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Galactic Civilizations III Review

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Galactic Civilization III | A turn-based Space 4X Strategy Game by Stardock Entertainment

Galactic Civilizations III was released on May 14, 2015, developed and published by Stardock Entertainment. GalCiv 3 is a turn-based space 4X strategy games that has a focus on planetary management, star base construction, and the ability to design your own ships. The Ship designer allows the player to almost create (or re-create) any visual ship design they wish. The game, as with its predecessors, shies away from having any form of tactical combat, but the role of the player in fleet construction has been significantly improved.

Overall, the game looks a lot like its forefather Galactic Civilizations II. This should not deceive the player from all the improvements the game does offer. Many systems, despite their immediate familiarity, have been improved significantly and the game boosts a few new features which still have their foot in the door for being connected to an older system. The game is also visually very stunning and rich in details. The series also finally allows the player to play online with friends with its new multiplayer mode.

However, this doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have its share of problems. Some minor polish issues which actually have some impact on gameplay, many of the weaker systems from the predecessor are either unchanged or feel like a step back, if not outright removed. The similarities may make it all too easy for someone to feel the game hasn’t evolved enough. It’s understandable why a more conservative approach was taken, but there were areas Stardock could have been a little more risqué in its design.

Presentation and Set-Up

Galactic Civilization III

The first thing anyone would notice is that the game is stunning. Comparable with AAA titles in presentation it is hard to not give credit where credit is due. Though there is only some voice acting in some of the cinematics, the leader screens in the diplomacy system are on par with Civilization V (though there is no voice acting here). Also, at all levels the graphics are much better, at first it may seem like a mere HD re-master of GalCiv 2, but that is just from familiarity of style. Loading up GalCiv 2 after playing 3, and then going back to 2 will show just how much the visuals and many of the mechanics have improved. The music is just as thematic as in the previous game.

This is where a small problem can be noticed. Superficially there isn’t much to make the player realise he is playing a sequel, if you are running off of memory of the previous game the graphics will seem similar, and everything will feel the same with only subtle changes. Perhaps this was Stardock’s goal since the previous title was a great game, but it may leave those who were not overly sold on II a little uninspired, and for those tired of II will not have the old passion rekindle as quickly. This doesn’t mean some areas won’t be obvious, but it won’t jump out at the player right away.

Fortunately, the options of starting a new game is as robust as ever and this is one aspect where one can’t really improve except by adding even more options of playing on even larger maps (assuming your computer can handle them, the system requirements only factor the smaller maps). You can set a lot of parameters for yourself until the game feels right. Density of stars, planets, occurrence of habitable and extreme worlds, game pacing and tech rate, number of minors, frequency of the Galactic Council, and victory conditions active. You can also customise your own race.

Galactic Civilization III

Races and more Races

The game comes with 8 races, 7 of which are returning races and 1 is new filling the role of hyper-capitalists though with a more pragmatic than ruthless approach when compared to the race they replaced.

This has to be one of the most robust race customizer seen yet. You can choose any of the provided graphical backgrounds and the player can upload their own as well. Pick your leader art (also upload-able), every aspect of flavour texts can be filled, and the player is given free choice to spend their bonus points on which perks or flaws they have. You also choose two unique qualities that give strong bonuses, and even set the race’s personality when the AI plays it. You also get to choose which ship-set to use and your colours with textures, and also which of the tech trees you have access to.

The game is also highly moddable which allows the player to even make more unique factions if they are willing to dive into the modding scene. Even without mods, the player is given a lot of choice to create the faction they want for themselves or for the AI to play as. Though none of the parameters make any race “bizarrely” different, the different options do lead to a decent level of customisation.

Galactic Civilization III

The Campaign

GalCiv 3 also has a campaign and a tutorial (which is also a prelude of sorts to the campaign). Overall, these missions are basically more scripted versions of the sandbox game. Though they tend to have unique parameters and conditions, one example is the first mission where the player has access to the Human vessel that is outfitted with highly advanced technologies. This gives the player a nearly indestructible battle group.

