From the earth to the moon to the nebulae...
The war fleets have been recalled and your tanks are slowly rumbling home. Your game of Civilization IV
has come to an end, and the world has been unified under your Aztec empire. Now what? Start over in a grass hut with a stone club?
Pretty soon, you won't have to, because Galactic Civilizations II: The Dread Lords takes over right where Civ IV leaves off by blasting your ever-conquering ass directly into deep space.
Well, sort of. Stardock's sequel to the critically-acclaimed space strategy game doesn't have any specific ties to Sid Meier's baby, but it certainly has similar appeal. Ten fledgling races (including those scrappy humans) have discovered interstellar travel and escaped their local gravity wells. There are new solar systems to explore, planets to terraform, anomalies to investigate, starbases to build and fleets to construct. As agriculture and pottery are assumed to be mastered, the technology tree instead begins with the ion drive and ends up in scientific breakthroughs to make the gods jealous.
Like Civ, the game is a turn-based affair with multiple paths to victory, from the technological win to cultural domination – assuming, that is, you're not the sort to just shoot everyone else and crush them under your iron starfleet. In fact, in the game's non-linear Human campaign, failure is an option. Miss a goal or stumble on a mission and the story continues down a different path. We've been fans of this kind of space branching since the great action game Colony Wars. It's great to see it embraced again.
In Galactic Civilizations II's numerous Sandbox modes, you can play as any of the ten races and explore the randomly generated galaxy any way you choose. Technological advances and the colonization of distant planets will bring you more wealth and resources, allowing your ships to roam farther and farther into the void.
Interstellar anomalies and precursor artifacts can lead to unique technologies to benefit your chosen race. Many other situations will present you with a choice. Discover a primitive species, and you can try to live with them, or you can enslave them. When cultures collide, the result can be peaceful trade and an exchange of ideas, but keep a phaser in your back pocket because interstellar war and planetary genocide is equally likely. Your actions will influence how the other races feel about you; some will respect strength, while others will respect harmony. It all feels pretty open-ended.
While the graphics are simple, clear and iconic, they are also impressive thanks to a brand new 3D engine that can scale to any resolution. Ship battles are animated, and you can zoom and rotate the entire universe from a galactic scale, down to a close-up of a single ship.
But certainly the most innovative new feature is the starship designer. Rather than being locked into set ship designs, you can custom design your ship's looks and abilities however you like. Put in big engines, and you might not have room for those fancy guns, but you can outrun other ships. And what you can outfit depends on where you've gone on the technology tree. Focus on lasers or missiles for firepower, specialize in miniaturization to fit more modules on your ship, or emphasize on hull design to just have a better ship to begin with. The possibilities are endless.
In designing a sequel to the cult-hit Galactic Civilizations, Stardock hasn't rested on its laurels, instead attempting to up the ante on just about every aspect of the game. Looking for life beyond Sid Meier? It should be arriving on a starship early next month.