Written by  :  Tom Cross (31)
Written on  :  Mar 01, 2008
Rating  :  3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars

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An Excellent 4X Game, an Excellent Way to Rule the Galaxy!

The Good

Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords made me want to go give the latest civilizations game a try. There, I said it. I know a number of people, including family members, who now ant to kill me. Yes, it’s true, I always found Civ II (the one I played the most) to be annoying: I could never upgrade my throne room all the way (the best part of the game rally), and my civilizations would just start decaying way too fast. So, why should I have been interested in GC II, a 4X game (expand, exploit, explore, exterminate) that seems a lot like Civilization in space (as opposed to Alpha Centauri, Civilization on a Space planet!)?

The reason I showed interest in GC II, and the reason it was eventually gifted to me, is because of the ship creator. That should probably be where the review begins. The ship creator is absolutely stunning. The options available to you are beyond obsessive, beyond geeky. You can pick from an assortment of tiny, small, medium, large and capital ship hulls, and from there you just add on the parts. Parts come in two varieties, vital (weapons, engines, sensors, shields) and superfluous (really sweet looking fins and antennae!). This may not sound like much, but seeing a fleet of ships (all entirely of my own devising) lay waste to an enemy fleet is really something. I love naming them cool-sounding names from my gaming past: Scimitar class fighters, large frigates that are called, suspiciously, Tiger’s Claws. You can design literally any ship you want. There is an expansion pack (not reviewed here) that adds a whole new set of add-ons and designs for your ships. Trust me when I say you’ll be doing this for hours.

But what if you actually want to play the game?

You’ll start out the game with two singleplayer options: campaign or scenario. Campaign is alright, but these games have never had very interesting stories, and GC II is no exception. The real meat of the game is in the free play games. Here, you can choose one of several races, or make your own race. Preset races are appropriately different. You have your logical, hive-minded bug-aliens, your warlike pig-aliens, your robot mercantilist aliens. It’s all there. Each race has different strengths and weaknesses, different affinities for trade, espionage, diplomacy, research or war. You can also customize your fleet colors, which always takes me 20 minutes or so.

GC II offers a very fun, solid, and lengthy game experience. You start with one home planet, a colony ship, and your flagship. Go exploring! The only way to win in this game is to expand your empire. Players who try to stay on one or two planets will be instantly smashed. Planets are the key to more resources, more bases, more population, more influence. Just about more of everything.

The reason that I love GC II (besides those beautiful ships) is because of its options. You can win in many different ways. You can use might to conquer and enslave the galaxy, you can acquire such amazing technology that all bow down before your knowledge, and you can unite all races in A United Federation of Planets kind of way. My favorite, however, is the Cultural victory. This means that you win because your culture is so vibrant, impressive, rich and enthralling that other star systems literally join your cause because they want to be part of the coolest culture ever. Awesome!

To leave my description of the game in this fashion would be selling it short. There are dozens of building options, a multi-tiered research tree that allows you to learn anything from mercantilism to republicanism to warp drive to mass driver guns. You can change the ways in which you allocate funds and tax the people. You can change governments, create a galactic senate, or leave that same senate and wage war on all other races. You can spy on your enemies and negotiate peace treaties, or bombard their planets and pulverize their fleets.

Sure, you can do all of these things in other forms, in other games, but GC II is so very addictive, it puts other games to shame. I have stayed up till 5am playing this game. You just keep on building, and expanding, and creating amazing ship designs. What more can I say; this game is fun, deep and addictive.

The Bad

There are a few blemishes on the otherwise pristine face of this game. First, as I mentioned before, you absolutely must expand at the beginning of the game. What this means is that the first few hours of every game devolve into a crazy race to claim planets. It gets annoying, and there is nothing you can do about it. Next up is the tech tree. Yes, it may be deep (there are about 15 levels of lasers), but after the 13th level of neutron shields, you get bored. The same goes for other tech tress, which involve some repetition from time to time.

Even more disappointing are the espionage and diplomacy sections. Espionage consists of paying a certain amount to “increase” your espionage level on a race. This means you can allocate 5 space dollars a month to espionage on the Drengins (Klingons, essentially), and with absolutely no effort on your part you’ll soon no everything about them. The same goes for diplomacy. All you do here is make trade deals and alliances, which raise or lower other races opinions of you. It’s simple and shallow.

The final and worst offender is space combat. It is true that I can make tons of cool spaceships, but spaceship battles look bad. Like the original Wing Commander bad. You’ll start skipping combat after battle number two, trust me. Oh, and the races may have different abilities, but they all research the same stuff. This significantly decreases replay options.

The Bottom Line

GC II is fun, engrossing and ultimately flawed. But there is hope. The expansion, Death Guys, makes changes to almost everything I mentioned. Tech trees are diversified (think racial super abilities), graphics are improved, space combat looks and plays in a more interesting way, the rush for new territory is changed and slowed, new factions are added; there really isn’t a problem that they didn’t address. Oh, and did I mention that the expansion adds tons of new ship designs and parts?