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Thread: PC Game Review: Galactic Civilizations 2: Endless Universe

                  
   
  1. #1
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    Reviews PC Game Review: Galactic Civilizations 2: Endless Universe


    Platform: Windows (98, ME, 2000, XP or Vista) PC
    Developer: Stardock Entertainment (official game page)
    Publisher: Kalypso Media
    Designer: Brad Wardell
    MSRP: 29.99
    Ratings: PEGI






    ESRB: Not rated (European Release, although all previous Galactic Civilizations II games received an E10)
    Note: This is a standalone version of the Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor expansions to the original Galactic Civilizations 2.

    Short Overview: Planet/starship centered Turn Based Strategy game. Very mature due to it's lineage (second expansion to a second game in a series all made by the same core group). You can spend anywhere from a few hours to a few months on a single game. My favorite thing was most definetly the humor, which drives the gameplay and gives needed respite from the epic nature of the game. Only flaw is the absense of a number of features that make the game difficult to micromanage or macromanage.

    Overall Score:
    Rating:

    Click HERE to see the full review.
    Last edited by quzar; December 11th, 2008 at 02:46.
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    Default Technical

    Minimum System Requirements:
    Spoiler!

    Reccomended System Requirements:
    Spoiler!

    What I used for reviewing:
    Spoiler!


    Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, or Windows Vista are necessary to run this game.

    The game has no copy protection (no, I'm not supporting any kind of piracy, just letting you know it doesn't have any sort of horrible DRM that will freak out if you look at it funny), but to get support, updates, and extra content you need to use your serial key and Stardock's Impulse program.
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    Default Background

    Quote Originally Posted by www.galciv2.com
    In the 23rd century the known galaxy is at war. The Terran Alliance and their coalition are fighting a desperate interstellar war with the evil Drengin Empire and their ruthless allies. Behind the scenes, the precursor civilization called the Dread Lords pulls the strings on both sides. As leader of a galactic civilization, it is up to you to ensure the triumph of your civilization. Fight wars, design star ships, research new technologies, negotiate treaties and build an empire that will stand the test of time in this award-winning turn-based strategy game.
    Galactic Civilizations II: Endless Universe is a standalone copy of the original Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords with the Dark Avatar and Twilight of the Arnor expansions built in. On startup, you are greeted by a splash screen, which lets you switch between the two expansions (chapters). I chose the latter and off I went.

    After a quite interesting start movie I learned basically what was in the paragraph from their website. Changed video settings, restarted, and got to playing.
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    Default Style

    The game has a HUGE background story. It seems that the saga is split up into three chapters, all of which are present in this version. The story revolves primarily around an era in which terrans have first discovered interstellar travel and are finally branching out into space and meeting other civilizations. Overall the story plays out something like a mix between Lord of the Rings (the entire creation mythos is nearly identical) and Stargate (all the modern/near history is nearly identical).

    As with most TBS (turn based strategy) games though, two approaches can be taken: campaign (story) or random/multiplayer games. Because of how difficult it would be to go through all three sagas and talk about them, I decided to go the latter route playing randomly generated games.

    Within these games the character of each civilization becomes clear. There are 12 playable civilizations in the final expansion, but as this game has two seperate ones the characteristics vary between them (to reflect the races changing roles as the story progresses). In general each of the civs fall into classic TBS subdivisions (warmonger, peacemonger, technocentric, xenophobic, merchants, &c.).

    Each civ has it's own set of names for their standard buildings and flavorings that help give more character to them. The same flavor is carried on to the core ship designs for each one.
    Of course, one of the best features is that you can ignore all of this if you want and either customize a preexisting race (and ships) or create your own from scratch. Along with all this are random events which can help you set your alignment (good, evil, neutral) and bring most of the style component in.

    The thing that sells this game for me is it's humor. In nearly every random event or technology description, there is a great deal of sillyness, sarcasm, and offbeat humor. Even reading through the manual you can find this. I've never played a TBS that was this saturated with silly, reminiscent of a 90's LucasFilm adventure game like Day of the Tentacle. Great stuff. It really makes achieving a new technology rewarding, like getting a little candy treat.

