Galactic Civilizations II is the evolutionary sequel to Galactic Civilizations. Bringing the franchise into the wonderful world of 3D and scaleable interfaces, GC2 is a familiar friend who hasn’t changed much over the years to fans of the series. New players should expect one of the best 4X strategy games of recent years. What’s 4X? eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. If you’ve played Master of Orion or Civilization, you’ve got a good idea already.
GC2 takes place in a universe where humans have invented the hyperdrive and, for some reason, chose to share this technology with every race in existence – good and evil. A mad scramble for colonies ensues both in the official story and at the start of every map, during which events unfold. Regular games play almost exactly like original Galactic Civilizations – you lead your race to victory or defeat by power, diplomacy, technology, or culture. The campaign consists of a series of maps with set starting conditions and specific victory requirements. The story is told primarily through cutscenes between missions, with some minor dialogue during the maps.
The campaign missions are an interesting and worthy addition to the 4X strategy genre. Much like RTS games, the challenges that are set up tend to contain a bit of a puzzle element – requiring the player to figure out a proper order of events with which to reach a win scenario. There is some flexibility, but less than in the regular maps. The campaign is attractive primarily for its uniqueness; you will not encounter the title Dread Lords in regular play (thank God).
Another major change is the addition of ship building and customization, which adds a great deal of charm to the game. Not only are custom-designed ships usually more suited to the player’s needs, but they can be impressive creative outlets too. There are five different styles of hulls – Human, Altarian, Torian, Yor and Drengin. Each style will have several types of basic hulls for the various ship sizes – tiny, small, medium, large, and huge. All in all, there must be over fifty basic hulls to worth with – and then these can be customized with weapons and defenses, but also cosmetic additions. The cosmetic changes don’t affect ship performance at all, but do offer a really cool creative outlet for players.
The final addition is a change to the way planets were handled. Previously, a planet had a number associated with its quality rating – 4 would be like Mars, 10 like Earth, 15 is paradise. All the planet’s capabilities were tied directly to that number – population and income, production and research. In GalCiv 2, the number merely designates the number of build slots on the planet. Want money? Then you need population, which requires farms. However, high population leads to overcrowding which means dissatisfaction, unless you build entertainment facilities. Combined with unique structures like Technological/Industrial/Economic capitals, planets can be customized very easily now. Most players will presumably build a few economy worlds, one or two industrial planets, a couple of tech planets, and so on.