The story follows the aftermath of the events after the last expansion from GalCiv 2. Honestly, there is not much to say about it. The gameplay is interesting and gives a bit more of the story of the setting, and it doesn’t stray too far from the 4X experience. However, the story won’t win any awards in storytelling. This is not to say that it’s bad, just that it’s more interesting from a setting’s perspective. Overall, it’s short to complete all three scenarios. It still gives an extra play mode for the player which is always nice, though in the end, the sandbox mode is the meat of the game and what players will be playing the most.

The Universe

The game, for those not familiar with the GalCiv franchise focuses on planetary management and exploration of space. The player can explore any hex of space (the game is now hex-based) that is within the range of their ships. The movement system makes the exploration more similar to the land-based titles like Civilization, than most space-bound 4X titles. However, unlike GalCiv 2, there is far more “topography”. Nebulas and asteroids interfere with sensors, shields, and movement. Also there are black holes that create a sort of impassable terrain. However, these features serve the role to act as locations of interest for resources.

Galactic Civilization III

These resources can be mined via mining starbases or archeology stations, and can give strategic resources that unlock special modules and ship parts, or relics that give overall boosts to your empire. The other thing you might find is Ascension Crystals, which is a special relic that is tied to one of the victory conditions.

The player will also have space debris, which can be surveyed by ships with a survey module. These act like your traditional “Goodies Hut”, giving a small boost and sometimes even a free early ship. Lastly, you will find stars that can have up to 5 planets each; these being the primary source of expansion in the game.

The game also has random events, some of which are the return of the ideology choices. These are events that have three responses which define the player’s civilization. Will they be benevolent, pragmatic, or malevolent? These choices generate points that will unlock ideology choices which can give powerful perks and effects. Colonising new planets outside of your home system will also grant these decisions.

Ideology: Going Good, Bad, or Just Pragmatic

Ideology makes a return in GalCiv 3, and this time they are not just limited to simple choices that give bonuses and penalties. Though a player will still develop an alignment that influences diplomacy, this alignment will now also confer perks which the player chooses from a grid of available traits. The system is straight-forward, once you have enough points you can get any perk that is available. They all cost the same, but perks within a line must be bought in order. The next purchase will need more points, but the increase in cost is also applied to the other trees, thus making it harder to ‘multi-class’ but not impossible.

These perks tend to vary in usefulness, but this is mostly due to circumstances. Getting an extra prime world as a potential colony or an established colony might be less useful if your empire is big enough, but can be a godsend if you have been boxed in.

Galactic Civilization III

Overall, the system is interesting and is actually a good addition to the game. These perks tend to be different from the typical passive bonuses one gets from the tech tree (though some are similar). The building unlocks tend to be very useful and generate their own ideology points to accelerate your ideological growth. The other perks tend to be powerful one time boosts, and unique potent effects.

Examples: a trait can practically turn your homeworld into a super military forge world (malevolent), or never suffer from morale problems (benevolent). Another trait can render your worlds immune to cultural planet flipping (malevolent), while another can make all planets and starbases in your sphere of influence to flip immediately (benevolent). There are also traits that penalise those trying to go to war against you, boost diplomacy, and in the off chance your homeworld is invaded all the other races not allied with the perpetrator has war declared on them (this last string of examples is the forte of pragmatism).

The ideologies naturally favour different playstyles. Benevolence favours strong science and culture, with morale boosting. Malevolence favours production, raw wealth, and military prowess. While pragmatic civilizations are the master builders of starbases, efficient shipyards, diplomacy bonuses, and trade bonuses. This is somewhat similar to social policies, virtues, or civics we tend to see in other 4X games. Seeing this system graduate to the space 4X sub-genre is welcomed.

