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I Lost My Life to Galactic Civilizations III

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Tom Francis had a larger impact on my gaming life than he probably knows. I doubt he intended to spark an idea in my mind at 17, but he did. You see, Tom wrote a diary of his time playing Galactic Civilizations II and it blew me away (the site he wrote the diary and its sequel for is now gone, but most of the diaries still exist thanks to the Wayback Machine if you don’t want to wait on PC Gamer’s slow reposts, AND YOU SHOULD READ THEM). This game of galactic politics and warfare stuck with me until 2010, when I found a copy of Galactic Civilizations II at my local GameStop for next to nothing, tucked at the very bottom of the tiny PC games section. Took it home, installed it, was very confused, and then I finally understood the game and absolutely loved it.

So, in May, Galactic Civilizations III went to release. In June, the Steam Summer Sale happened. In July, it occurred to me I should stop playing the game and write something before Stephen wondered if I’d died [Editor’s Note: I was just about to draft an obituary, too!]. I definitely lost a bit of time on this game though, and it’s shockingly easy to get sucked in by that “one more turn” mentality. I began a game on normal difficulty with only 5 opponents. For comparison, the game comes with 8 factions standard, but you can use the race creator and have over a hundred opponents on a single map. I was on the medium map size, with the game pace set to fast.

The map ended with my victory after 26 hours and 37 minutes. This was over the weekend and a little beyond, but I’d lost a little over a full day of life on this game in a short span. I suddenly understood Tom’s statement about not understanding what other people do with their time. Overall, I’ve sunk maybe 80 hours into the game, which is a lot for me considering how little time I’ve had it.

Seriously though, how the hell had the game managed to draw me in like that? I’d always heard that Civilization was the game where you’d slowly lose your life. The owner of the hobby shop I used to pop into actually had shared how the original Civilization had almost taken over his life, hurting the marriage and business (he has a boxed copy of Civilization II sitting on a shelf as a constant reminder). But surely if GalCiv 2 hadn’t done that to me, GalCiv 3 wouldn’t. I’d still do my dailies on Heroes of the Storm, do stuff with friends, and remember to eat, right?

Of course, I could be wrong.

No. I was wrong, and ended up obsessively building mighty fleets to conquer the galaxy instead.

So what happened? Well, frankly, the game is just amazing. There is a very short campaign of three maps, continuing the story from the previous game and expansions. But no one goes and grabs a 4X game just for the story (though I actually enjoy the story behind Galactic Civilizations III and wish there was more). The map sizes are absolutely insane, for starters. No, seriously, the largest map size is called “insane.” Even putting the number of colonizable planets and planets themselves to “rare”, an insane sized map can still easily spawn 200+ habitable worlds, alongside plenty of non-habitable gas giants and dead planets. It can take months of in-game time for you to research the necessary life support technology or to build starbases that allow you to leave the little sector of stars you begin in and go out to find the other civilizations.

Every planet has a limited number of upgrade slots, depending on the class of the planet (Class 10 = 10 places to build upgrades). Anomalies can be surveyed that can complete your current research, give you a salvaged combat vessel, or send your survey vessel across the galaxy. Ideologies can be developed giving bonuses depending on the actions you take as a leader – Do we eradicate this strange virus to keep our population and approval up, or let it take its course, killing 5% of our citizens but making the rest into hyper-intelligent researchers? Perhaps we let people volunteer for it instead. Your economy can be constantly adjusted to focus on increasing wealth, manufacturing, or research. If you’re even more of a micromanager, you can adjust the economy on a planetwide basis instead of a sweeping galactic policy. It’s very easy to just lose track of how long you’ve been playing because of the little things you can do to keep adjusting your empire. None of it seems quite necessary at the normal difficulty levels, but it can draw you in just the same with this difficult to master system.

And then, of course, there’s the ship building. Every single ship in GalCiv 3 can be created and customized from the ground up by you. Want to make a slow moving glacier that fires multiple weaponized black holes? Done. Agile missile craft? As you wish, sir/madam. Huge-sized unstoppable capital ship bristling with prototype technology? Yeah, that’s a thing.

It fires black holes like bullets, missiles made of antimatter, laser beams powered by elements that shouldn't exist, and still has room for 6 fighters and 2 interceptor drones.

It fires black holes like bullets, missiles made of antimatter, laser beams powered by elements that shouldn’t exist, and still has room for 6 fighters and 2 interceptor drones. Power windows come standard, DVD player optional.