    Rating: Amazing, really.
    Last edited by quzar; December 11th, 2008 at 02:47.
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    Default Gameplay

    If you've played a TBS/civ building game in the past 15 years, you'll be right at home with this. The game focuses on building up your planets, researching new technologies, and interacting with other civilizations (military or diplomatic). There are three big features that set it apart from the crowd.

    Shipbuilding
    Spoiler!


    Race Characteristics
    Spoiler!


    Starbases
    Spoiler!


    Overall gameplay is extremely expansive and has a number of features to set it apart from most games. The downside is that the game is realtively lacking in automated methods to manage the different aspects. You can queue building production on planets, and set automatic upgrade when empirically better buildings are availible, but the same ability is absent for shipbuilding (other than 'keep on building this ship'), and technology research (after each is finished, you must choose the next).

    Also, the large number of different attribute sets makes it difficult to tell exactly how each building and technology you build or research will impact the rest of the game (the bane of the micromanager). This can be alleviated to a degree by reading the manual, which explains a lot of things that you'd never notice without reading it (for instance, if a planet has a moon around it, you get a 10% bonus to production), but there are others things that are not explained there either. I do not consider this too much to be a fault of the game though, and more of a trait of complex strategy games.

    One last thing. In reviewing this game, I played a number of tiny and small sized maps. Each took from 8 to 20 hours to complete (and I was rushing a bit). The largest size though, is "Immense" which seems to be about 20-30x the size of a small map. Odds are it would take months to play through something like that.

    Rating: I really feel that I could get more out of it with more automation options.
    Last edited by quzar; December 11th, 2008 at 02:47.
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    Default Audio/Video

    TBS and RTS games have never been at the forefront of graphical technology, but they don't quite need to be. I was quite surprised by the graphics in GalCiv2. Although the default view is isometric, all the ships, planets, asteroids, and other space junk are fully rendered. By clicking the middle mouse button (or clicking scroll wheel) you can rotate around objects to get a better view, or zoom in (scroll wheel) until they look as large as objects in an FPS.

    When you do zoom in, you'll see that each ship is a model that is based exactly on how you designed it in the ship builder, with fairly high quality textures. When you zoom out, on the other hand, each object becomes an icon, but when an attack takes place (ship/ship or ship/starbase/mining base) you will still see the little firefight going on between the icons.

    While on the subject of battles, there is a feature that lets you set battles to appear as 3D blow-by-blow realtime battles, and though you don't have any direct control over strategy (it's all based on the numbers anyways) this is a cool feature that really shows off the graphical abilities of the game.

    Although the original base-game was released in 2006, the newer expansion added an overhauled graphics engine which uses things like normal maps to give better looking textures that take up less space. Take a look at this side by side comparison (attached below) given on the official site's description.

    Now as for audio, the sound effects are nothing spectacular but I'm not sure what would constitute spectacular sound effects for a TBS game. It's noteworthy that from what I can tell, every different weapon has a different sound effect. There isn't just one for each class of weapon, but one for each level within these classes.

    The music on the other hand is most definetly great. Music in TBS and RTS games tend to be of two types: mute it and put on your own or not. This one is of the latter, I kept it on. It's quite mood-setting, and each civ had it's own motifs and themes. The best music for these sorts of games make you forget that music is playing, as it integrates itself into the gameplay and style as a whole, and the music of this game does just that (despite of course being just simple loops).

    I have no complaints at all about the video or audio of the game.

    Rating: Good stuff, nothing spectacular or groundbreaking.
    Last edited by quzar; December 11th, 2008 at 02:47.
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    Default X-Factor

    X-Factor is where I'll talk about something in detail that I thought characterised the game.

    For Galactic Civilizations 2, the x-factor is definetly the humor. Here are some random examples:

    Quote Originally Posted by Random Event: Blood Trade
    A new drink has recently become popular within alien mafia rings. Known on the black market as 'Juice', this drink is made from the blood of our citizens and a pinch of your favorite hard liquor. The high demand and low supply of the drink has made it one of the most expensive items on today's black market. What should we do, Emperor (Player Name)?

