4x Space Strategy fans, your prayers have been answered. Although Gal Civ 2 isn’t quite what Master of Orion 3 should’ve been, it has a wonderful balance of the detail fun fans of the genre crave without the tedium that can be overwhelming. After that teaser trailer, how couldn’t you want to read on?
First off, let me say I never played Galactic Civ 1. So from that standpoint, I was a neophyte to the series, which greatly contributed to my learning curve issues. One of my biggest frustrations is it took me a solid five or so hours to figure out what the hell was going on in the game, but eventually it all gelled together. The manual was only of so much help, but after some trial and error, I was able to run my empire the way I wanted.
Since I am a player for gameplay, and not other stuff, I’ll get the graphics and sound over with up front. The graphics are great. The universe is displayed in a fantastic manner, with planets and star systems separate (you can colonize multiple planets in a solar system). Ships look cool, with base style and colors user selectable, on top of which is a huge ship customization system (more on that later). There are some neat cut scenes when you do things for the first time (colonize a planet, etc), that are fun to watch, and the planet screen is crisp and functional. The music and sound are great. The music for the general game is very Lord of the Rings-esque and classical, but as a geek, I find absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Ok, let’s get on to gameplay, and I don’t even know where to start. First off, the game does an EXCELLENT job of balancing detail with tedium. First off, planets are customizable in that depending on the quality of the planet, you get so many “slots” to stick buildings in. Slots can also have bonuses to them ( hot springs for approval, artifacts for research, etc). You can expand these slots via terraforming technologies, for later expansion. But for the standard slots, your choices are pretty basic: You have a set of basic improvements to different resources (such as production, food, money, etc). As you advance in technology, you get upgraded equivalents of each building—but, best of all, your planet automatically upgrades. So if I currently have “basic factories” and research the tech for “factories”, all my planets automatically queue upgrades, reducing micromanagement and making life much easier.
Initially, I was a bit bummed that the upgrades were so boring: MOO2, for example, had three different named production buildings. But after playing GalCiv2 for a bit, I’ve decided I like the way they’ve done things, just because it reduces massive planet management. In addition to these basic resources, you also can build Super Projects (think small wonders, every civ gets one), Galactic Achievements (think big wonders, unique to the galaxy), and “trade goods”, which are a neat class of items that provide a bonus that you can use and trade with other civilizations. First person to make them gets a galactic monopoly, so they are a wonder unto themselves.
The next awesome feature is starbases. Yes, you can build Deep Space 9 (and I’m not even a trekkie). Starbases can be built anywhere there’s not a planet, star, or another starbase within a few parsecs. They come in several flavors: mining starbases are built on interstellar resources to, well, mine them, military starbases boost the performance of nearby ships, influence starbases export your culture in a big way, and economic starbases improve local planets. You build the initial starbase with a “constructor” ship, and then with additional constructor ships, you upgrade it based on your current tech level. Different techs bring different modules. All starbases can also be upgraded with defenses, so that when your neighbor gets pissed off you’re exporting culture into his space (and thus causing his planets to rebel and join you) and sends a fleet at your starbase, the starbase can dish out some serious punishment if you’ve upgraded it appropriately.
One thing I really like about GC2 is that it isn’t simply a war game. There are very advanced diplomatic and trade options as well. You can build freighters and send them to other planets, whereupon reaching their destination they formed a route across the galaxy (depicted by a line colored with your galaxies colors), “shrink” in size, and begin running back and forth between the two planets. BOTH civilizations benefit from this arrangement, so you can run into games where everyone is making so much money, there’s less reasoning for war. Another aspect is the United Planets council, the GC2 version of the United Nations. The UP meets every so often for some random absurd decision—from where to put a space prison, to limiting trade routes for evil civilizations, or even taxing the most prosperous nation and spreading the wealth to the rest of the galaxy. You can withdraw from the UP, but it’s interesting to see what comes up.