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The GoodFirst of all, let me point out that I've never played MOO (Master of Orion) or Galactic Civilizations I, although I've had some experience with other titles in this genre such as Space Empires IV and Emperor of the Fading Suns. Being a jaded gamer that is hard to impress, I didn't expect much from GalCiv2 and for this reason I put off purchasing the title for a few months. Boy was I missing out!
GalCiv2 is a game of the 4x genre, the 4x being eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate as the overall objects of the game. Based in outer space, you begin your humble civilization with 1 planet and its up to you to build your civilization from there. However, before this happens there is the setup of parameters for the type of game you wish to play. GalCiv2 does a great job of providing for diversity in game options and therefore creates almost limitless replay value. You may select the size of the galaxy, the frequency of habitable planets, anomalies, number of opponents (up to 9) and so forth. A wide range of difficulty levels also provide for fine tuning to allow for beginning players of various levels, all the way to advanced bone crunching difficulty levels for the seasoned veterans.
One of the most important options when beginning a new game is to determine which kind of parameters are enabled that can provide for victory. In other words, there are multiple paths to winning the game be it through technology, conquest, alliances, or cultural influence. You can disable all of these options except conquest, or activate any combination of the other three choices. Being that most games require you to destroy your enemy, I like to turn on all of the other options and work towards winning the game by means other than pure conquest.
Having selected game parameters, it's time to choose your race. Your race can be one of the pre-defined included in the game (there are 9 of them) or you can create your own. Creating your own race is exciting, and you're able to tweak everything from starting technologies, political parties, to racial attributes. There are probably millions of combinations that exist to suit strategists of all alignments and backgrounds. With these options, never have I seen a game that offers almost unlimited replay value such as this one. To top things off, there is also a campaign mode although I haven't tried it yet as I've been consistently playing in 'new game' mode, starting one as soon as I finish the last.
In starting off the game, it's important to build your first colony as to be efficient in civilization growth. Focusing on military expenditures at this point will only set you back, and you'll need to focus on social and research projects to gain enough momentum to build you treasury, establish your research and manufacturing base, and expand your population levels. Early in the game you'll have a planet close to you of a lower quality that you can settle on to as well. Aside from colonizing your neighboring planet and taking care of the aforementioned things, there isn't much to do early in the game, and you'll find clicking the 'turn' button to start a new turn and speed the research and population growth along.
When settling planets, they are rated as Class 0-15+. 0 is uninhabitable, 10 is like planet Earth, and 15 is like a utopia of sorts. It is possible to go higher than Class 15 but only through planetary improvements which require a high technology obtained later in the game. With each of your planets you're able to focus on either research, military, or social endeavors. Focus on social and new structures get built really fast, but it takes forever to build ships. Focus on research and you speed up the discovery of new technologies but at the cost of social and military production. You can tweak these settings for each individual planet or you can tweak your entire civilization at once by dictating civilization wide spending on any of these three categories. On the same screen you can determine things like spending towards industrial capacity and the tax rate. These are important especially when considering that each planet also has an approval rating that you must keep high in order to avoid revolts or lost production should you advance to a form of government other than dictatorship. Military spending lowers approval, and while lowering taxes is a quick fix, chances are that you'll need to improve the planet's conditions for long term approval. What's great about this is that you can treat each planet as an individual colony or you can control the dynamics of your entire civilization from one screen. Being that no two colonies are really the same, I find far more success in controlling each individual colony rather than making a blanket policy for my entire civilization.
From time to time you’ll also be presented with decisions to be made about randomly occurring events. These decisions can help determine your ethical alignment, which can play a role in diplomacy with the AI. If you tend to be more evil, good civilizations will dislike you, and vice versa. These random events often have a level of humor involved which add some personality to the game.
While you do not control what happens during combat, you are in control (usually) of what is happening prior to combat. The important decisions and skill in the game are picking your battles, or preparing for them. Once the fight starts, you have no control over the outcome. However, you do get to watch the battle unfold on the screen with multiple viewpoints and camera angles. Watching the battle can help you determine which upgrades for combat ships are effective, and which aren’t. But hey, it’s a strategy game, not a shoot’em up.
The BadThere are some minor annoyances that come to mind, but nothing too serious.
For one diplomacy is weird. If a race is much more powerful than you, they will usually have little to do with you in terms of trades or research swapping, even if you have something they need. On the other hand if you are a very powerful race smaller, less threatening empires will roll over for you. I’ve had smaller empires that I was friendly with suddenly retire and relinquish to me all over their colonies. This was annoying. To make matters worse, if you and an opposing computer player were the top dogs competing for control, often the balance of power shifts suddenly because some smaller empire will spontaneously surrender to you, or them throwing the balance all out of whack.
There were a few crashes to desktop, but after 50 hours of play I only experienced 3 and it seemed to be random as I could not duplicate the crash when I tried to.
My biggest complaint of all; NO MULTIPLAYER. This is almost unacceptable. Even a PBEM or hot seat option would be spectacular. The fact that the game mechanics are so solid, and the replay value so high, I am forced to overlook this, begrudgingly (hey even Emperor of the Fading Suns had multiplayer).