    Good Option: This is completely unacceptable. Find out where the crooks are stealing blood from and put an end to this disgusting trend! (-500 bc)

    Neutral Option: This 'Juice' craze is a waste of our time. While I think it's pretty sick, we're not going to judge the peculiar tastes of aliens.

    Evil Option: I never realized I had such a precious commodity flowing through my veins! Require all of our citizens to give blood immediately... It's time we cash in on this hot item! (+500 bc)
    The outcome to random events such as this in the short term can gain or lose you money, in the long term though, they fix your morality alignment which influences many other aspects of the game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Technology Description: Supreme Miniaturization
    Remember how we said that the previous, incredible miniaturization technology was the best? Well, we lied. We do that you know. We lie. There's always something better as long as you're willing to keep paying us the big bucks. But really now, this is it. We tried this technology on a Kanzarian Wild Rider and he's gone. I mean, he's really gone. We're talking, lawsuit. We've looked all over the floor and Varnders here thinks that he may have felt something squish under his foot. So, even though there may be better techs out there, we're going to be tied up for years in the legal system dealing with this unpleasantness. But in the meantime, here you go.
    The description both tells what the tech is (allows you to place more components onto ships by shrinking them) as well as explaining why it's the highest level of that tech. Excellently done.

    Even the game's title has it's own little pun in it: Endless Universe-> EU. The game is a European market only repackaging.
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    Default Misc

    There were a few issues I had with the software. First, there were not clear instructions as how to deal with updates and such, or if they were even availible. As mentioned earlier, there is no protection on the game, instead a serial key is given to allow the user to register the game for updates and DLC. I was unable to register the game with Impulse (a registration, update, mod, and community management program from stardock) and so contacted tech support:

    Quote Originally Posted by Travis G, Stardock Corporation Technical Advisor
    At this time Endless Universe cannot be updated or registered in Impulse as there were technical difficulties with doing so. The update is due out this week or the next for EU. My apologies for the trouble at this time.
    I'll make sure to post and update or edit when the issue is resolved.

    Second, the manual and other information was for the base game with additional stuff for each expansion. It didn't however, explain about this specific release and how to use it properly.

    These issues seemed to stem entirely from the way this was put together, and on inspection of things like the game's data files, it looks even more like that they literally just put all the stuff from both games onto one disc, and wrote a little launcher program that let you choose which to play, unlike other games which might let you set modes, or choose campaigns from each in-game. I am not sure of how any of this was handled when the expansions are applied directly to the base, but it's hard to believe it works the same way.

    This is all understandable as it's a limited-region rerelease, but still. I tried using the official forums and wikia to find more info, but there was little. Hopefully, as we get farther from the release date, more information will become availible.

    On the positive side, the game includes (as most do) a tutorials feature. Unlike most others though, where the tutorials consist of telling you to click somewhere then click something else, and whatnot, here you get a set of videos that guide you through basics. Nothing particularly new, but quite helpful compared to others I've seen.

    The last point that I'd like to make before ending with my summary is something from the designer in the manual:
    Spoiler!
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    Default Summary/Final Thoughts

    If you've never played Galactic Civilizations II, this is an excellent package to get, as it has all the content of the base game and expansions, and those games seem quite great.

    I've played so far through three games at an average of 12 hours per game, and they were on small scale maps with easier than normal AI. With this, I've only even been able to see maybe 2/3rds the random events, races, &c and have come nowhere near experiencing the full range of gameplay it has to offer. With the amount of customization and user-made content availible, it seems this game will offer even more replay value than a typical TBS (which is already extremely high).

    The gameplay is solid, although not without it's flaws, the style is superb, and the a/v is good by all TBS/RTS standards. If I hadn't gotten it free (and were a resident of the EU) I most definetly would have.

    Overall: Give more automation/queuing features and this would probably be a 5 of 5. It's been a blast to play.

    PS: I hope you enjoyed reading my review as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any comments about the style or presentation, please post them so that I can learn. Thanks!
    Last edited by quzar; December 11th, 2008 at 02:48.
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