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.
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).
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.
To supplement this more exotic world, there are now special "Marvels" on the map that fill a similar function as the natural wonders of Civ V. The big difference is that these marvels often come in the form of monolithic alien organisms, and they trigger quests that require you to find more instances of that marvel and study or examine them. These quests can be completed by any unit entering the tile containing the marvel and performing a special action to study the marvel. This helps to further create a sense of awe and wonder at exploring this alien world, especially in your first few playthroughs when everything is new and mysterious.
Further, some marvels also provide yield or special bonuses if they are near your cities, so there's even a small amount of competition between the civs to settle near them. They generally aren't as contested as Civ V's natural wonders (especially if Spain is in the game), but I guess claiming a floating marvel can be one reason to want to move an aquatic city.
Certain objects on the map are "Marvels" that can be studied to complete quests.
Rising Tide also re-introduces a feature from Civ V: Brave New World: artifacts. Whenever an explorer excavates a ruin or crashed satellite or whatnot, they have a chance of discovering an artifact. These include Old Earth relics, alien artifacts (such as fossils), or Progenitor artifacts. Instead of placing them in museums and allowing them to accumulate culture, you have the choice of either consuming them immediately for small lump sum rewards, or you can wait and combine multiple artifacts to receive unique rewards. The unique rewards can include special powers or unlocking new buildings or wonders that are not otherwise available in the game.
These artifacts and marvels add some additional incentive and reward for exploring the planet, which was already one of the most fun parts of the game anyway.
In the navy, come on and join your fellow man
While there is still a separation between land units and naval units, there are some units that feel much more amphibious. Explorers can explore the ocean and perform excavations on the seas, and there is now just one type of trade unit: an amphibious trade convoy.
Trade units are now amphibious.
This has the effect of blurring the line between land and sea, and water feels like a much more relevant part of strategy. In Civ V and vanilla Beyond Earth, the oceans were mostly avoided unless you wanted to found coastal cities to facilitate intercontinental trade. Defending that trade was really the only reason to ever build a navy (unless you had naval uniques in Civ V). Now, the oceans (and by extension your sea-faring units) feel like an active part of the map and a perfectly viable place to settle and engage in exploration, trade, or combat.
To this end, the naval units feel much more developed. There's more than just the basic gunboat and carrier now. There's now a dedicated melee and ranged naval unit, along with a specialized submarine unit. There aren't any new unique affinity naval units other than the aquilon (which is an amphibious aircraft carrier), but the new classes of naval units are better supplements for your land units, especially the amphibious affinity units (such as LEV tanks).
Unfortunately, air units still feel completely underdeveloped. There's still only the single tacject unit, and upgrading it to fill the interceptor or bomber role effectively converts your entire air force to that same role. There's still no dedicated land-based anti-air unit either. This leaves you to make a choice between either giving up an effective air strike force, or giving up having an effective method of countering your opponents' air force. Maybe air power and flying / mountain / canyon cities will be the focus of the next expansion, and maybe that expansion will be called "Falling Skies"?
I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one
One of the things that bothered me about Beyond Earth was the way that the victory conditions create an unnecessary competition between the different civs. Aren't we all just colonists from the same earth who are supposed to be trying not to repeat the mistakes of the past? Aren't we trying to preserve the human race? Without the various civs starting the game with any sort of pre-established ideology or agendas, there's no reason for them to be competing with one another. Without a genuine shared victory, there's also no systems in place to share your colonial success with your fellow colonies. The net effect is that once you've defeated the challenge of taming the planet and [one way or another] eliminating the aliens as a threat to your expansion, then the rest of the game is a competition between civs to be the first to reach any of the [mechanically satisfying and varied, yet intellectually vapid] victory conditions.
I didn't go too deep into this in my original review because I felt that it was more of a meta-commentary rather than a critique of how the game played. Lately, I've been using this blog (and my reviews) to try to go deeper into analyzing the meanings of games rather than just how they play. Firaxis has given me a perfect opportunity to do this, since Rising Tide brings all of this to the forefront with a whole new diplomacy system and trade mechanics that seem to be trying to address this same criticism, which was more eloquently presented on Campster's "Errant Signal" youtube channel.
