Civilization: Beyond Earth: Rising Tide

I'm starting to feel like quite the prognosticator. Earlier this year, I started tossing around the idea of Nomadic civilizations for future Civ games. Around the same time, Creative Assembly announced Attila: Total War. They had apparently come up with almost the same idea independently at the same time. Well, now the teams at Firaxis have also implemented a variation of my idea for their new expansion to Beyond Earth, called Rising Tide.

This expansion seeks to remedy several of the core complaints with the Beyond Earth game. In my original review for Beyond Earth, my two biggest complaints were that the game and its leaders lacked the personality and variety of Civilization V, and that it just didn't feel futuristic enough. Both of these complaints ended up being the major focus of the first expansion, which definitely helps to make Beyond Earth stand out a little bit from its more realistic counterpart.

So we sailed up to the sun, till we found a sea of green

One of Beyond Earth's biggest failings was its lack of creativity in using its futuristic setting to innovate gameplay. The game felt very much like a reskin of Civ V rather than a new game. A big part of this was that the map posed many of the same sorts of restrictions on players that the Civ V map did: mountains, canyons, and oceans were all obstacles either impassable by units or uncolonizable by cities.

Civilization Beyond Earth: Rising Tide - aquatic civilization
Aquatic cities and civilizations help to separate Beyond Earth's futuristic setting from Civilization's historical roots.

Well now one of those restrictions has been lifted, and civilizations can build floating cities in the oceans. Such cities can even be moved in order to claim new tiles or to act as mobile military bases. This opens up some interesting (and sometimes silly) new strategic possibilities, but the whole mechanic feels a bit contrived to me. Moveable cities is something that I think can work very well in Civilization, but I just don't feel that Firaxis gave us much reason to ever need to move cities in this game. My proposal for nomadic civilizations was two fold: such a faction could mobilize its entire civilization right up to an enemy's borders during war; and it could also move in response to changing map conditions (migrating animal resources or climate change) during peace. Beyond Earth hits that first point by turning cities into massive aircraft carriers, but there aren't any mechanics in place to make the map a factor.

Fish and other harvestable sea creatures don't migrate, and other resources don't move. So if you aren't using your aquatic cities as mobile military bases, then there's never any real need to move them. And if you're not playing as the North Sea Alliance faction, then the cost to move a city can feel prohibitively expensive. The people at Firaxis seemed to have recognized this, and so they made it so that aquatic cities don't grow their borders based on culture. Instead, you must either buy new tiles or move the city itself in order to acquire adjacent tiles. But since moving takes valuable production time away from the city, I rarely find myself moving a city, and instead I just buy any tiles that I want.

Aquatic cities can be moved, and can act as mobile military platforms and aircraft carriers.

There are other pros and cons to aquatic cities, such as health benefits, faster virtue acquisition, and more profitable trade routes. You can also move the cities around to temporarily acquire resources that allow you to build specific resource buildings, but at the cost of possibly temporarily hurting your city's growth or production (and maybe even starving the city if you move away from food-generating tiles). So there's a lot to think about when build an aquatic or nomadic civilization, but it all feels kind of like ad hoc mechanics in order to make the mechanic seem more meaningful than it actually is. That isn't to say that mobile cities is a bad feature in Beyond Earth. It's perfectly functional, and can be fun to play around with. It just feels a little gimmicky.

Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor

It certainly helps that the oceans themselves are a much bigger part of the game. The ocean isn't just divided into coastal tiles and empty ocean anymore. There's a whole host of new aquatic resources, and even the sea floor itself has different features. This definitely provides some incentive and reward to building floating cities, since the ocean can be a rich source of resources. The ocean tiles themselves can even be improved with a variety of new improvements (including basic farms and mines).

Civilization Beyond Earth: Rising Tide - marine life
The oceans are alive with life and resources, giving reason to found aquatic cities.

Aliens are also active in the oceans. Sea creatures will build nests (just like their land counterparts), and there's a new alien creature called Hydrocoral that is stationary but which spreads across the ocean surface if left unchecked. Resource pods, artifacts, and quest triggers can all also be found in the ocean. So there's plenty to do in the water now, oceans feel more like a genuine part of the map rather than just dead space between continents, and the variety of features and resources in the ocean helps to make the world look more alien.

