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Old 04-15-2006, 01:34 PM   #1
Gambit
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Thumbs up [PC Game Review] Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords

Well. Those who like the good old turn-based 4x game format (eXlore, eXpand, eXploit, and... something else) should like this one. It has one-more-turn-itis out the wazoo. Played the sucker until 2am last night. But I suppose I should start at the beginning.

Plot: Two ancient races mysteriously disappear just as the war between them seems about to end. The tech they left behind litters the galaxy. As the game opens, Humans, the newcomers to galactic civilization, have discovered the secret of hyperdrive used by the ancients and have shared it freely with the rest of the galaxy. Exchanges betwen the races, previously limited by jumpgates, now become chaotic and unregulated. The young races vie for advantage in the galaxy that opens up before them...

Growth: Forget resource gathering. As is typical in space games of this type, just develop your planets as you like to focus on tech, ships, or faster building, or a mix of the three. At any time you can shift the emphasis of the entire planet to any of these areas with the click of a mouse, and back again. Though doing so costs you severely in the other two areas as resources are diverted, and you won't gain much if there's no infrastructure to support your decision.

Tech tree: Huge. Big. Lots of items. Though many of the items are just slightly smaller revisions of previous items, so you can fit more stuff on your ships. Your whole civilization can only research one tech at a time, too, meaning it's unlikely your game will last long enough to get everything. There's a big map of the tree you can see at any time so you don't get lost, which is very nice.

Ships: Say, how would that battlecruiser work if I stuck an extra plasma cannon on it? Find out with this game. You are expected to design your own ships, and there are many gizmos and mount points and hull variations you can choose from. Enemy developed shield tech so your lasers don't work any more? Build the same ship, but with missile launchers instead. Assuming you've got the tech, of course. Prebuilt ships are certainly available, but it's unlikely they'll fit your exact needs when you need them. Often it's an amusing sideline to build just the right ship for your need at that moment. Gotta give 'em the props for the ship design part of the game. And a mini picture of your custom ship is used in ship lists in the main game, so visual identification can be easier.

Graphics: Everything on the main galactic map (except the hud) is three-d. Swivel, scroll, and zoom your viewpoint to your heart's content. See moons whirling around planets and ships exploding in entertaining fashion. Ringed planets and nebulae add even more candy.

Combat: Oh, lots of combat. Ship to ship, fleet to fleet, and ground invasions. Opportunities abound in the game to nudge things your way. Fleet combat is particularly interesting, because all the attack and defense values for all the individual ships get added together into one big fleet score. Maximum fleet size is determined by the individual ships' logistics requirement and your civ's logisitics capability. Ground invasions get a bonus against the defenders, since they're outnumbered, but there is also a slot-machine situation at the beginning of the invasion. Possible attack/defense ratios flicker by on the screen and final odds aren't set until you click the mouse to fix the ratio and start the fight.

Music: kind of repetitive but well done and low-key. Great for bringing your own. But what do you expect for a game like this? Sounds are fine, though.

AI: It's impressive. According to an interview with a developer, it doesn't cheat except on the highest levels. But levels range from stupid and crippled to somewhere near perfect. The toughest two settings give the AI an economic advantage, of 125% and 200%. On "Intelligent," the highest non-cheating level, it watches you to figure out what you're doing and anticipates your next move, but only like a human could and not behind the scenes. That is, a human who was willing to tweak everything every turn to squeeze every last bit of productivity from their civilization.

Replayability: Yowsa! There are six options for creating a random galaxy. Then, your race is selectable from a list, with customizable abilities and starting tech, or you can start with a completely custom race. Eight political parties for another set of starting bonuses. Choose the number of opponents, their races, and their intelligence and starting attitudes. Never the same game twice. I haven't even started the campaign.

Other: High score for humor. Tribute is paid to many popular fiction or video game references. The grammer police part of me noticed several misspellings and errant punctuation, and some of the scientific concepts in the tech explanations were, um, mistaken. I've locked up a couple times and seen a handful of minor bugs, but overall it's very polished. And a couple of user interface issues I haven't got around to worrying about; I'm just using the mouse for everything for now.

Also worthy of note is that there is no copy protection on this game. Install and forget. Please don't distribute copies, as Stardock deserves our financial support. They are selling the game from their website, but my copy was cheaper at Fry's. More info and a demo available at http://www.galciv2.com/


Overall I'm very impressed. I've been itching for a good 4x for a while, and this certainly fills the bill. Final score:



9/10 gryphons
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Old 04-15-2006, 06:34 PM   #2
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Great review, I am downloading the demo.
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Old 04-20-2006, 12:07 AM   #3
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I've been seriously considering getting this game ever since Starforce had a link to a pirated copy up on their companies main website for a week. This review will probably be the deciding factor
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Old 04-20-2006, 09:32 AM   #4
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I tried to just jump into the game, but the interface is very busy and confusing me.
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Old 04-20-2006, 03:49 PM   #5
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Really? I didn't have any trouble with the demo at all. What I didn't know was how action X affected option Y. Still don't have it all down, but the formulae are in the manual. Can I help you with anything?

SiFi, that sounds like grounds for Stardock to sue the StarForce people. True, they're not actually distributing it, but that hasn't stopped the DVD companies from suing websites that only post links to DeCSS.

"Hey, nice piece of software you've got there, buddy. Be a shame if sumptin' happened to it. But my partner here and me, we can sell you some, uh, insurance, y'know?"
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Old 04-22-2006, 05:32 AM   #6
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I think it was more along the lines of "Look what happens without us!" coming from a company that consideres the end to be superior to the means. And anyway, the link *was* taken down, albeit belatedly.

The good news is that Ubisoft is dropping Starforce from all their upcoming games
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Old 04-22-2006, 06:00 PM   #7
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I downloaded the beta 1.1 patch. Much nicer now. Some bug fixes, some improvements. A couple major changes in the way it's played, for the better.

For example, in the pre-patch version populations would reproduce very quickly, meaining there was an all-out colonization rush at first. Now, you can still do that, but if you depopulate your homeworld while trying the land grab you may end up weakening your empire enough that you slow your overall development and your opponents walk all over you.
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