It’s nice that in a time where the most popular games are all big titles driven by action and constant engagement that extremely detailed strategy games like Galactic Civilizations III can still exist. I played around with the beta a bit, and while I don’t really feel like I have a very comprehensive understanding of the game just yet, there is plenty to say about what I have seen… and what I have seen is very reassuring after the travesty that was the last 4X game I played, but let’s not talk about that.
I want to preface this by saying that this is my first Galactic Civilizations game. After trying the Stardock published space RTS Sins of a Solar Empire, I wanted to check out some of the things Stardock themselves had done. I had forgotten about this desire until an offer to try this game out came along, and I snapped up at the chance to try this game in its current late beta state. Still, I understand that the previous Galactic Civilizations games were both deep space 4X strategy games, and that certainly hasn’t changed here in the series third iteration.
I enjoyed the game quite a bit, but I want to start this article by mentioning the one big negative that really hurt my experience. The lack of a tutorial in a game this detailed is almost a sin. Hours of play would shed little or no light on some of the more subtle complexities of the experience, and after time of my own there are several things I don’t understand. It’s a strategy game, and not knowing about some things that seem pretty important really hurts my ability to plan. The game is in beta though, so hopefully a nice tutorial gets added later on.
With the bad news out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. Luckily, there is plenty of it. Galactic Civilizations III is an incredibly detailed game. There are so many things to keep track of that sometimes you can spend several minutes going over the actions you take for a single turn. The technology tree is large and expansive, governance has lots of subtle complexities in things like ideology and approval, and apparently this is just the beginning as what seems like a significant number of interesting sounding features that are locked for this beta test.
The lack of a tutorial makes it difficult to really dig deep into these complexities, but I had fun messing around with it all anyway. The detail is everywhere, even when it comes to customization of your experience. The options menu provides a nice variety of things to mess around with, there are plenty of race options, and most importantly there are so many ways to tailor each game you play that you could spend half an hour just fiddling around to make sure you have an optimal experience. Of course, you can also just risk going all random if you want to, to get a real sense of discovery and excitement.
Speaking of excitement, there are some gorgeous pre-rendered cinematics that mark your milestones. The first time you establish a new colony or research an important technology, the game give you a short cinematic to convey the gravity of what you’ve done. It gives you a real sense of progress that text boxes by themselves could never convey.
In addition to cinematics, there are also decisions to make along the way that will drive along the ideology of your culture. I didn’t like how canned the decisions seemed, especially as you always seem to have to make decisions based on how you want to push your ideologies along instead of making them as a leader, but the option to make decisions is still appreciated. Still, these decisions start when you first colonize planets and this leads to strange situations. In one game, I colonized Mars only to have it present me a scenario that made me make a decision based on plant life.
Except Mars is a wasteland, especially as the governance window which shows the rotating planet in the background displays. This decision then, of course, makes no real sense, and it is a factor that can break immersion. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. Strange occurrences like this are still frequent enough to mention, however.
Luckily, none of the strange occurrences are related to bugs. The experience mostly works fine, though text getting cut off by the size of boxes is frequent and quite annoying when you’re trying to read off descriptions. The graphics, however, are in contrast to the detail the rest of the game has, as they are quite plain and unimpressive outside of the pre-rendered cinematics. This is good for some people though, as you don’t need a fantastic rig to run it and the loading screens are fast and snappy allowing you to quickly get into the game. The soundtrack also has it’s pretty moments, but just as so many other games you’ll probably mute the music and play your own music after a while.
As we get closer to the end of my preview, though, I definitely want to mention what is by and far my favorite feature, and that is Galactic Civilizations III’s awesome ship designer. I can see more creative people than myself playing around with this thing for hours. You can pick and place different shaped pieces onto your space vessels, resize them as you see fit, even animate them for some really cool looking creations. You can also, like me, create ugly monstrosities, but even doing that is fun and I can’t wait to spend a lot more time creating ever uglier ships to send about. Image isn’t the only thing either, as the pieces you insert also determine its capabilities.
In closing, Galactic Civilizations III is a really fun turn-based strategy game with a lot of details and things to manage. It is in desperate need of a tutorial, especially so that newer players can join in on the fun, but its strong levels of depth and variety of fun features make it a joy to play if you are into strategy games. It still has a bit to prove, but I can’t wait until the beta progresses more towards full release and I can see more of what the game has to offer.