy model.
Currently there are four playable races in the game. First is the Terran Alliance, the standard human race with a fairly balanced set of bonuses skewed towards productivity, The Drengin Empire are the incredibly warlike and military-focused faction with a series of bonuses aimed towards attacking anything that moves. Any research-obsessed players will want to check out the Altarian Resistance. Finally there’s the
Ferengi Iridium Corporation, the clue there is in the name as they are a trade and economy directed race.
From the get go there are a myriad of customization options for setting up a new game in Galactic Civilizations III, which is great to see. The size and shape of galaxies is customizable, allowing players to create a multitude of different scenarios such as tiny scattered galaxies or even large tightly clustered areas. The composition of the star systems themselves can also be tweaked with the frequency of stars, planets, anomalies and even resources such as asteroids, black holes and nebulae all being adapted to craft the perfect tailor-made game.
Galactic Civilizations III places heavy emphasis on the expansion element of 4X gameplay with colonizing as many planets as possible the best route to take. It is this initial exploration that left me with a constant hunger to acquire and colonize the next planet before taking on more and more of the galaxy. As it stands the only real option for expanding an empire is to either grab uninhabited planets early on and colonize them or, as diplomacy is yet to be implemented in the game, the solution to most problems is to wage war.
The actual combat at the moment is very basic, with the promise of 3D rendered battles to come in the final game. However, the combat will still be a hands-off experience and ordering units to engage is about as far as it goes. I would have liked a larger element of control in battles, but until the system is fully fleshed out I’m willing to go along with it.
The colonizing itself is where Galactic Civilizations III really comes in to its own for me, with the initial taking of a planet leading to a colonization event. These events allow players to choose from one of three preset choices on how to deal with a certain situation on the new planet. That leads me on to a rather nice new feature to the franchise, the ideology system.
These colonization options will loosely fall into one of three categories - Benevolent, Malevolent and Pragmatist - how a player deals with the situation will affect bonuses on that planet along with points towards the larger ideological system and the bonuses it offers later on. Is it conscionable, for instance, to boost the intelligence of colonists at the cost of subjecting them to excruciating pain? It presents a nice tangible sense of a players actions affecting their empire at multiple levels. My only gripe with it really is the current lack of variation in these events. It would be nice to see a wider selection of them in future.
Once a planet has been brought into the fold, then it is onto the business of not only setting production, etc., but also upgrading the planet's infrastructure. Different buildings and research centers can be placed on hex tiles to boost certain aspects of a planets production. Each planet can be specialized to suit one particular purpose, such as boosting economy, or a more flexible route can be taken to offer as much diversity as possible.
One thing that impressed me was the ability to scale the amount of micro needed to suit my own needs. Early on in the game I was more than happy to let my various ships get on with their own automated survey or sentry duties, leaving me free to manage more planet-based matters. That’s not to say there isn’t the need for micro at all, this is a 4X game after all but it was nice to be able to find a balance that suited how I was playing at any given time.
The user interface is clean and intuitive; I rarely found myself unable to find information I needed. Scrolling around the zoomed out galaxy map reminded me a lot of Neptune’s Pride 2, actually. Still, while the ability to zoom in and check out individual solar systems, planets and ships is very satisfying, I’m not quite sure the current graphical aesthetic quite lives up to the games "64-bit only" necessity.
There are a fair few features not yet available in Galactic Civilizations III in its current beta build -- Diplomacy, Trade, United Planets, and Minor Civilizations. Fully fleshed out diplomacy and victory scenarios will really help along with the combat rendering for those who live for seeing epic space battles. But from what I’ve played it certainly has promise. It’s more than addictive enough. I’m excited to see just what Stardock do next with Galactic Civilizations III before its planned release in spring 2015. It should also be hitting beta on Steam Early Access soon for those who want to check it out first hand.
Neoseeker was provided with access to the Steam Early Access beta build of Galactic Civilization III from Stardock for the purpose of this preview. Follow Matt Newbould on Twitter at @Nebouldm, or read his news and features day-to-day here on Neoseeker.