Managing your Empire

Galactic Civilization III

Before we go into the gritty details of each system, the game tries to keep the management of your empire easily accessible from the main screen. There is a quick ship’s list and planet’s list along with a listing of starbases and shipyards. The station listing works as it has all the proper filters and the planet listing though locked in a newest to oldest ranking, has a proper menu with the proper sorting tools in the Govern Menu.

The guilty party here is the ship listings. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be a more comprehensive list in any of the sub-menus. Secondly, the list is also locked in order like the planets listing and it lists individual ships. Considering that even on a normal sized map the player can have over 200 ships in the late game the list’s problems become very apparent. There is no filter and no sorting. This could easily be rectified if the list grouping were for distinct fleets or for ships not guarding a planet. In its current form, the ship listing is practically useless by the mid-game.

Another area they could have done better is in the fleet manager. Though the fleet manager for ships on the same hex is functional for creating fleets, there doesn’t seem to be an easy system for exchanging ships between fleets as the system seems to work only for merging and splitting fleets. Also, the presence of the existing fleet manager is not immediately apparent as it’s a little button that appears when you have several stacks on the same hex, new players and even some veterans can easily miss it.

As for the positive aspects, the mass command system makes a return, allowing you to perform many “ships of this type to upgrade to this” or “ships heading here to go over to this rally point instead” to “shipyards producing this to produce that instead.” Player can set Rally Points and assign individual shipyards to them; shipyards can also send their vessels to stations or planets. The interface for it is clean and intuitive. The player can also see active trade routes and break them from the Govern Menu along with setting the global economic distribution.

Galactic Civilization III

Building an Empire

This is one of the major aspects of GalCiv: colony management. The core gameplay has not changed from the second game where you have limited tile spaces and build improvements on them. Fortunately, buildings that can be built repeatedly, once per planet, once per faction, or once per game are clearly marked this time.

Terraforming is the processes of unlocking extra tiles which raises the planet’s quality level. So this may disappoint those who prefer the idea of turning an ice world into a jungle planet, here most of your planets will be improved by roughly the same margin. Tradable resources will appear on planets which give empire-wide bonuses and can be traded to other races in diplomatic deals.

The new mechanic that was introduced is that buildings have adjacency bonuses and tiles with natural bonuses have their own adjacency bonuses as well. These usually increase the level of certain buildings and they can stack pretty high. Many buildings that can be built once per planet or per faction give some of the highest adjacency bonuses to a wide selection of building types. Coupled with the special tiles with their own adjacency bonuses and the player will be juggling to maximise the output of their planet.

Galactic Civilization III

Overall, the system does make the player think. Which tile do they unlock with terraforming? Do they try to maximise the output of a special tile, or ignore it for what the player needs? These choices become even more critical with the global planet trait bonuses. It becomes sort of mini-game to figure out how to maximise the output of all your planets yet still meet the needs of your empire.

The other change from the previous title is that each planet only has a social queue. Military production is handled by shipyards which both constructor ships and planetary social queues can produce. A part of the planet’s production can be channeled to the shipyard, which can have up to 5 sponsors (planets) assigned to it. The shipyard, however, loses some of the production it gets if it’s too far from its sponsor. This helps consolidate military production and makes it easier to manage it as you will have less production lines as opposed to having each planet build their own ships.

The Economy

However, a planet’s true output comes from the distribution of its economy. Basically, the amount of people working towards each of the three fields of science, industry, and wealth. Naturally, the improvements you build on the planet will significantly improve the corresponding output.

Gone are the tax and spending sliders, it’s now the third point on the wheel as wealth. The player still chooses between these three fields, but this time they use a wheel where the ratio between wealth, science, and industry is directly influenced. This system is far more intuitive to use than the old system as all three get set by the same widget. Also, more importantly, these can be set individually for each planet without any penalty.

Military production is still a separate slider, but now acts as the percentage of total production that gets sent to a shipyard. If no shipyard was assigned or the shipyard is shutdown, the production is not wasted and it’s fully diverted to social production. This also can be set independently for each planet.

