A quick note on the format of ”Exploring games”
This is an article discussing my time with a game that I cannot say I have completed. This might be because either the game is too big for me to get through, I might not have the time to complete it at a satisfactory time or the game might not have a “completed”-state. I consider Galactic Civilizations 3 to be in the last category. A 4X-game of this size and scope is meant to be played for a long time, and a lot of different play styles are there to be explored.
So, with that out of the way, let's explore Galactic Civilizations 3(from here on shortened to GalCiv3) some, shall we?
A game of small innovations
Anyone who has played GalCiv2 will feel right at home in GalCiv3. The game plays and looks quite like its predecessor. Well, it plays and looks BETTER than GalCiv2, but the roots are truly showing. Which isn't really a bad thing, GalCiv2 was a very good and competent game.
While the overall graphics have been improved, but not really re-worked, the UI(user interface) on the other hand has. It's now much smoother and takes up less space, leaving you with a better view on your star-map. The faction-leaders, while they're mostly the same, have gotten a nice face-lift.
Two new things to the GalCiv-series are the ideology-tree and the ability to create your own factions, and customize their tech-tree.
While ideologies aren't new to GalCiv, the upgrade-tree is. Now, when you get to choices according to ideology, you get points into the ideology you choose to follow. These are “Benevolent”, “Pragmatic” and “Malevolent”. As you can see,at first glance this looks like a pretty basic moral-system. The thing that makes this interesting is that in each ideology, there are four different upgrade-paths to take, depending on what kind of things you want to focus on. This might further customize your way of play, or just be a nice bonus you can have on the side. The ideology-system is nicely inserted in the game as to not be in your way, but just to augment your play-style. You can, if you want to, discard the system entirely and just focus on playing the game. But if you stick to a certain ideology, you might eventually unlock some pretty powerful bonuses.
As a small example: Maxing out the “Enlightenment” path in the Benevolent-tree gives you 600 free research points AND +5 research-points to your overall research. Maxing out the “Aggression” path in the Malevolent-tree gives you one fully loaded “Overlord”-class ship for each planet you own.
The faction-creation system is a welcome addition to an already very customizable game. It is constructed much like the rest of the game with stats and granularity in mind. You can edit what your faction looks like, what kind of ships they pilot, what they're good (and bad) at and what kind of technologies they favor. The system is very easy to understand and can make for some really interesting games. You can make factions that work very well with your play-style, or you can make a joke faction that is useless at everything. There are a lot of opportunities here for a lot of fun, learning and adaption.
The biggest change from the earlier games is probably the most invisible. GalCiv3 is built with a 64-bit processor in mind, making it much bigger in general size. This does however mean that if you don't have a 64-bit processor, you unfortunately might not be able to play the game.
Make it your way
So, now you have your custom faction, and you start a game. What then? Well, that's up to you. The game is designed with stats in mind. Everything from population, population-growth and influence is stated. Every stat can be affected by building specific buildings and adopting certain ideologies. This is really, in my opinion, where the game really shines. Every planet, every ship and every star-base can be constructed and improved at your leisure. You might want to have a planet that is only focused on manufacture, one only focused on research and one that is pretty balanced for a happy and productive populace. You might even want to have a small planet with very high birth-rate, as so to use the populace for invasions and the planet itself focus on influence. The possibilities seem quite endless.
The very powerful and easy-to-use ship-designer makes a comeback for this game again. Creating a unique ship is as easy as building with blocks. The designer separates cosmetic pieces and functional pieces, and you usually start by building with the cosmetic pieces to make a nice looking ship, then equipping it with functional pieces to give it power and purpose.
How does it play?
The game itself is pretty standard fare for a 4X game. You conquer planets, build improvements, research technologies, construct fleets, go to war and have diplomatic meetings. While everything in the game plays the same as most 4X-games, GalCiv3 makes strides to play it WELL. If the game didn't have its insane amounts of choices and customization, it would still be a very well functioning 4X-game. Just maybe not a very interesting one. One thing I want to say though, is that GalCiv3 is easy. Not easy as in difficulty, it's easy in terms of learning. The UI, tooltips and overall design are well made and easy to understand. The game has a tutorial, but I haven't played it yet. See, I started the game with GalCiv2 fresh in my mind and intuited my way forward. I have yet not had any issues with not understanding the game, and I consider that good design.
I adore this game. It's large amounts of customization and easy to learn, hard to master-design makes it a clear keeper in my eyes. Many games tout the “you never have the same game twice”-line, but GalCiv3 truly embraces it. If you are willing, you can play this game in many different ways and get many different outcomes. Its random nature and granularity also makes every game exiting, since you never know what the distant stars will hold. Maybe you'll find some great planets, and forge a mighty empire. Or you run into a mighty empire, who wants your great planets.
Another thing I really need to state. In my mind, 4X-games have a lot of potential to make you write your own stories. Your factions rise and fall become what you make of it, and the journey might turn into an interesting story. GalCiv3 really supports this, both in its great design and the fact that you can customize almost everything. So, when you play the game, it might not be the story of the Terran Federation, it might be the story of “Billy bobs space-ranger-empire”, and that story might be great.