We have a certain amount of love for the Civilization franchise. As far as turn-based strategy goes, there are few examples that can compete or compare with the detail and intricacies of the long-running series.
The joy of Civilization games is in how adaptable they are. Factions are unique and memorable, with well-balanced perks that can completely alter any players approach on a game-by-game scale. The variety in ways to develop culture and science, the assorted ways in which to dominate, the diverse victory conditions; these factors are largely unmatched by any similar game.
Occasionally we've questioned whether our previous assessments of Civilization games might have been a bit generous; given it's a series that we have all been playing since its earliest instalments maybe we are guilty of some subconscious bias. There are lots of great strategy games available, our libraries are stocked with excellent examples of the genre, surely at least one of them can challenge the Civ throne? But then, whenever we review a new turn-based strategy, we always ask ourselves the same question: "Is it as good as Civ?"
Beyond Earth was a game that made us double-take. We didn't expect to enjoy it as much as we did. We were concerned that beyond the historical relevance that we had come to love in the regular Civilization games, the game would lose some appeal. After all, Civilization is about making a strong cultural, scientific and militaristic nation succeed where historically it may have failed. We needn't have worried; somehow Beyond Earth captured that magic without the same need for historical context.
Beyond Earth succeeds in maintaining the gravitas of its forbears by causing us to worry about decisions humanity might take in the future rather than those taken in the past. It boasts smooth design, fleshed out features. It's easy to pick up for beginners and complicated enough to continually surprise veterans. Our choices are meaningful. Every decision has to be carefully considered.
When we started playing the new expansion, Rising Tide, we had lofty expectations, and we weren't disappointed. Rising Tide does for Beyond Earth what Brave New World did for Civilization 5. That is, it makes a great game even better.
Some aspects of Beyond Earth were a bit underwhelming. The path you chose and the results it mustered weren't always very significant. A few bugs and glitches spoiled the immersion. Happily, these issues have been addressed. The new features introduced by Rising Tide may change the way you play forever, and those occasional bugs and glitches have been hunted down and ironed out.
The first change we noticed was in diplomacy. Ethnicity, ideology, sociology, philosophy and attitude of rival colonies is far more apparent than before. Maintaining relationships is crucial to your success.
Actions and decisions change the way other leaders react to you. Rapidly expanding territory may garner esteem, but a lack of production, or an underdeveloped military will lead some of your rivals to disrespect you and may tarnish the prospect of any potential diplomatic agreements.
The new diplomacy system sees players earning 'diplomacy capital', which functions like a currency for negotiating with other Civs. You can also use diplomacy points to change and develop the values of your civilisation. By developing traits players are able to create a civilisation that really suits their style of play. A good example is spending diplomatic capital to better the health of your troops or increase the defence of your cities.
Unfortunately the new diplomacy system does remove some of the previous diplomatic options. Cooperating means automatically opening your borders, and alliances force you into every war your ally gets involved in. Peace terms aren't negotiable like they used to be, but instead decided by a 'war score' based on the damage each side has done. On the plus side we never noticed any other civilisations label us 'warmongers' for refusing to accept peace when we had the gained the upper-hand against a nation that decided to attack us.
The Rising Tide path system is more flexible and has greater potential than the vanilla game. In Beyond Earth you could attempt to recreate the dead planet you left behind by following the Purity path. You could dominate and destroy via the Supremacy path. Or, you could adapt to your new planet and make peace with existing xeno-inhabitants by following the Harmony path. All these possibilities still exist in Rising Tide but now there's more flexibility.
New hybrid options have been included. It's possible to have two paths merge to allow for wildly different units, buildings and scenarios. Some new units are capable of fantastic attack strength and can also heal themselves between attacks. Others include new naval units that are completely invisible to your enemies until you choose to attack.
We played the game several times. Each time we found ourselves investing in hybrid technologies. Our vision for the ideal society wasn't limited to three apexes anymore. Instead we happily mashed together ideologies to create units that shared the best of each path. In one game we harnessed the abilities of the native aliens, upgraded them to become hardened fighters, and set about trying to control the world through force. In another we became bizarre sentient robot-aliens with strong production and an inspiring culture.
Perhaps one of most significant addition in Rising Tide is the option to build cities in the ocean. Initially they're simple coastal cities, but through research they are able to traverse the waves, grabbing new territory as they go. However, it takes a number of turns for a city to move, halting any other production for that amount of time. Sticking to a single place impedes territory gain but allows focus on producing new buildings and units, moving around grabs new territory but negatively impacts how quickly the city develops. As the sea can be colonised, naval combat and exploration are more important than before. The ocean is hiding a number of resources to develop, wreckages to plunder, and artefacts to discover.
A simple but preferred strategy of ours had been to several outer cities and focus on their defences. We'd use these cities to hold the borders of our territory when war hungry leaders direct their attention our way. Doing this allowed the inner cities to be utilised for cultural or scientific gain. Ocean-based cities changed all of that.
Instead of locking down land we would search for narrow strips of ocean between two continents and claim the territory as our own, limiting our opponent's navigation options. A favourite memory was the great city escape, in which we were fighting a losing war against impossible odds (we hadn't been very friendly, everybody wanted us dead!) We held out for as long as we could, we sacrificed military unit after military unit, while slowly moving our floating city towards unclaimed land. Inevitably, we lost the war, but thanks to our floating city we survived, within 50 turns we were thriving again, within 100 we were looking for revenge.
The complaints we have are few and aren't too significant. Organising all the units under your command is still arduous. We often lost track of units we had sent to 'explore' too. The skill system could be clearer. It's easy enough to see the perks of each development but better colour coding and a clearer projection would have made things easier on the eye. Also, native aliens are easily overcome by the mid-game point, it would have been fun if they had more impact in the latter stages of the game.
Overall, Rising Tide makes a good game noticeably better. For that alone we feel it's worth investing in. It functions as more than just an expansion, it's a re-imagining littered with improvements. As such, the 'one more turn' effect has never been stronger.