Galactic Civilization III

Planetary morale is now entirely handled by structures or traits. It should be noted the game has a more robust tooltip system so knowing what’s what, and what you need is easier to ascertain. This makes it easier to know what is causing low morale, and it’s easier to calculate what the player will need to raise it. The player will need to juggle between raising the colony’s morale, raising their population cap, or producing buildings that raises the colony’s output.

For those unfamiliar with GalCiv, it should be noted you have the option of building culture-producing buildings. These expand your borders and in turn resist other empire’s border expansion. If you produce enough culture you can convert hexes to your territory and in time cause planets that have been overtaken to join your empire. This is linked to one of the victory conditions and can be seen as the pacifist’s way of conquering the galaxy.

Overall, the economy system is more intuitive, transparent, and cleaner to use and manage. The player has full autonomy of setting each planet individually without any penalty. All these are major improvements but the system will certainly feel very familiar to the point it may seem like no changes were made. After all, the system still uses the same basic model; it was only refined to be more intuitive and easier to understand.

Galactic Civilization III

Filling the Void with Starbases

Another major staple of the franchise are starbases, and this was before strategic resources were added to the game. So as the player will need to rush to get the best planets you’ll also have to make sure you nab the strategic resources and relics quickly. There are tools for the player to get another faction’s starbase if necessary (diplomacy and some ideologies can help). Overall, starbases serve as further improvements for your planets and your empire as a whole.

Starbases can then be given a specialty: a military station that can be used to boost the combat value of nearby ships; mining stations which collect strategic resources; cultural stations which boost diplomacy and cultural output of your empire; or economic stations which improve many of the qualities of your nearby planets like morale, wealth, production, and science. Mined strategic resources are used in unique ship components and for powerful special buildings. Relics and Ascension crystals are harvested with archeology stations which can be added to any of the previous stations. You can also arm your starbases with even more weapons and defenses, turning them into battle stations of their own right.

This is done with constructors which can be built from shipyards. The old issue of constructor spam has not been resolved but better tools were given to manage it. The new system is that any Starbase can request a constructor that will summon an idle constructor (make sure you don’t have one that is idle that you were planning to use for something else). If no constructor is present, one will be commissioned at the nearest shipyard. This will be a basic constructor that is cheap and quick to build but will probably take a while to get to its destination if it’s far away.

Starbases also have a lot of modules, and I mean a lot. Upgrading all your starbases will require a lot of effort and time. The new request button, the idle command prompt, and the clean interface make managing starbase growth much less painful. This said, a better system than spamming a train of constructors to improve starbases would have been better, though this may be an issue of personal preference only, it still feels like a system similar to shipyards with sponsors and diverted resources would have worked better.

Galactic Civilization III

Progress and Tech

The tech tree in GalCiv 3 is rather straight-forward. The game has 4 separate trees each split into multiple linear branches. Each tree focuses on a general field like military or colony growth techs. Each branch is a specific focus within that field, the science-building branch or production-building branch, or for another tree, the energy weapon branch or the missile weapon branch. The thing to quickly note is there is no interconnectivity and no cross-paths that you tend to see in other games.

The advantage of this is that it’s easier for the player to choose their path; the downside is that it can lead to odd situations where you have a super high-tech civilization for production and science but can’t even build a basic corvette. The players will have to naturally juggle their tech choices to make sure they don’t fall behind in a necessary field. On the plus side again, the player can easily avoid techs that are useless for them at the moment.

The new addition to the tech tree is specialisation techs. These are techs where you have to make a choice between three options, and these technologies tend to be simple bonuses or increases to things like trade routes. These are also exclusive as once you research one option you can’t get the others. You can still trade for the others, but this has to be done after the fact; trading for one prematurely will count as if you researched it yourself, preventing you from researching the one you actually wanted.

