Master of Orion 3 has gotten a lot of bad press recently due to its horrible layout and overall gameplay. As a result, many are calling Galactic Civilizations the unofficial successor to the Master of Orion series. Looking at all the hype surrounding Galactic Civilizations, I wondered if it were really any good, or if people hated MOO 3 so much they But can Galactic Civilizations stand on its own merits, or is it simply better than the worst game in its genre?
Galactic Civilizations is Stardocks first big game release, and it shows. To be perfectly honest, my first impression of Galactic Civilizations out of the box was not good. Many of the features talked about in the (too short) manual were not included in the game, and many of the strategies given in tutorial turned out to be bad advice. The AI pounded me without mercy even at the easiest setting, and I began to wonder if all the good reviews surrounding this game werent so much hype. However, once Stardock began releasing patches to address some of these issues, the game became much more enjoyable. Luckily, most of the major issues I had with the game have been ironed out with several patches and a free expansion pack. Perhaps because of their experience making windows applications and utilities, Gal Civ sports a clean, minimalist interface that makes directing your empire and finding important facts easy. Unfortunately, the graphics are a large step backwards and are worse than Master of Orion 2 (although to their credit Stardock is releasing a free expansion pack that is supposed to include better graphics). Using your terror star on a hapless star system produces no cool explosion like we have grown accustomed to. It sort of just blinks out of existence. This same thing happens when ships explode, making battles between fleets less than exciting. The music in Gal Civ also seems inspired by an older era, and sounds a lot like the music you hear in towns in most RPGs. Should you tire of the music though, Galactic Civilizations will cheerfully use your favorite mp3 playlist with its built in player.
What Galactic Civilizations lacks in bells and whistles it more than makes up in gameplay. Often space civ games try to do too much and can leave the player bogged down in details and options. By eliminating some of the messier parts that bog down most space civ games (like micromanaging ship design or dealing with conquered alien populations), it forces you to concentrate on the big picture of ruling your empire instead of worrying about what kind of laser cannon you want on your star fighter. Governors can save you a lot of grief by allowing you to automate production and make sweeping changes to what your empire produces. Best of all, you can choose the size of the galaxy you want to play to match you gaming preference. Since I loathe the endgames of most 4x games because of all the planets you invariably have to run towards the end of the game, I preferred the ability to play in smaller galaxies that make every system count. Options range from playing on tiny galaxies with just a few systems, to gigantic ones with hundreds of worlds.
But what good is a nice interface if the game isnt challenging? Luckily, Stardocks programming abilities paid off in spades when it came to writing the AI. In most games in this genre the AI will play lip service to fighting amongst itself, but will quickly unite to oppose you. In Galactic Civilizations, each of the 5 major races has its own dedicated AI program that gives the game the feeling you are actually playing against 5 different people. If you have a powerful empire, the other races might either suck up to you, work behind the scenes to destabilize your empire, or form an alliance to counterbalance your growing might. Much like on an episode of Big Brother, the AI will ruthlessly backstab other races and prey on the weak at the first opportunity. Even at lower levels the AI will present a challenge if left unchecked. Simply watching the different races plot and bully each other can be enjoyable in itself.
Online communities both reflect and add to the popularity of the games they represent. How many times have you asked a simple question on a message board about a game you just bought, only to be answered with, ShUt uP U StOOpD NoOb! I have found the players on the boards for this game to be more than willing to answer questions. Constantly being beat at the beginner level? Advanced players will often post detailed strategies they use to help other players out. Adding to this community is the fact that Stardock is creating top notch expansions for the game and not charging a dime for them. Although the current expansion out for the game was simply a glorified patch, adding in features that were talked about in the manual but never originally delivered, most companies would have charged the standard $19.99 for the expansion and wallowed in their ill gotten money. Stardocks continuing support of Galactic Civilizations demonstrates the companys commitment to the game and those that play it. In short, addicting gameplay combined with an unusually good AI make Galactic Civilizations destined to be a gaming classic.