Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
The lure of the Sid Meier's Civilization series, the epitome of the strategy genre, has been its play on history and famous figures, so the earlier announcement of the sci-fi variation Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth came to many as a shock. In the recent Civilization V, a player can earn a science victory by developing several spaceship parts and assembling them together into a rocket. Beyond Earth imagines a time well passed that, where humanity has the technology to cultivate and colonize alien worlds. Will humans destroy this new planet just as they have Earth or should they strip the planet's resources to advance society even further?
Instead of cultural or geographical boundaries, the separation between different players will be based on factions with contrasting Affinities, like the Ideologies from Brave New World, on how the human race should evolve over time. Some factions believe in Harmony, becoming one with the environment through specific gene splicing and living with the planet's resources. Where green toxic gases might make a hex-tile poisonous to units, those aligned with Harmony can harness the gas for other uses.
The same goes for the wildlife, which can be eradicated as some Supremacy-affinity civilizations might do, or avoided altogether. That said, building cities anywhere near a siege worm is probably a terrible idea since it can ravage through cities and raze tile improvements into the ground, literally. However, it is possible to send a covert ops agent to an enemy's capital and have that agent lure siege worms into their cities (you prick). Purity civilizations, on the other hand, is about creating an idealized version of how humanity is more or less now, a more conservative, nigh-nostalgic approach to the future. Heavy battlesuits and floating tanks may not sound reasonable to others, but they build a strong military nonetheless.
Even in its pre-alpha state, Beyond Earth will feel familiar by design with terrain like canyons and plains that have a particular output of available food and resources. After establishing a city, players will want to explore their surroundings with a scout-like explorer, who might find bonuses by excavating fossils, and defend their territory with all sorts of sleek warships, exosuits, and tanks. Upon discovering non-player civilizations, players can establish trade routes and befriend their neighbors enough for them to gift over siege units. And much like iron and oil in vanilla Civilization, some tiles in Beyond Earth will have resources like floatstone that are required to construct powerful buildings, hurl satellites into orbit, and support advanced military units.
Instead of earning most technologies in a linear fashion, the tech tree is almost a "sphere grid" of abilities that directs players from the inside-out. Since different sides of the tech tree gravitate toward different factions, it's important to choose which affinity suits the player's style before plotting future moves. The complexity of the tech tree, though, will allow for plenty of customization and hybridization. I wish I could have taken a picture of the massive branching tree, littered with aspects like Computing, Robotics, Ecology, and Automated Systems.
Most of what's been shown in Beyond Earth have analogies to the Civilization standard, but the extent of the interactions with other civilizations, the social policies, the espionage, the Great Persons, and a would-be intergalactic Congress remains to be seen. Beyond Earth is slated for a Fall release on PC, Mac, and Linux in North America