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Playing games like Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, The Witcher 3, Mad Max, Metal Gear Solid V, and other open-world games has made me increasingly weary of open-world gaming. Narrative-based, open world games like these suffer from a problem that I have started calling "open world limbo" (or "open world purgatory"). This is a sort of paradoxical offshoot of the concept of ludonarrative dissonance. The game's open world "sandbox" design seems to directly conflict with the narrative that the game is trying to tell. It specifically refers to the conflict between the story and the game's open world, rather than a conflict between the game's story and any particular game system(s). Generally, this manifests as the game designers setting the stakes so high that the player should feel pressured to progress the narrative, but the game's open world design never follows through with any real consequences for not progressing.

Metal Gear Solid V - open desert
More and more big-budget games are going open world. is this a good thing?

This leads to problems in which the player can spend hours, weeks, or months doing tangential, or completely unrelated, tasks and pushing the game's story objectives down to the bottom of their priority list. For people who just like to play the game, this may not be much of a problem. They get a massive sandbox in which to do anything they want. That is actually one of the back-of-the-box selling point for most of these games.

But as one of those "games as art" kind of snobs, I also really like to have an engaging narrative that flows seamlessly with the gameplay. So if a game offers a narrative of any kind, you bet I'm going to judge the game based (at least in part) by how well that narrative works and how fully it is integrated into the core gameplay experience. And when a game tries to convince the player that they are destined to save the world from impending doom (as is often the case with big-budget, open world games), then I get really peeved when I find myself able to completely eschew that destiny in favor of picking flowers and peddling salvaged bandit armor for the next 100 hours.

A world in stasis

The source of most of the "limbo" comes down to the fact that these games' worlds (despite being big and detailed) often feel static and devoid of life. They don't change on their own. No one seems to have any sense of agency, and nothing ever happens unless the player is there to make it happen. Quest-givers sit around outside their house forever waiting for the player to come along and help them kill the wolves that are attacking their livestock, or find their missing heirloom, or deliver their special package to someone in the next town over, or whatever else they want done. The situation never resolves itself, the quest-giver never gets tired of waiting for you and hires another adventurer, those wolves never manage to eat all the remaining livestock, the heirloom never shows up in lost-and-found, and the statute of limitations on that package never expires. Emergencies can always wait [indefinitely] for the player to resolve them.

Witcher 3 - idle quest-giver
Quest-givers will wait forever for the player character to show up and solve their problems.

But worst of all is that the big, bad villain (if there is one) just doesn't feel very threatening or intimidating if he (or she, or it) isn't actually doing anything to actively antagonize the player or the world...

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Civilization V - Hiawatha of the Iroquois Nation

There's one civilization that I have not yet covered in my Brave New World strategies series that did receive an explicit rewrite of its unique national ability. I haven't covered them yet because that rewrite isn't so much a change to their ability, as it is really just a clarification that the ability applies to the new rules. The Iroquois civilization led by Chief Hiawatha has an ability that explicitly utilizes the expansion's trade route mechanics. The Iroquois are another civilization (like India) that receives a lot of hate from the Civ V gaming community due to some supposedly lackluster, highly-situational uniques. This strategy will focus on utilizing those uniques when they are beneficial, and on compensating for their downfalls and limitations.

Very little is known about the early history of Iroquoian people prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The Native American tribes had no written language, and their histories were passed down through oral tradition. According to that tradition, a great Peacemaker united the eastern Great Lakes tribes of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayauga, and Seneca sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries. Other tribes would later join the confederacy, including some that were displaced from their native lands by European settlers. Iroquois culture was matrilineal, meaning that children were born into the mother's family, and women had a great deal of influence in the politics of the tribes. The Iroquois Confederacy utilized a representative system in which each tribe appointed a number of chiefs (based on relative population of the respective tribes) to serve on a council. There was both a council of male chiefs, and also a council of clan mothers that both had roughly equal authority.

Civilization V - Hiawatha

Hiawatha is a near-mythical figure in Iroquois history. He was a follower of the Great Peacemaker, who traveled between the various tribes of the region preaching a prophecy of a strong alliance uniting all the tribes of the Great Lakes region in peace. Hiawatha, along with the Peacemaker, effectively founded the Iroquois Confederacy using his skills as an orator (and, in some traditions, magic) to convince the various tribes to join. According to oral tradition, the Seneca resisted the alliance, leading to a confrontation that was stopped when the sun miraculously went dark, turning day into night. This supposed solar eclipse lead the Seneca to put down their arms and commit themselves to the alliance.