The ship above is something you won’t find in any other game, unless someone thinks very similarly to me. The Luminescence is the flagship of the Oranov Exiles, my custom race, and it has blazed through the galaxy undefeated and unchallenged. 56 different parts went into making my ship, all scalable in size, rotatable on every axis, and capable of being offset for better positioning as wanted. The game even allows you to mix and match parts from different species to give you that original look, blending my ships with Iconian and Yor tech (Or in Star Trek terms, Borg tech and…whoever made the Borg. Someone put that in the comments). The game already has one more turn syndrome aplenty, but now I get to desperately fawn over the appearance of every single ship that I create. Then, once I’ve researched better technology, I get to readjust all my designs to fit the better weapons and defenses and so on. If you thought making a Skyrim character was tough, wait til you have the option to do it over and over. At least 3 hours of my 26:37 game was spent in ship designing.

So, where am I going with this? Well, this is sort of my review/rant on the game. I absolutely love it, but I have noticed three things.

  1. The Galactic Events from Galactic Civilizations II have been toned down significantly. In GalCiv 3, events mostly will provide a static bonus or penalty to all races, and it doesn’t feel like it changes the game very much. Comparatively, GalCiv 2’s events were chosen by the AI based on how much chaos they would cause, and ranged from massive rebellions, the return of the Dread Lords to the galaxy (think even angrier Reapers from Mass Effect just popping into your game with the goal of murdering everything), galactic wide plague or spy outbursts, or a race suddenly activating a precursor relic that will slowly make them more powerful than anyone in the game. In GalCiv 3, I’ve yet to feel the true sense of urgency that the second game could create.
  2. As you play on larger maps and reveal more of your opponents, even the best gaming rigs can fall to a bit of lag as the game tries to calculate the actions of 300 planets, 600 spacecraft, 150 starbases, and so forth. Maybe it’s just my i5 finally showing some age, but while my turns were very smooth for the first few hundred turns, the game would stutter a bit trying to animate the entire galaxy in motion once I’d revealed the majority of it. Never stutters in combat or anything, so I guess that’s excusable, but still.
  3. Carriers are absurdly overpowered. Every carrier automatically uses your best blueprint for a fighter. They replenish these fighters every turn. They don’t take up that much space on a huge-ship. All this together means that one huge carrier in the late game is generally only able to be matched with another carrier that also has the best technology, and you can have multiple carriers in a fleet. I love the new mechanic, but holy shit. I built a ship that was nothing but engines and assault fighter bays, and the swarm of fighters laughed off everything the AI had to throw at it, even after I gave them all my weapons tech.

I became obsessed very quickly. After a month of playing I only managed to complete two maps in the game, neither of which was on the largest map setting. The game has near infinite replayability, excellent customization, and beautiful ship to ship combat. While there is a multiplayer option, I’ve yet to try it, out of courtesy for others who may dislike my need to make a neat spaceship for every occasion. If you’re a fan of space-based games, 4x games, anything with lots of customization, or turn based strategy in general, I cannot recommend Galactic Civilizations III enough. There may come a time when you realize you’re sitting on a folding chair in your underwear instead of at the bridge of the largest spaceship created, and you’ll grow disappointed, but there’s always one more turn to play through before reality calls you away from the captain’s chair. Maybe the game will devour part of your life, but don’t we all want to play games that immerse us that deeply?

Now if you’ll excuse me. I’ve just come across a planet Bongolia that’s inhabited by strange space rabbit things, and I need to tweet Tom Francis on what to do, because I’m terrified of angering any potential space gods.

Galactic Civilizations III 4

Not pictured: the 18 fighters that keep my awesome ships from ever having to fire a shot.

Not pictured: the 18 other fighters that keep my awesome ships from ever having to fire a shot.

 

David doesn’t have a problem, and he’ll send you to the brig if you insinuate otherwise. He and his crew give Galactic Civilizations III a 4.8 out of 5 on the arbitrary numbers scale if you like 4X games or space games, and a 4.5 out of 5 to everyone else. He also strongly recommends picking up the second game on Steam for cheap and reading the Tom Francis links above if you’re in the mood for a really entertaining read on one man’s attempt to conquer the galaxy/culture hug the galaxy. Dissenting opinions will be dealt with from orbit.

About David A. Reeves

David is a 25 year old graduate with a BA in English, and he's wondering how all of this adult stuff crept up on him. He has a large love of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, a lack of budget sense during Steam sales, and is involved in an abusive relationship with the MMO genre. Outside of gaming, David can be found reading books with swords and magic, suffering from writer's block on that story he said he'd write, enjoying a hookah or a beer with friends, and trying not to say anything inappropriate despite the overwhelming urge. He's an odd fellow.

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