Waiting for Moodot – GalCiv 3 Reviewed

23 May
Galactic Civilizations 3

Galactic Civilizations 3

I’ve been looking for a worthy successor to Masters of Orion 2 for a long time. To me (and many others), that remains a pinnacle of space 4X game design that has, sadly, never been fully duplicated. And while I’d still be thrilled if a game came along that gave me the same feeling I had playing MOO2 back in the day, now I’m content if a game can at least bring something new to the genre. So, how does Galactic Civilizations 3 fare?

Story-wise, the newest game in the GalCiv series takes place after Earth and her allies have been defeated, with Earth itself trapped behind an impenetrable shield, protected from the Drengin armada, but unable to leave. A lost earth fleet returns from a pocket universe, overpowered with ancient technology and looking for revenge as it heads home.

New to the series is the introduction of a 64-bit game engine – which boils down to more players and larger maps. And maps sizes get absolutely ridiculous as they scale up, with over 400,000 tiles on the largest map and the ability to have 100 races playing all at once. There are only a handful of playable races out of the box, but players can customize their own races to play with or against.

Pick a race, or build your own.

Pick a race, or build your own.

They can also go online to find player-made races to populate those insane maps with. In fact, the game is very mod friendly – not just races, but techs, ships, rules and missions. It will be interesting to see all the ways the player base will enhance the game over time.

The graphics are beautiful – orbiting ships can be seen around planet models when ships are garrisoned, space objects (including planets) display shadows based on stars and nebulae in the area, and the background space is gorgeous. The developers spent a lot of time polishing the engine and putting in the fine details, and it shows.

The continents light up when they are in the planetary shadow.

The continents light up when they are in the planetary shadow.

Space battles play out in mesmerizing ballets of light and mayhem, when you can actually see what’s going on. The default camera zooms in too much as ships get closer, cutting off a lot of the battle after the first pass of ships. And while there are other modes (including a free mode), I always feel like I’m missing part of the battle. An option to stay zoomed out enough in the default view to see every ship would be welcome.

Unfortunately, the battles are view-only. There’s no interaction at all – even the rock-paper-scissors approach of Endless Space would be an improvement. They try to mitigate this with a battle AI that puts ships in one of several different generic roles, but with all the effort that went into the battle viewer the lack of any interaction seems like a wasted opportunity. The designers didn’t want to bog the game down in battles, but surely there could have been a middle ground somewhere. And it’s not like the game doesn’t bog down elsewhere.

The earthlings are pissed. Too bad you can't see all the ships.

The earthlings are pissed. Too bad you can’t see all the ships.

The early game is very fun – GalCiv 3 definitely gets the first 2 X’s (explore and expand) right. This phase also goes pretty quickly and smoothly, even on the larger maps. After that, though, the game slows down and at times feels downright tedious. Micromanaging colonies – especially on the larger maps – will take most of your time. Finding specific ships when you have dozens scattered around your empire is an exercise in frustration – even with a (non-searchable and non-sortable) list of them handy. And while starbases can now ask for constructors to upgrade them automatically, the implementation has some issues. You will feel these issues most acutely on the larger maps. It feels like the game engine was designed with massive empires and fleets in mind, but the interface only works relatively well on the smaller maps.

Check out the minimap to see how little of this map has been explored. And this isn't the largest map size...

Check out the minimap to see how little of this map has been explored. And this isn’t the largest map size…

These are things that will undoubtedly be fixed after a while, but at the time of this writing they have not – which brings us to another issue.

The game feels a little bare. It’s technically a release-ready product, but it doesn’t feel whole. There’s no getting around the sense that it’s still a work in progress – by design. The developers have already said they are working on DLC and expansions, and plan to work on this game for years to come. While committing to improve a game post-release is never a bad thing (and I wish more developers did this), it can lead to the temptation to leave out features at launch that may have otherwise been considered. Two years from now, this game might well be a robust, feature rich game (and probably will be, given the post-release history of previous games in the series), but this review is for the game as it stands now.

One last thing. I’m a sucker for a game with a story, so the campaign was a welcome addition – and something that sets the GalCiv series apart from others in the genre. That said, this campaign is woefully short – just three missions. It almost feels like an afterthought, and the fact that it was never in the beta for feedback doesn’t help with that feeling. I’m sure more missions will come over time, but again – the review is for the game as it is today.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a fun game in many parts. And the over the top map sizes will make for some epic gameplay – once the interface makes trying one less frustrating. That said, the gameplay can bog down after the early game on all but the smallest maps, and the lack of combat choices makes it fall short of where it had the potential to be. I like this game – I just don’t love it.

Given time, I’m pretty sure many of the features from the past GalCiv games will make it in, and this game will be all the better for it. The question is whether to get the game now or wait for the inevitable expansions and dlc (and subsequent deals on Steam bundles). If you’re a fan of the galciv series, this is more of the same – but bigger. If you’re a space 4x fan, it’s worth an eventual look – though I’d wait for some of the interface issues to be ironed out.

7.5 future expansions out of 10

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