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Civilization V - Augustus Caesar of the Roman Empire

I've already covered strategies for the civilizations that have been added or explicitly changed in the Brave New World expansion and its major fall (2013) patch. Now I'm going to move on to other legacy civilizations that have not had explicit changes, but who may have had their strategies significantly altered by the expansions and other updates. This time, I will be covering one civ that surprisingly does not benefit from Brave New World's new mechanics as much as one might think: the Roman Empire.

Rome is one of the most influential and heavily romanticized cultures of the classical world. The early Roman republic was a system of semi-democratic representational government. Power was divided between two consuls who were annually elected by the citizens and alternated as military leaders to check each others' ambitions, while an appointed body of senators directed foreign policy and enacted laws. The city gradually expanded its power and influence in the second half of the first millennium BC through the overwhelming success of its legionary forces and defeat of its primary rival Carthage, until it eventually came to control almost the entire Mediterranean. Rome itself became the center of government and commerce for most of Europe, and it established an elaborate network of roads, aqueducts, and other engineering feats.

The Roman government was generally very tolerant of foreign religions and cultures, which helped to pacify subjugated peoples. But as Rome became an empire, and its holdings expanded, this tolerance became a liability. Foreign peoples were allowed admittance into the army in order to secure Rome's ever-increasing borders, which lead to a decline in loyalty to Rome as the army became more diverse and less centralized. Eventually, generals would begin competing with each other for control of Rome and the title of emperor, weakening the empire from within and making it vulnerable to external threats such as immigrating Germanic tribes displaced by the Huns. Eventually, these threats would culminate in the sacking of Rome by the Visigothic leader Alaric in August of 410 AD, and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. However, the eastern half of the empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, would continue to carry the torch of Rome for another thousand years.

Civilization V - Augustus Caesar

After the death of Julius Caesar, his adopted nephew and heir, Gaius Octavius, along with Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus, tracked down and defeated Brutus, Cassius, and the other assassins who had conspired against Caesar. This new triumvirate quickly disintigrated into civil war, with Octavius decisively defeating both Lepidus and then Antony and holding sole authority over a new Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar in honor of his adopted uncle, and reinstated the Roman senate as a puppet facade government to legitimize his dictatorial leadership. He was extremely popular among the Roman citizens due to his relation to Julius, and was eventually honored with the title Augustus. He instituted numerous domestic reform including official police and fire-fighting services, engineering projects such as roads, and expanded the dominion of Rome in Africa, Hispania, and Germania. Octavius found Rome a city of bricks; Augustus left it a city of marble, and the envy of the western world.

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Sid Meier's Civilization

I recently wrote a post describing some unique abilities that I'd like to see for some of the common civilizations that are likely to appear in the eventual Sid Meier's Civilization VI. Most of the concepts were very vague, or they were based on the mechanics and features of Civ V, since we don't have any idea what the eventual feature set of Civ VI will be. So in this post, I'd like to expand upon that previous post by talking about some of the features and mechanics that I would like to see implemented in Civilization VI.

Most of these features age going to involve more complicated and advanced political and empire management mechanics. Civ V made a fundamental change to the structure of the series by introducing tactical combat on a hex-based grid. So it makes sense that unit movement and combat was the focus of that game, and the vanilla game played more like a tactical war board game played out over a larger scale. Empire management and simulation features were mostly absent or simplified. The expansions, then, focused more on the empire management mechanics that were absent from the vanilla game. Gods & Kings brought back a full religion mechanic and enhanced city state mechanics. And Brave New World added trade routes, ideologies, and completely rewrote the cultural victory condition.

So since Civ V already went down the "warfare first, empire-management second" design philosophy, I hope that Civ VI goes in the opposite direction. I hope that it puts more of its focus on being an "Empire Building Game" rather than a "Tactical War Game".

This post was featured in PolyCast episode 244: "Not just a lame clip show XVII". I encourage readers to listen in on the great feedback that was provided, and to contribute to the discussion.

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