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Galactic Civilizations III

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Stardock
Developer: Stardock
Release Date: May 14, 2015

About Reggie Carolipio

You enter the vaulted stone chamber with walls that are painted in a mosaic of fantastic worlds. The floor is strewn with manuals, controllers, and quick start guides. An Atari 2600 - or is that an Apple? - lies on an altar in a corner of the room. As you make your way toward it, a blocky figure rendered in 16 colors bumps into you. Using a voice sample, it asks, "You didn't happen to bring a good game with you, did you?" Will you:

R)un away?
P)ush Reset?


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PC Preview - 'Galactic Civilizations III'

by Reggie Carolipio on Dec. 2, 2014 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Galactic Civilizations III stays true to its core gameplay while adding new features including multiplayer, political intrigue, vastly improved visuals and much more.

A few space strategy titles squeeze into my library from time to time, and I have fond memories of time spent as the Psilons in Master of Orion II or leading the Empire to victory in Star Wars: Empire at War and its expansion. I'm not the greatest at them, but it's fun to be "in charge" of a virtual empire of units, pushing them across a vast map and, hopefully, making discoveries that could change my civilization's inner narrative.

I missed the Galactic Civilizations boat until very recently, when I picked up Galactic Civilizations II to get an idea of what I should expect from the third game, which is currently in beta and Early Access on Steam. If you haven't already noticed from the requirements, you'll need a 64-bit OS to play the game (Windows 7 or 8.x). Nothing else is supported yet.

Looking at what isn't in Galactic Civilizations III, it's like staring at the partially finished Death Star in orbit over Endor. One can see the naked struts and bolts awaiting layers of feature-laden options, but there are enough pieces to make me wish I'd gotten into the series much sooner. Roughly half of the main menu options are grayed out, so leaderboards, scenarios, and the ship designer aren't available yet.

There's no story campaign in place, though the introductory movie sets things up for a prophecy where humanity causes the galaxy's destruction. How that comes about isn't entirely clear, and I think the intent is to kick off speculation about the campaign, which will be introduced later.

In comparison to the RTS titles I've played before, and like Galactic Civilizations II, this one is strictly turn-based. There aren't a lot of options available yet, but there are a few switches and levers to flip to get into a lot of trouble relatively quickly.

Eight races are listed, though only four are currently playable. The races range from the Terran Alliance (humans) to the Iridium Corporation, whose civilization is an "ultra capitalistic" one. As in any other grand strategy game, these factions have strengths and weaknesses to give a quick boost to your playing style. If you love money, the Iridium Corporation starts you off with a number of advantages. If war is your thing, the Drengin can make your day and wreck everyone else's. There are no customization option available yet, but it'll eventually get there.

Next is setting the size of your playing field, and there are enough options to scale the galaxy. More options, like "Gigantic" and "Immense" are still grayed out, but even playing with a Small galaxy size created a game that spans more than a handful of hours. Galaxy options are incredibly diverse, ranging from the number of habitable planets to how many black holes are floating about.

Other options, like setting victory conditions, are grayed out for now, but Stardock still allows players to check out what is coming up, from conquest to "ascension," where the winner is the first to achieve a higher plane of existence. Game settings are also frozen for the moment, but players can eventually influence things like the pace of research and the overall difficulty.

There's no tutorial in place, but after trying out a number of things, the GUI was intuitive to the point where I could push ships across the hexes that comprise the turn-based star map. Menus are attached to nearly everything, and I could do whatever I needed with the currently selected unit. Automating the roles of my ships saved time, such as setting a few to freely explore or "guard," which doesn’t seem to do anything different from "sentry" at this point.

One of the big drivers to your civilization's success is colonizing other planets, and you need ships to do that. Thankfully, the game gave me a starting space dock to work with, and it takes a number of turns for ships to be built, depending on a number of factors. For example, if the planet sponsoring a space dock has a lot of production facilities and your civilization has managed to research a number of efficiency upgrades, it can drastically cut the time needed to build an Avatar warship.

The politics slate for the game — essentially talking to other races — isn't available yet. However, my immediate need to wield a big gun due to the Drengin's threats against my scout ship led me into the huge research tree that formed the cornerstone of my civilization.

Four major categories are available to every race and, depending on who they are, they may even have different names. For the Terran Alliance, Governance held all of the topics related to diplomacy and commerce. Under the Drengin, it's called "Intimidation," with a number of specific additions for their race, such the development of Fighting Pits and the Slave Trade. Each development in a tree takes a number of turns to complete, which are dependent on even more factors, such as whether you've completed all of the side projects for a particular field.

Once you have a new planet, it's time to decide what to place on it. Will you make it a research hub, a war factory, or a financial capital? It's completely up to you, but there are only so many slots on a planet to build things, so it feels a lot like Civilization in Space, where each habitable planet is essentially a giant city with only so many places in which to put improvements.

For a beta, the game is functional to the point where it's possible to play a game against the AI — or try multiplayer — and win by conquest. Building up planets, researching new discoveries to improve your civilization, and all of the basics seemed functional enough to allow games to be played. According to Stardock's schedule, the game is roughly a year away from being "complete," with an estimated release slated for April 2015.

A lot of features that I hoped to see were locked out (and are potentially being worked out) or simply not there. For example, in some other turn-based tactical games like Petroglyph's Empire at War, I could break down a planet's defenses and land soldiers on the ground to take over a planet in a separate, detailed, real-time phases. In Galactic Civilizations II, you could do the same in clearing the space around a planet and then send transport to invade and watch both sides battle it out.

There's no equivalent in Galactic Civilizations III yet. Combat is simply clicking on a vessel and then clicking on an enemy station or ship, with the winner being the only survivor. Usually, having a ship with the biggest number of hit points and weapons seems to be all you need to win. For some reason, when I was playing as the Terrans, I couldn't form fleets (the button was grayed out) but with the Drengin, that wasn't a problem.

Taking over a planet at this point requires you to just take a lander ship (once you've researched how to build them) and have it stop on top of a planet. The game then calculates success to determine if you're the new landlord. One thing you can do is garrison stations and planets with ships to keep a sneaky enemy from coming in with a lander of its own and taking over a planet you'd neglected to protect.

One thing that Galactic Civilizations II was known for is its ship designer, which modders and players have used to craft vessels straight out of sci-fi series, like "Star Trek" or "Star Wars."

Though it's disabled from the main menu, you can access the ship designer from within the game and take basic provided designs — or an actual ship — and start adding bits and pieces to it to turn it into something else. Then you can use it as a unit in the game. There are some limits if you're designing one focused on a specific goal, like a colony ship, but there's also a sandbox approach where you can go wild without penalty. I succeeded in making the ugliest colony ship ever seen by attaching numerous habitation pods to a frame to create a blue, blistered monster.

There's a kernel of awesome lurking within the framework of Galactic Civilizations III. It's  waiting for the blanks to be filled during the coming months. If you're thinking of buying into the early beta, be forewarned that this is a very early beta, so there are just enough functional pieces to work the basics. Those looking for better space combat, land assaults, or basic fleet functions are probably going to miss them as much as I did, but Stardock hasn't been shy about providing a roadmap. You might get the game you want, but those options are going to trickle in over time.

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