There is also a Tech Age (Era) mechanic; this prevents techs from the next age to be researched until enough techs of the previous ages have been unlocked. This limiter may seem artificial, but without any cross requirements in the tech tree, this is practically a must so that the player can have a somewhat sensible progress in the different tech fields. It also helps in preventing the player from falling way behind in another field. Even with this mechanic in play, the player can still skip entire branches if they wish before meeting the minimum requirement.

Galactic Civilization III

Overall, the research system works, but it seems to be too straight-forward. Interconnecting techs, as can be seen in other games, can be frustrating at time, but also help in creating a sense of progress as you see a certain science narrative being told by the tech tree. The approach used by GalCiv 3 feels like a shopping cart approach to technology. It’s the sci-fi equivalent of being able to research bombers but never researching gunpowder and combustion engines, and this is with the Tech Age mechanic in place.

The game does give unique tech trees to many of the races, and though many buildings overlap, each race has a tonne of unique buildings that have different sets of bonuses. This does help with making each race feel more unique along with the race-specific tech descriptions you get upon research completion.

…Politics?

There are some criticisms to be had, which is not entirely because of the tech tree. This is the politics and governance techs. The game doesn’t seem to have the concept of political party and governance outside of just being passive upgrades the player gets from research. Political parties are now specialisation techs instead. Though it can be argued the system was never complete in GalCiv 2, this feels like a step back in an area that should have been moved forward.

Diplomacy

Galactic Civilization III

The franchise has never been about only warmongering, and as such diplomacy has always been an important feature for the series. The diplomacy works, and the AI responds logically, and the interface makes it easy to know what your relations are and why they are shifting the way they are. It does make things more predictable but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a few surprises, just that they will make sense based on diplomatic relations. For many 4X players a transparent diplomacy system is a good thing.

As mentioned earlier the game’s better visuals shine here, the game also has some custom flavour text that fits each race. The interface is very detailed and visually rich, and effort was made to make the interface as immersive as possible. The player can also get fully detailed information about each race, the current power levels, and see what is improving and worsening on their current relations. This also includes seeing active treaties, current council power, and current council rulings.

The player can trade practically anything, from planets and starbases, to ships and technology. The game also has treaties that help build relations and give mutual benefits. The player can also form an alliance which can help win the game as well. To prevent diplomatic spamming, there is a cooldown before another agreement can be signed after one was accepted. However, the player can make a given agreement as big as they want. The AI will also approach the player with their own offers, make requests, or even give gifts.

Galactic Civilization III

There are some flaws with the system however. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like Alliances do anything special besides keeping positive relations. You’re not forced to come to their aid, you’re not pulled into their wars, and you don’t even seem to gain any additional benefits aside from the regular treaties. The other flaw is there is no way to reject a gift. This may seem like an odd thing to do, but when the gift is a specialisation tech you haven’t researched yet, you might get the option you wanted the least and now you’ll not be able to research the one you needed. It creates this odd experience where the player feels pressured to research some specialties quickly before it gets gifted to them.

Overall, the system is robust and is what one would expect from a quality 4X title. It doesn’t reinvent anything new, but overall (barring the two flaws listed before) the system works.

Space U.N.

The galactic council is back, and this time it has a slightly larger role. The members will vote for a chairman which then can choose which proposition to put forward. Some Diplomatic Techs give the player a larger list of proposals to offer (the tech are only useful if you are the chairman naturally). Then a vote is held and if the motion is passed, the effect is applied to the members. The player (and AI) can choose to leave the council at any time or do so during a vote (but before the results are seen). When a race does decide to defy the council, the vote is automatically vetoed and the belligerent race leaves the council. This makes “defying the council” a pretty hefty action as it also blocks the proposition that was floored.

The proposals are varied, but it seems unless you have the techs researched the list is not that big. Also, for those who were hoping for some sort of Diplomatic Victory based on the Galactic Council, you’re out of luck, there is none. This does have an impact on the Ideologies as Pragmatic doesn’t have a clear victory condition assigned to it, unlike Malevolent and Benevolent who both have more than one victory condition geared towards them.

