Player’s Log: Turn 242
I wanted to like the North Sea Alliance when their craft first touched down on our new world. The populations of the other sponsored spacecraft which had followed close behind my own had been friendly and accommodating, although perhaps a bit reticent. They had assisted me in fostering a world where military prowess had become an increasingly abstract requirement, and where even the native wildlife had remained largely unobtrusive toward our development efforts.
But the NSA leader quickly proved himself tedious at best and bullying at worst; he offhandedly criticized the trade deals and partnerships established between myself and the other long-standing colonies, while leading his own people in a circle of stagnant isolation. The blessing of his ocean-ready landing craft was wasted on minimal exploration efforts, and any offer made toward assisting him was smugly rejected. It wasn’t until the even-later arrival of the ARC colonists that he seemed to find any sense of solidarity with the survivors of his species.
The leaders of the NSA and ARC quickly forged an allegiance. And of course, with that newfound empathy the pair found the strength they needed to instigate a world-wide state for war.
Factories once dedicated to the production of medicine now assembled rifles. Coastlines once populated by friendly sealife now housed combat-ready armadas. And although I lamented what would be generations of war and smoldering cityscapes, I relished the chance to finally disinfect humanity of a cultural plague which now threatened to ruin two worlds.
There aren’t too many games that can make me wax my own narrative prose to an ambiguous series of events. But when something is as good, and feels as broad as Rising Tide, the writer in me finds it easy; maybe even necessary.
When I reviewed Civilization: Beyond Earth a year ago, I thought it was an excellent start. Its design was smooth, competent, and easy to pick up, even for a layman of the turn-based strategy genre. Its spiritual cousin of a title, Starships, attempted to double-down on its design, but at least for the PC, it missed the mark in some of the finer details.
Beyond Earth: Rising Tide, however, is very nearly a masterpiece, and much more than the mere “expansion” label that it carries. When taken altogether, Rising Tide is more of a reimagining of the original Beyond Earth, improving the title as a whole in nearly every way.
The setting of Rising Tide is a soft continuation of the original Beyond Earth premise. Humanity sucks, we idiotically decimated our beautiful gift of a planet, and the few fortunate, intelligent, or presumably wealthy enough, managed to jump ship into space to settle a new world and begin anew. Although this project is largely characterized as a series of privatized endeavors, each sponsored colonization effort does reflect certain ethnic and sociological dialects, philosophies, and attitudes.
When Rising Tide begins, it is implied that this effort has born fruit and humanity is well underway developing this alien world. Then, to everyone’s surprise, another colony ship appears long after the current population believed all that had survived the journey from Earth had arrived.This rogue ship maintains a radio silence all the way until it touches down in the most unbelievable of places: the ocean, bringing with it another new age of technology and intrigue.
In Rising Tide itself, this brilliant opening is really just a way to show the players how much the stage has changed. The world is bigger, the possibilities are more elaborate, and what was good has only gotten better.
To start, the number of your selectable sponsors has increased, further diversifying the personality, defaults, and benefits or your future populations. This in itself is not something you couldn’t find in a solid mod (which the Civilization developers happily support), however Rising Tide ups the ante by giving these new populations, or more specifically their leaders, more personality and depth. Leaders are now more than a series of talking heads who superficially reflect the face of your people; they are characters with unique stories and even prestanding relationships with each other. If one leader has a history with another, it may come up in diplomatic talks, and with the revamped diplomacy system that will mean a lot more than it used to.
In the original Beyond Earth, diplomacy was really just a way to barter. Someone wanted something from you, they would or wouldn’t give you what you wanted to get it, high-fives or declarations of war would follow.
In Rising Tide, while some of this intrigue is certainly still included, as players you have finally been given the ability to sculpt your representative to your liking. Your leader’s political views, abilities, and talents are all at your disposal, free to be customized as you see fit. Your diplomacy is not only a concept of national interaction, but a type of currency to be spent between yourself and the other leaders of the new world. With it you will not trade materials (that’s what trade convoys are for after all) but ideas, favors, and support.
Envious of how quickly your neighbor can enhance their cities? Make a deal with their leader to share the technique. Do they need help policing the local wildlife? Expect to get a request to help them clear out some alien nest.
Changes like this make the leaders in Rising Tide feel like more than animated tent-poles representing their starting point. It makes them into engaging aspects to your playstyle. It’s smart, clever, and just as developed as the techweb it mimics.
The original Beyond Earth focused a great deal of its design in the techweb, an ever-branching diagram of menus and options which dictated the path of your chosen population’s development. This system was pretty user friendly to start, but the Rising Tide enhancements have made it even easier to follow, adding things like color coding for quick and simple navigation through its many layers.
Furthermore, what sciences and abilities the techweb represents has broadened. While you were always free to develop them to an extent of your choosing, the original Beyond Earth always limited your technologies to one of three apexes. You had the humancentric Purity path, the cyber-centric Supremacy path, and the Xenocentric Harmony path. While a commitment to one of these doctrines is still widely necessary, there is now a more overt benefit for those who want to walk the line. New hybrid units have been introduced, options which represent the best of both worlds and allow for wildly different military forces. Depending on your style of play, this can allow you (or your opponents) to very effectively do more with less, deploying units which can both dispense tremendous military might, and tend their own wounds in the field.
All of these elements and aspects make Rising Tide one of those infrequent but cherished examples of when a successor exceeds the original. It is everything the original was but better, giving every part equal increases of validity and accessibility. Small details such as graphical sharpness, vibrancy of colors, and expanded musical score have been attended to. Larger considerations such as enemy behavior, personality, and overall environmental diversity have been fleshed-out and constructed in more meaningful ways.
If I were to have any complaint at all, it would only be that organizing your dozens of various units can become arduous over time, and the methods for streamlining this process still seem to be locked behind a skill-gate of strategy gaming familiarity.
This is a miniscule hang-up considering the only time I noticed it was during the heightened periods of my aforementioned world-wide war. At nearly every point, especially for a player with numerous turn-based strategy experiences, Rising Tide just beckoned me to have fun. It was complex when I wanted it to be, inviting when I didn’t, and just an all around ball to spend time with.
As matter of fact, I think I’ll get back to it.