There's a completely new diplomatic interface that will look completely new and unfamiliar to players of Civ V and vanilla Beyond Earth. Diplomatic actions now all cost some amount of "Diplomatic Capital", which is a new yield / currency that is generated by certain buildings and by making certain agreements with other civs. All the old diplomacy interface options have been removed. When opening up the diplomacy menu, you start on an overview screen that shows your own leader and your current agreements and diplomatic capital. All the other leaders are displayed along the left, and clicking on any one brings up the respective leader and shows their current diplomatic status and relations with other players.
When your own leader is selected, you have the ability to set your own personality traits. Each civ still starts with one unique personality trait by default. This unique trait can be leveled up, or new traits in one of three other avenues (domestic, political, and military) can also be purchased. It reminds me a little bit of Civ IV's civics, except that the traits aren't locked behind technologies, and each individual trait can be upgraded. Buying new traits or upgrading existing ones all cost some amount of diplomatic capital, but you're otherwise free to change your traits at any time without any sort of anarchy or rebellion. I rather like this system, as it requires the player to make some tough, mutually-exclusive decisions (ala Civ IV's civics), while also maintaining a small sense of Civ V's forward societal progress.
This seems to be an attempt by Firaxis to address Beyond Earth's other major criticism: it's lack of personality and blandness. Instead of using recognizable historic figures with pre-set personalities, Rising Tide allows each civ in a given game to develop a personality as the game progresses. The problem is that the traits available aren't game-changers. Most are just buffs to existing yields in the game that might slightly specialize a civ towards one particular field (like science or culture), but none of them do much to radically change the way that I approach the game, or the way that I approach dealing with any given A.I. competitor. The traits feel more like just another tree of virtues, but you can turn these traits off or trade them out for a different one if you don't need their benefits anymore.
Diplomatic agreements provide civs with special buffs based on each other's selected personality traits.
A civ's selected personality traits also unlocks a set of "Diplomatic Agreements" that can be given to other civs in order to provide them with special benefits. The magnitude of the agreements' benefits depends on the relationship status between the two civs. The more friendly you are, the bigger the buffs become. These agreements also completely replace the old resource trading and "favor" mechanics of previous iterations. Instead, resources are automatically traded by convoy units between cities.
Strategic resources are automatically traded
by convoys instead of diplomatic deals.
Lastly, the old relationship status qualifiers are gone. Instead of highlighting over another civ's "Friendly", "Neutral", "Hostile", or "Afraid" label and seeing a color-coded list of actions that have influenced the relationship, every civ now earns "Respect" and "Fear" with the other civs. Respect can be gained in a variety of ways, ranging from having a high population, to a strong economy, to your willingness to sign agreements, and even your relationships with the other civs and aliens. Fear is gained by having a strong military and by defeating players in battle. In order to increase your relationship with another civ, you must meet some minimum threshold of respect or fear. This means that you can encourage cooperation through friendliness, or you can bully other civs into cooperating with you via overwhelming military might. You'll get frequent notifications from other leaders when their respect or fear changes. These notifications are similar to the old diplomatic messages in which a leader would pop up and say "Your army is weak", or "You are renown for your strong economy", except that now those messages feel like they have more mechanical relevance, and their presentation is a lot more streamlined and efficient. You aren't pulled out of the game and taking to a separate screen for an A.I. leader to taunt you. And at any time, you can open up the diplomatic panel for the other civs and see a history of all the respect/fear messages that they've sent you.
These features combine to foster greater cooperation and communication between the civs - at least, in the first half of the game. Cooperating has the potential to provide civs with special benefits. Resources being automatically traded by trade routes simulates sharing planet's resources. And the constant notifications of changes in respect and fear provides feedback on which of your actions the A.I.s approve of.
In addition to the new mechanics and systems, the diplomacy interface is also radically different. There's now a single "Change Relationship" button that moves the Declaration of Friendship, Military Alliance, Denouncement, and Declaration of War commands to a single place. It's much more streamlined and efficient. You can view the relationship status between any civs in the game, which is a useful piece of information that you didn't have previously.
Diplomatic relationships can be changed via a single interface,
but your ability to influence other civs' behavior is extremely limited.
I was disappointed that the game still does not provide any way for a civ to state a specific reason for sanctioning (equivalent of denouncing) another civ. I also haven't seen any options for bribing or convincing one A.I. civ to declare war or change relationships with another. If you're military allies, then you'll automatically get dragged into any war that the other fights. But if your ally drops out of a war, you have no way to bring them back in, and there aren't any options for back-door politics. I also don't see any options to request that another civ not settle near you, or to request that they stop attacking stations, or to demand that they stop fighting the aliens (or start fighting the aliens). So you effectively have no way of influencing A.I. civs' behavior, nor can you diplomatically apologize for any trespasses that you may commit or egg on a rival to try to provoke conflict.
