Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Galactic Civilizations II: Gold Edition

(Our sun, Sol, along with Earth, Mars, an asteroid field, Jupiter, and Saturn)

I decided to play Galactic Civilizations II: Gold Edition after reading a humorous article about a 16-day (at the time, it looks like it finally finished in 20) long game that someone played- all the settings were cranked up, of course. It looked like a lot of fun so I picked it up when I got frustrated with X3: Reunion. I had never before played a Civilization game, or any turn-based strategy game.

Overall I enjoyed GalCiv. It's kind of like a game of Risk on a galactic scale. There is a campaign, but I found it to be pretty hard, regardless of the difficulty setting. So I instead played "sandbox" type games. It's pretty enjoyable managing your economy, colonizing other worlds, keeping tabs with the latest upgrades, researching technologies, building ships, earning money, and conquering other worlds. Playing GalCiv forces you to wear a lot of hats, and all are enjoyable.

I particularly enjoy researching the tech. I don't really like designing or building ships until I've reached the end of the tree in most respects. In the early game, I have to build ships to keep the guise of having a strong military so that I won't be invaded, but it's the endgame that excites me most.

First I research the biggest hulls, the most powerful weapons, the best defense against whatever the AI is using for weapons (missile, mass driver, or laser), things are going well. Then I research the subtle additions- the miniaturization, so you can put more stuff on a ship; the hardened hulls, which increase the ship's hit points; the advanced soldiering, to invade or defend worlds. I then go into the ship creator and build the ultimate ship. It can do over 100 damage in a single hit, and has enough armor and hit points so that it's well nigh invincible. I decided upon a design I really like- Unicron. So I build one or more of these, and declare war. It obliterates 99% of the opposing forces (occasionally it'll get worn down and lose a fight, but that's pretty rare). From then it's just a matter of building enough troop transport ships to invade the rest of the planets, while sending the ships off to obliterate the opposing fleets. Or, as Churchill said, "The proper application of overwhelming force."

(A Unicron-styled deconstructor being missile-attacked by a starbase. The deconstructor was unharmed, and the starbase was quickly destroyed.)

This most recent game I played was on a large galaxy, and I did really well. By the time I was able to build Unicron-style ships (I called them deconstructors), I had enough planets and enough resources to build them in 20-30 weeks. In past games, I would just buy one outright and go into debt, but this game I had enough money that I could have bought one (just one, though). If I was patient, however, I could build 3 or more. So I built a fleet of destruction, and sent them out to my enemies. They started it by declaring war on me, but I would finish it.

(My deconstructor shielding a ship's missile attacks and taking it out with lasers)

I ended up building more deconstructors than I needed (six or seven), lost two, and was only bottlenecked by the speed of the transport ships (mental note: in future games, develop transport ships with faster engines). At the end, I had all but one planet captured, and surrounded it with 4 deconstructors and 2 transport ships. It had a little skull-and-crossbones symbol indicating that its inhabitants were unhappy and about to defect. A wise choice, I would say. So I had mercy upon it and waited for it to join my side. I believe it took 1 turn.

(The last planet, about to defect, surrounded by 3 deconstructors and 2 transport ships)

For all its good points, the game is not without its faults. Load times are pretty bad (about 1-2 minutes to load a save on a large galaxy). It crashes pretty regularly- there's a memory leak that will cause the game to error out while saving after playing for an hour or two (or three). The leak is excusable, but when it errors out the dialog box is not visible- you have to go back to windows and see that there's a popup window with an error that it's out of memory, and not just locked up. Fortunately, it has the previous autosave (about 10 turns ago), and hasn't corrupted anything. I never lost much, but it's still a pain.

I also had a dickens of a time trying to get it to run correctly. I had issues where the "turn" button would disappear and there would be no way to get it to advance the turn (this was solved either by getting different NVidia drivers or by switching to the latest-patched Dark Avatar executable, I'm not sure which). There are also two executables, one for Dread Lords and the other for Dark Avatar, which is cool because you can play the original campaign with the expansion pack's changes (which could be why I found it so difficult, but I probably just suck). However, they only update the Dark Avatar executable nowadays, so you need to be sure you run the right one. The update mechanism is pretty good, though, so it's pretty easy to keep up to date and browse the forums while you do it.

Overall, I enjoyed the game, and I expect that I will play it again in the future. They have a "metaverse" that keeps track of your victories and assigns you XBox 360-like achievements for your sandbox games, and I love achievements. I definitely spent a lot more time than I would have expected playing it over these past two or three weeks. It's the game equivalent of a page-turner: it keeps you up long past when you should have gone to bed. If it had a better (easier?) single player campaign, and performed better, and didn't crash, then I would have given it a perfect score.

Galactic Civilizations II: Gold Edition: 4/5

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