Galactic Civilization III

Making your Own Ships

GalCiv 2 has always had a robust ship designer, at least from the artistic side of things. The system itself has always been simple, three attacks and three defenses where each defense is best designed to counter one of the attacks. Though some changes were made, defenses are not “hard” anymore, this mean that they don’t neatly block the attack. Defenses get worn down from continuous barrage, so a shield in time will fail and allow laser damage to hurt the vessel. So countering the enemy’s offense is not the only thing you need to consider, you need to ensure you vessels can destroy theirs before your own are overwhelmed. This is an improvement for a system that is very basic at its core.

The game also now introduces many new parameters to your starships. Many of these new parameters are weapon ranges, tactical speed, accuracy, and ship roles which determine target priority. There are also many new modules that have fleet wide benefits to the basic stats and new stats. These include hull repair, targeting sensors, jammers, and even fighter models. Yes, Carrier Vessels are present in GalCiv 3 now. With these new changes, there is now a lot of variety in how one can design their ships to fulfill several roles in battle.

Galactic Civilization III

Ship roles serve as the vessels behaviour in combat, by determining any defense or offense priority. Escorts will try to protect capital ships and stop assault ships, while interceptors will try to take down enemy attack ships before they become a threat. Players will have to be mindful of what the enemy uses in those roles if they want to maximise the efficiency of their own ship classes. The system does automatically assign a role to your vessels based on the modules you add to them. However, the player can manually change this if they rather have ships behave differently.

Visually, the ships are now far more diverse between races and the system gives the player many tools to design the look of their ships. With the more varied models and pieces for each race the custom designs can be truly unique to the player’s imagination. The engine itself is easy enough to use, but there will be some finicky moments when trying to get a part attached to a given point. A lot of useful tools have been added, like quick invert toggles, mirroring pieces to help with symmetrical design, and the like.

Players who love “character designers” or “costume editors” in other games, will love this level of customisation. For players who prefer designing ships from a utilitarian perspective, this is a significant improvement from the previous game with the addition of new modules and characteristics, but it’s overall the same core concept. Despite the new modules, the more esoteric systems (like tractor beams and the like) are not present as the game doesn’t have tactical combat.

Galactic Civilization III

Space Battles

GalCiv never had tactical battles, and this goal has never changed. However, attempts were made to improve the art of war in the game. This comes from many of the features described earlier, from ship roles to new sub-systems like fighters and repair modules, and stats like tactical speed and accuracy. Defences are not as static as they were in the previous title. Your ship defenses will weaken as they keep getting hammered on so the concept of an immune vessel is gone.

This means the automatic battles of GalCiv 3 have a lot of numbers being crunched under the hood to determine the final results. For those who do want a little more flair, the game does have a battle viewer. This is just a visual representation of all these numbers coming together. Longer range weapons will fire first, as quick interceptors will quickly fly towards the enemy’s line. The battle viewer may help understand why your ships are not cutting it, and get a visual cue of what the enemy ships are capable of.

Galactic Civilization III

Though some of these battles can be visually stunning and even cinematic in quality, the camera control is confusing and the auto-camera has the directorial talent of a binary machine (obviously). This is not to say the system is as bad as I make it sound to be, but it takes time to get used to the manual camera, which I personally never figured out how, so seeing epic battles properly will be a bit of a hit or miss. Also, since these are mostly for show, it’s not uncommon to “quick resolve” many of your battles as they will give the same results.

Ships are organised in fleets, which is determined by tech. Fleet caps may not be popular to some players but may very well be a necessary evil. This prevents using mass numbers to do damage as a single fleet must be able to survive long enough to do some damage before overwhelming numbers (stacks of fleets) can succeed (though a fleet has a limited number of ships, a player can stack more than one fleet on a hex). Considering the functions of ship roles, and that some ships have fleet-wide bonuses, a player does need to construct proper fleets and not just create death balls with a few support ships.