And even though you get constant notifications of changes in respect or fear, the game doesn't provide any updates on other civs' behavior that might influence whether you should respect of fear them. You'll still get the notifications of when other civs complete wonders or make progress towards a victory, but you don't get any updates of their affinity progress, their army size, whether aquatic civs are moving their cities, how strong an opponent's economy is, or whether they're launching orbital units. Even Civ V had the occasional pop-up telling you which civs are the most scientifically or culturally advanced, which ones have the most wonders, the most tourist attractions, and the most productive cities, and the biggest armies. Beyond Earth has none of that. Sure you can find all of this information by opening up the various menus, overlays, and stat widgets, but I really feel like the game should be tabulating this information and presenting it to the player in a more streamlined way.
Civs can also still display the same stubborn pig-headedness as before. Even though you have to spend diplomatic capital to initiate agreements, the other civ can still outright refuse to accept the agreement, even if you have more than enough capital to buy it! And you can't offer to trade agreements either, nor can you simply "gift" an agreement to another player in order to curry favor. This can put you in situations in which you have tons of banked capital, but no one is willing to give you any agreements, so all that capital is worthless. Granted, you can use some of it to buy resources in the espionage menu's new Black Market, but even that is subject to whether anyone else is selling the given resource, and it doesn't help if I already have a surplus of everything. Capital often feels increasingly pointless as the game goes on.
A.I.s can refuse to accept agreements, rendering all of your accumulated Diplomatic Capital moot.
So while I do like the diplomatic agreements and other enhancements to the diplomatic engine, it really bothers me that old options simply don't exist any more, and no new mechanics or options have been added to replace them. These limitations of the diplomatic engine almost completely undercut the sense of cooperation that the agreements and resource trading is trying to engender, since it creates an even greater sense of separation between players. Cooperation is also further undercut in the second half of the game, when all the civs go back to competitively pursuing their mutually-exclusive, affinity-based victories. Even civs with the same affinity focus are still forced into unnecessary competition by the lack of any kind of shared or cooperative victory conditions, even though the affinity system seems perfectly capable of handling such victories, and the exotic map and aliens could have enabled a "player versus the map" victory.
Speaking of affinities, there are also now hybrid affinities that require you to reach some threshold of leveling in two affinities. Each hybrid has its own unit upgrades and perks. So now you can augment aliens with cybernetic implants via a hybrid Harmony-Supremacy affinity, if you feel so inclined. There aren't hybrid victories though, so the feature ends up feeling a bit superficial. It does mean that if you can't decide between one of two affinity victories, you can specifically pursue both right up until the end, and your units will reflect that indecisiveness.
I still don't like the affinity system though. The fact that affinity experience is still tied significantly to technological progress means that I almost always end up having points in all three affinities, and so my playstyle doesn't really change much from game to game. I really feel that affinities should be more dependent on in-game actions. For example, you can focus on researching Harmony techs, but you're also still free to chop forests, clear miasma, kill aliens, and pillage their nests, and it doesn't hurt your Harmony affinity progress at all. The Harmony affinity has benefited somewhat from the ability to "Leash" aliens (which converts them to your control), but you can still unlock this ability accidentally by acquiring a few levels in Harmony.
Leveling in multiple affinities allows you to upgrade to hybrid affinity units and unlocks special perks.
I get the feeling that Firaxis had a lot of very big ideas with where they wanted to take the game's diplomacy, leaders, and affinities, and I can kind of see what they were aiming for: a system in which each civ in the game subtly influences the behaviors and capabilities of the others so that every civ feels like they're contributing to each other's success and the overall colonization of the planet. But either Firaxis didn't have the resources to truly push the boundaries, or they were severely handicapped by the limitations of the underlying game engine. The result is a diplomatic system that seems cold and lifeless, in which each civ is just using the other civs' personality traits as ends to a means rather than truly developing any sort of relationship.
Politicians hide themselves away, they only started the war
Yeah, that's what I thought too...
Despite the increased emphasis on diplomacy and peaceful cooperation, Rising Tide also updated warfare. I already discussed how the unit lines (particularly navies and hybrid affinities) feel a bit more fleshed out, and that certainly contributes to how warfare in the game has changed. But there are other mechanics that have been added that attempt to change how we approach war.
First is how alliances are handled now. Since you can't bribe other civs into declaring war, you must create official alliances in order to get help against a potential foe. So behind-the-scenes backstabbing and proxy-wars are gone. But if you're allied with two or more civs that turn on each other, you can get screwed into war against the wrong one. You're not given any sort of choice of which side to enter the war on. Civ V has similar issues with defense pacts, which is why I generally avoid having more than one defensive pact at the same time.
The other noticeable change is the new "War Score". This is a feature that has been borrowed from more complex strategy and empire-management games like Europa Universalis. You gain war score points by killing enemy units or capturing cities, and the difference between the two players' war scores determines who is "winning" the war and influences what spoils the winner can possibly demand in order to end the war. Technologies, cities, diplomatic capitol, and energy are all assigned values, and you can claim any number of spoils that adds up to be less than or equal to the difference between war scores.
War score makes it more apparent what you can and cannot take from your defeated foes.
I'm not really sure that the war score is actually a new mechanic. As far as I can tell, Firaxis is just making transparent the calculations that they always used to determine who is winning a war and what an A.I. is willing to surrender in exchange for peace. Unlike Europa Universalis, there is no "casus belli" or declared goals of any kind, you can't capture individual territory or resources, can't demand that the player provide you with agreements, you can't force a player to convert affinities or change their behavior in any way, and there are no multi-lateral negotiations or mutual concessions for "white peace". So there's nothing really new here. However, providing transparency to the underlying math and the easier interface for demanding spoils definitely makes ending a war a much easier and less-confusing process. You know exactly what the opponent is willing/capable of giving up, and how much of it you can get.
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Rising Tide modestly succeeds in its two primary goals: separating its futuristic setting from Civ V, and giving the leaders customizeable traits to provide them with dynamic personalities. It also succeeds at streamlining certain elements of the game's interface. But at the same time, it also stumbles a bit in the details. I love that the oceans are more alive and relevant to the game, and it's immensely gratifying to see one of my own feature suggestions being realized in-game, but I don't feel like there's enough reason to need to use the city-migration feature. New diplomacy features streamline certain elements of diplomacy and foster cooperation, but also take away options and make the other players feel even more like distant, uncaring robots.
Certain legacy issues are also still present. Stations still feel like wasted space. Air units lack development. Most wonders still feel underimpressive. Certain strategic resources are still revealed by the same technology that unlocks their improvement, making researching those techs feel like a huge gamble. And I still suffer from severe option paralysis whenever I have to open up the tech web. The aliens still act as little more than reskins of barbarians, and there's virtually no political, sociological, economic, or ethical reason to not just wipe them out as soon as you have strong enough units to do so - regardless of whether you chose Harmony or any other affinity. In fact, the Might virtue tree flat-out rewards you for indiscriminately murdering the aliens and destroying their nests! At worst, they are an active threat to your development; at best, they inconveniently get in the way, take up space, and slow you down.
There's also still no sense of trying to rebuild humanity after the Great Mistake. Despite the aquatic colonies, the game still feels similar in fundamental gameplay to Civ V. It feels like the colonists are just repeating the same mistakes as the past that lead them to flee earth to begin with, and the player has no opportunity to change that. Is this a deliberate, fatalistic message from Firaxis? The colonists themselves still don't feel like people. I never feel like I'm managing a population of people trying to tame and colonize an alien world; I still feel like I'm just placing soldiers and watchtowers and gathering resources. And there's still no "wait" command for units (e.g. the "W" key in Civ V) - this omission drives me nuts!!! And in general, the game still feels way too easy. I'm able to win games without much contest despite not really having a concrete plan or strategy. If you avoided Beyond Earth because it didn't provide much of a challenge, then you'll probably also lose interest in Rising Tide fairly quickly.
Quests highlight the "gaminess" of decisions:
you're never doing what's best for your people; only what's best for your gameplay goals.
The most entertaining part of the game is still the early half, in which you have to contend with the hostility of the alien world to explore and set up your fledgling colonies, but even that still feels tamer than it should be. Once I've dealt with the aliens (by either killing them or avoiding them) and set up a handful of cities, the game quickly becomes a boring slog of queuing up buildings and making quest decisions. So when a game ends, I don't feel very compelled or motivated to start another one.