The other reason why fleet caps are necessary is that the Battle Viewer has limits and it has been seen in other games that a lack of fleet caps results in crashes or severe lag. It has also been observed in games with no fleet caps that even the auto-resolve results tend to get very weird fast, usually favouring numbers over anything else. So they do serve their role here.

Galactic Civilization III

Conquest of New Worlds

This has to be an area the game has taken a step back. Though many of the exploits one was able to do in GalCiv 2 have been removed, it feels like instead of being resolved they were just simplified to the point the whole system is less involved. Despite GalCiv was never focused on ground invasions, this could have been a place that any improvements would have went a long way. Instead we are treated with something that makes GalCiv 2 look deeper.

The different invasion tactics are now specialisation techs. The defender can build defense structures that tilt the results in favour of their planets while the attacker builds transports that just scoop up population like a colony ship. Techs can help with the combat values of both the defender and attacker. A pop-up screen is all you get that tells you the chance of success and the likelihood of damage on the planet. Special tactics cost credits. Pick an option and get a result. There isn’t even a visual representation of the conflict like the past game had.

Not to be overly harsh, but this has to be the second most dull and uninspired planetary invasion system I’ve seen in a game since my tenure at SpaceSector. This would be forgivable if the second game didn’t actually do it “better” despite all the exploits the system had. At least this system is not as exploitable if one wants to have a silver lining. Flipping planets culturally is more interesting.

Galactic Civilization III

Road to Victory

The game has multiple victory conditions, which can all be disabled individually at game set-up and even during the game. Naturally, conquest is one, there is also scientific (researching the top techs and then building the ascension gate), cultural (paint most of the map your colour, don’t even need to take the planets just have the influence and hold it for a number of turns), alliance (be allied with all remaining major factions), and ascension (control the majority of the ascension crystals and collect the number of points needed to ascend, these points can be collected even before you have the majority of crystals).

Though some victory conditions can feel a little long winded to achieve, the variety of choice ensures the player (or the AI) can attempt to achieve one of them before the game draws out too long. This doesn’t completely resolve the issues that the late stages of the end game can get a little drawn out, but it does help a little. It’s also nice to see non-militaristic ways of achieving victory, as both the cultural and technological victory can be easily achieved without any form of warmongering. Even ascension can be achieved as such, while Alliance may require at least one of your allies taking out the uncooperative races.

As a whole the game stays true to its goal of offering different paths to victory and not limiting itself to a war game only, which judging from the overall quality of ground invasions, is a good thing.

Galactic Civilization III

AI and Polish

Overall, by the time of this review most of the oddities have been patched (the original release was a little spotty, but nothing too dramatic). This said there are still a few polish issues in the game. One is how the tech Research Treaty gives the diplomatic option slave brokering. Something is not named properly and since the treaty gives a production bonus, it is safe to assume it’s the tech. Since this tech is available for everyone, this means everyone, despite race and ideology, can trade slaves…

There is also the odd building relationships. There is a galactic wonder that is an upgrade to a unique planetary structure where the wonder itself is unlocked by a tech that is researched far earlier on the same tech line as the building it upgrades, making it the only wonder that is also an upgrade, and never mind it is unlocked before it is even buildable. Something doesn’t add up. These errors are few and far between, and I may have listed most of them, but they do stand out quickly as these are errors in the common tech line with options that tend to be crucial to the player.

The game seems to run smoothly for the most part, but there seems to be some memory issues. The game does get a lot of lag as you keep playing which may result in a crash at times. Also, it seems, at least with my machine, it takes a while for the OS to clear the memory before it starts operating normally after closing the game. This memory drain seems to occur on even the smallest maps, so it was not an issue of playing on a map too big for my specs. Despite the memory based crashes, there were few actual crashes.

Galactic Civilization III

The AI is good, after a fashion. It knows how to play the game and can be very challenging at the higher difficulty levels as even the lowest difficulty level can take a less experienced player by surprise. It should be noted the higher difficulties tend to get “econ” bonuses to make them more challenging, as the game reaches “full intelligence” pretty quickly on the difficulty settings. These bonuses are straight-up and don’t actually alter the rules the AI plays with except for one. Once getting to the higher difficulties, the AI will be a little more omniscient especially with planetary locations, making the colonisation rush an extra important step for the player. This will require the player to be quick at grabbing the planets they actually have to explore for and have good line-of-sight to ensure the AI can’t sneak up on them. To say the least, this makes the highest difficulty levels an actual challenge to even a skilled player.

Final Verdict

I am fully aware making a sequel is challenging. Change too much and risk alienating your core audience and for each change you do a possibility of a fan base divide is possible. It’s all too easy to do a set of changes that all too often may lead to everyone being unhappy with the end product. Also, when starting from a base that was recognised as a great game and classic, it makes any changes from it even more risky. I also think innovation is overrated and it’s used too often to justify radically new ideas that are just plain bad, and that it is easy to grow jaded over time where nothing seems to be new anymore. I also understand Stardock’s desire not to mess with the recipe too much.

So when I say, GalCiv 3 didn’t push the envelope enough, it should be taken with the full gravitas of that statement.

I do not deny the improvements the game made across the board from each of its aspects. The economy is cleaner, more responsive, and better modeled. The ship designer is more robust, opens up more options to creativity, and has more things for the player to juggle to create their fleets. The battle viewer has had its moments of epic and the designing of your fleets will have more meaning this time. I’ve never been bothered by the lack of tactical combat because even in 4X games where tactical combat is the main selling point, I tend to auto-resolve anyways (when I want tactical battles, I go play a full RTS or tactical TBS).

Galactic Civilization III

So there is no denying the improvements, but that is not enough for a sequel. New concepts, new elements, and changed systems that capture a mechanic better are needed. GalCiv 2 was good, but not perfect, there was plenty of places the franchise could have been improved and it seems each of those possible areas were either not improved enough (The Council), or they were removed (Political Party mechanic and espionage) or simplified down (planetary invasion). Though the addition of actual Ideology based benefits is a nice one, it’s not enough to claim this game as an actual step forward. GalCiv 3 is more like the wind-up to that actual step, but not taking it yet.

I would recommend the game to anyone who never played GalCiv 2 but was interested in it or anyone who loves GalCiv 2 and still plays it today and doesn’t mind purchasing a game that has a few down scales but with overall improvements across the board. For those who did enjoy GalCiv 2 but have grown tired of it because of age, won’t find their passion rekindled so quickly as the game may feel too familiar and not enough has changed or was added to make the experience feel fresh again. Naturally, anyone who was not overly happy with II is unlikely to be sold on III.

The end result is a decent and solid game that would be considered outstanding if GalCiv 2 never existed. Though games should be reviewed on their own merits, this merit does include its own franchise and it’s fair to compare a game to its immediate predecessor. So under that light, Galactic Civilizations III is a decent enough game but not enough to reach a full seal of excellence. Stardock will need to push the envelope on this one even more if they wish to have another classic.

Galactic Civilization III

Galactic Civilizations III (PC)

Reviewed on PC

Available at: GOG, Amazon, GamersGate and Steam.

Space Sector score:
7.8/10
good
(about the score system)
The Good:
– Visually stunning with high production values from music to short cinematics.
– Detailed planet management, ideal for planet micromanagers.
– Robust ship designer that lets the player make their own visual designs.
– Ideology mechanics is a welcomed addition to the space 4X sub-genre.
– Consistent AI that engages in Diplomacy.
– Familiar to those who loved GalCiv 2 and with significant improvements.
The Bad:
– Perhaps too familiar and may get old quickly.
– May not live up to what someone would expect from a sequel.
– If you didn’t like GalCiv2, then GalCiv3 won’t change your mind.
– Some elements that should have been improved did not move forward enough.
– Ground combat feels like an actual step back from the previous title.

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Galactic Civilizations III Review

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